William J. Stanley at D-Day & Beyond
William J. Stanley
PERPETUATION OF TESTIMONY
David E. Stanley - Son of William J. Stanley
My father, William J.
Stanley (Bill), was in the first wave at Omaha on June 6th 1944. The following
recollections of D-Day and beyond are taken directly from his personal memoirs.
After a month at Fort Dix we were taken to New York and boarded the Louis Pasteur,
a converted French luxury liner. Luxury was hardly a description of the ship
now. Ten thousand men boarded that ship for a nine-day trip across the ocean.
The crossing was rough. Many men suffered seasickness. The ship was crowded.
The amphibious brigade men did not become seasick, but we suffered the effects
of those who did.
We played cards and joked to pass the time. We held each other up emotionally.
After several days of sea and sky, homesickness joined seasickness. The underlying
feeling was fear of the unknown. Buddies became close!
On March 3rd, we sat at Plymouth, England. We were delighted to set foot on
land once more. I had advanced two grades and arrived in Europe as a Master
The only place for us was
in an amusement park where our battalion pitched tents and tried to cope with
the rain and tempers of men living too close. Men who were anxious to get to
war! When we went into town, there were scuffles with the British servicemen,
and the British girls seemed only to be interested in the Americans with brass
on their uniforms. It was a depressing, miserable three months.
Three weeks prior to departure
from Plymouth, they began to pull all men with past infantry experience out
of the boat brigade and put us into infantry. I was put on a landing craft where
I sat for three weeks in the rain. I found myself trying to keep my head clear.
On June 1st, in the cold
rain, with waves crashing over our decks of the boat, we sat out. It was a miserable
six days. My fellow soldiers, not used to the rhythmic rocking of the sea, became
seasick. The chill and dampness bit through my uniform. I was beginning to realize
the severity of war, and we weren't there yet. The sky was dark with hundreds
of bombers, and I remember the fear erupting inside me as the storm and cold
played havoc on my exterior.
At three in the morning
on June 6, 1944, we were off loaded to LCM crafts, about thirty-six feet long,
each holding about forty men. Each of us occupied about one square foot per
man and carried over 125 pounds of equipment.
We circled for one and
a half hours in the storm, then headed for the beach. One hundred feet from
shore, my landing craft hit a sand bar. Thinking we were on the beach, the coxswain
dropped the ramp, which was a signal to disembark. We ran into twelve feet of
water. There was widespread panic. The weak and nonswimmers drowned. The war
ended for them one hundred feet from the invasion on Omaha Beach. The shock,
fear, and reality of what happened is indescribable.
When my feet touched the
beach, I made my way to shore, stumbling and pushing bodies of my American comrades
aside. There was one way to go ahead. Gun fire hit the water, and bodies
became sandbags and protection. Not one American son could ever be prepared
for this. Everything was instinctive and I kept moving ahead.
We huddled behind the sand
dunes on the beach while the artillery continued firing toward us. The choice
was either to huddle there and be killed by gun fire or move forward. We regrouped
and moved ahead. We gradually advanced and the beachhead was established. .
After the second day, there
was a lull in the fighting and divisions began reforming. We molded again into
a fighting force. We were a close knit group.
We began moving ahead. I
saw gliders with dead pilots and dead paratroopers hanging from trees and house
roofs. We kept moving with little resistance, scared and tired. We passed through
small villages, at times were shot at by French collaborators. After three days
we had a twelve-hour reprieve where I fell into an exhausted sleep. The weather
had broken. The shone brightly, and for the first time I felt a degree of warmth.
For the next three months,
we moved slowly, steadily forward, fighting by day and digging in at night.
Occasionally we were hit at night. I became resigned to one fact – kill or be
killed. I saw buddies wounded and killed, but could not comprehend it actually
happening to me. One day it happened to me. While I was making a routine check
of my platoon, I was hit in both knees by a burst of machine-gun fire. I was
placed on a stretcher and taken by ambulance to the emergency field hospital.