This is an interview being conducted in the History Department of the University of Washington, Seattle, Washington on January 15, 1988. The interview is being conducted in the Seminar Room in the History Department. Present for the interview are Mr. Frank Beetle and Dr. Macklin Burg of the Department. We are discussing today Mr. Beetle's service in World War II specifically, his service in the lst Division on June 6 in Normandy the Invasion of Europe.
Dr. Burg: Frank let's begin our session today by letting me ask you where were you born?
Mr. Frank: I was born in New York City.
Dr. Burg: In the city itself?
Mr. Frank: The city of New York at St. Luke's Hospital, I think it's located at 115 Street and Amsterdam Avenue.
Dr. Burg: May I ask you what year that was?
Mr. Frank: 1920, September 1st.
Dr. Burg: So were you educated there too in New York City?
Mr. Frank: I was educated at Private Boarding School, a military school called Ladycliff Academy in Highland Falls, New York, this was run by the Catholics.
Dr. Burg: Ladycliff?
Mr. Frank: Yes, Ladycliff was the name of the cliff and it was in Highland Falls, New York it was just outside the south gate of West Point on the Hudson River and I went there as a boy of 8. That's where I received my education.
Dr. Burg: And graduated there say age 18?
Mr. Frank: Yes.
Dr. Burg: So you started there graduated from there at 18 in 1938/39. Did you attend college?
Mr. Frank: Well, the question was where was I going to go and what was I going to do and that was an argument which..., and things were in bad shape in those days as you recall so I opted to go to the City of New York and I worked in the hotel and I took part in The New School of Social Research at 12th and 14th street.
Dr. Burg: What was the hotel by the way just out of curiosity?
Mr. Frank: The Grosvenor Hotel which was at 10th Street 5th Avenue. I worked there for about a year and it was the summer of 1940 as I recalled it and my uncle and I were talking and he said "you know, you could go into the service. Things are very upset in Europe and the war is going on and I'm sure that we will get into this, and so forth, you can well enter the service for a year. I think they have a program where you can enter a year and if you get your year overwith this will mean that you won't have to worry about it you're going to school." So I thought that was a good idea and I took the summer off. In October of 1940 I went down to 39 Whitehall Street in New York City and I enlisted in the Army, regular Army, before the draft for one year and I was shipped to Governors Island Fort Jay in the Harbor of New York and that was where the 16th Infantry was. I was trained by the 16th Infantry at Fort Jay, Governors Island. We used to take the ferry from Battery Park. Well, needless to say, that it was a ragtag Army. I must say we didn't have enough equipment and I had been trained of course at military school, so as far as all the drill and what not was concerned, I was familiar with it. I had forgotten how long, about 3 months I think we had gone through this. I spent my time marching, doing short order drill, doing KP and all the rest of it.
Dr. Burg: Let me ask you this Frank, since I know that equipment was in short supply at that time, did you at Fort Jay have Springfield 03?
Mr. Frank: Yes. We did have that Bolt Action. I don't think we had enough for everybody but we did have those and that is what we used. We also had 30 caliber air cooled machine guns but not much else.
Dr. Burg: The light machine gun with barrel perforations? Not the big heavy jack head?
Mr. Frank: Yes. 30 caliber. And after that oddly enough they transferred me from that to a the Signal Corps which was on the post of Fort Jay but it was not attached to anything. It was sort of like those DEML outfits they used to have. Detached enlisted men's list [DEML].
Dr. Burg: Boy I forgot those completely. Yes.
Mr. Frank: And I expected that was because my intelligence test that I had taken was somewhat higher than a lot of the men's were and I was doing paperwork.
Dr. Burg: Had you been a cadet officer at Ladycliff?
Mr. Frank: No. It wasn't that type of thing really it was a Catholic school and we had military training and I wore a uniform, in fact the uniform that I wore was exactly the same uniform as they wore at West Point. Highland Falls is the town right out of the south gate of West Point and we used to have officers from West Point come over and used to work with us but it was discipline more than it was of military orientation. It was a lot of discipline. As a matter of fact as I recall it those days we didn't do right flank, left flank, we did squad's right and then we used to turn 8-1/2 half steps or whatever. We did the manual of arms but I was a rather mischief marker in a sense.
Dr. Burg: While you were there?
Mr. Frank: In any event, here I was at Fort Jay and I was in the Signal Corps and then they sent me to Fort Monmouth, New Jersey which was the headquarters of the Single Corps and they gave me some training there in welding pieces of tape together or something. I didn't really care much for this. I asked for a transfer and low and behold where did I go? West Point. To the field artillery which is right in the south gate to the left as you walk in the south gate and the Thayer Hotel is on your right and the artillery contingent was on your left and right next to that was the cavalry. They still had horses. They used to drag the caissons and the officers, of course, had bold ponies and all of that and I trained in artillery there and then we brought school troops and we used to take the cadets out to maneuvers and train them in the artillery pieces.
Dr. Burg: So regular army personnel assigned to West Point trained there yourselves but then assigned the school cadets in how to handle the very thing you had learned?
Mr. Frank: Precisely. Well I was on Fort Jay, it was after Pearl Harbor because I was on pass on the Sunday for the weekend when Pearl Harbor struck and I was coming down to take the ferry at Battery Park on Sunday December 7, 1941 with a friend of mine and we missed the ferry and we walked across the South Ferry there and said let's go and have a beer and wait for the next ferry. They used to run I think every 15 or 20 minutes. While we were sitting at the bar having this beer the radio was on behind the counter and I heard this and I said, "hey turn that up." And the bartender turned it up and I said, "my God, "listen to that!" The Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor and for all military personnel report to the so forth and so on, so a friend of mine that was with me said that's a gag, one of Orson Welles' stunts and he had pulled one a few years before "War of the Worlds." I said, no, this sounds right." He said, "well let's not go back because we will never get out if we go back." So we stayed there and hoisted a few and we finally went back that evening and of course war had, it was a Sunday I remember I was in the day room at Fort Jay with the Signal Corps in that day room listening to Roosevelt's speech about the "Day of Infamy." Well, anyway, after that as I was saying, I went to West Point and I was trained. What I found interesting about all of this is here I went back to almost where I started from and Highland Falls was the next town.
Dr. Burg: Did you have rank by then Frank, had you come up?
Mr. Frank: I was a Sergeant.
Dr. Burg: You were buck Sergeant?
Mr. Frank: Buck Sergeant. I was about 21 in December 7, 1941 because I made 21 that September. Anyway I was up there for some time and I don't remember just how long it was but I saw the fool that I was, because this was a sorry place for a man to be. That I should be fighting the war. So I kept pestering these people to get me out of there and I didn't want to spend the rest of my life going through drill and going to Tobyhanna, Pennsylvania to fire artillery shells at empty fields. And we used to go up there and fire artillery on maneuvers with the Cadets. So anyway they eventually transferred me, I went over the hill. Twice. I got busted and that's why I never went to officer's school. I got busted and then they transferred me and they transferred me to some National Guard outfit down in Jersey in artillery and I didn't like it at all. To make a long story short, it was some time in, I was with them a year or so and now we are up into '43- 44 over the hill again. When I came back they court marshaled me and I said I wanted combat. So they said alright. They sent me overseas and I went overseas in March of 1944 as a replacement and I had no idea who I was going to be with. We landed in Liverpool. We went from there to Bristol and from Bristol we proceeded south into Dorset, Wessex and who do you suppose I was with?
Dr. Burg: First Division.
Mr. Frank: First Division as a replacement. Where I began 4 years prior.
Dr. Burg: Let me ask you Frank before we come back to this and pick this up? The first time that you went over the hill what did you have in mind, I remember from that time period the Ohio, Over the Hill in October the 1941 period of time. What did you think you were going to do?
Mr. Frank: I don't know that I thought a great deal about it then but I just was fed up, which was easy for me, I don't make any pretense of having a great deal of thought about it at all. I just went. I don't think I thought about it at all. We used to go into New York. We used to hitchhike into New York and I went into New York and I was having a good time and I just stayed there that's all.
Dr. Burg: Did you find work Frank?
Mr. Frank: No I had friends, after all, and what not and I even went to my families, some of my family were living there and they didn't know I was at war I didn't tell them and my aunt lived in West End Avenue and 74th St. so I could stay with them and did. And they didn't pick me up I finally went back on my own, I hitched hiked up route 9W and back I went and where were you, and I said well over the hill.
Dr. Burg: What did you go back for?
Mr. Frank: Well, I don't know, the folly of youth I suppose I don't know.
Dr. Burg: You had things you wanted to do?
Mr. Frank: I just didn't want to be bothered anymore with that and I wasn't making any statements. I think people today do things and they make statements, I think people sometimes just do things and I'm not sure even in retrospect you know why you did it, you just did it. I think I am a compulsive person.
Dr. Burg: Facing boredom at a time when there was excitement in the world and you weren't part of it?
Mr. Frank: I suppose and I was sick and tired of the barracks and I thought well, I really didn't think I just went and one thing leads to another before you know it.
Dr. Burg: When you went back you reported in presumably to First Sergeant or Company Commander?
Mr. Frank: Yes. He said, alright Beetle you'll be busted and summary court martial, you're busted and they put you in the latrine and you clean the latrine, it was no big deal. I walked post a few times I guess. The second time however, I just wanted to get out of the outfit I was in because I thought if I want to go overseas I don't want to be with this kind, because I'll get killed.
Dr. Burg: The artillery outfit?
Mr. Frank: Yes it was a National Guard outfit from New Jersey and I just didn't like anything about it, it was just awful, I thought they were poorly trained and it was political like most of them were, they knew everybody, they had grown up together, the officers in some instance had worked for the enlisted men, you know what I mean. And they gradually infused those cub outfits with others and I think they performed admirably, but I just didn't like that.
Dr. Burg: Really when they were still amateurs, it wasn't appealing to you.
Mr. Frank: Yes. And it was a social thing with them I think originally. I think why did anyone join the National Guard in the '30's I wonder. I don't know why they did but it just, oh I think they performed very well, don't misunderstand me, but at that point I just didn't, well I don't know what they were going to do when we were running all over the sands of New Jersey Shore there with these 105's, and call crawling on and off tracks and weren't getting much accomplished, I didn't think. We were down in Delaware Rehoboth, Delaware, down in that section. We were stationed at a place in Georgetown, Delaware down south of Dover with nothing but pigs and chicken farms and I didn't like this. As a matter of fact I met my future wife through a fellow in that company who took me back to New York and introduced me to his cousin and she is now my wife and we were married for 43 years. When I went AWOL. Then I wanted to get out of that company and I didn't know how to do it. But anyway that's one of the reasons I didn't go to officer school and I also think you needed two years of college at the time but they waived that after a while.
Dr. Burg: I think so. A lot of field commissions.
Mr. Frank: A lot of field commissions but at one time it was two years, and I hadn't had two years and I didn't want to be an officer anyway, particularly. Did a lot of foolish things I suppose.
Dr. Burg: So the second AWOL was kind of a repetition of the first, you hung around in New York City in that area and passed the time and then when you decide you're going to go back and you're .....
Mr. Frank: This time they came and got me. They called my mother and wondered where I was and she said I don't know but I think I have an idea and she gave them my wife's phone number and address and I happened to be there the day when a knock came at the door and there they were and I said well okay and back I went.
Dr. Burg: How long had you been footloose and fancy free at that time.
Mr. Frank: About 30 days then.
Dr. Burg: I see.
Mr. Frank: And so they took me to Fort Jay, Governors Island to the guard house.
Dr. Burg: Where you had been before, Fort Jay?
Mr. Frank: Yes. And I said they were going to give me a special court martial and I posed the question to them, I said I would like to go overseas and fight for my country instead of messing around the beach, and they said well if we send you abroad as a replacement, you will go. I said I'll go, I had no choice anyway, but sure, of course. So they didn't put me in the guard they took me out of the guard house and they put me in a group and I went abroad.
Dr. Burg: No summary court.
Mr. Frank: No, a special. I had had a summary.
Dr. Burg: Frank did they give you at that point, when you got that cleared away, did they give you any kind of infantry basic training, do you recollect?
Mr. Frank: The only infantry basic training that I had that I recall, now when I went to the First Division as a replacement I wasn't in the infantry I was in the Cannon Company.
Dr. Burg: Oh I see. You go to the First Division and some artillery men.
Mr. Frank: In the Cannon Company. Do you know what the Cannon Company is? Very few people do.
Dr. Burg: Well, I'm not sure that I do then.
Mr. Frank: The Cannon Company is studnose 105's and they were attached to a regiment. I was attached to the 16th Infantry Regiment and they would be attached to whatever battalion wanted them for close support. By that time they had developed a tact, one thing they wanted was a foot soldier, in order words EEFGH Company, H being a Heavy Weapons Company and the EFG Company is the Rifle Company. We would be going into battle on or right behind tanks. Then the Heavy Weapons Company with 81mm mortars would be in support and the Cannon Company would also be in support up close. The artillery would be back if the Cannon Company would be right up with the Rifle Company.
Dr. Burg: Howitzer Frank is that the 105 Howitzer?
Mr. Frank: Yes. The 105 Howitzer. But it was not the, the artillery had a Howitzer which had a longer barrel. They were in the artillery but we were in the infantry. I had a Combat infantry badge. But we followed them because we were like a heavy weapons company. Every Battalion A B C Company D is the Heavy Weapons Company. EFGH is the Heavy Weapons. IKLM is the Heavy Weapons. But now in addition to that they had a Cannon Company using a short barreled 105 Howitzer which would fight in direct support of the infantry. It was not artillery, it was an infantry.
Dr. Burg: And right up with them?
Mr. Frank: Oh yes. Direct support. Like a Heavy Weapons' Company, so this was an innovation and I don't know when that Innovation took place. Most of my training had been in artillery. I had set some infantry training at Fort Jay but not a great deal but I have a marksmen's or sharpshooters. It was rifle, and I fired rifles, a 30 caliber and 50 caliber machine gun and a pistol which I couldn't hit anybody with Colt 45. So I had had some but most of my training had been in artillery. I used to either be the gunner or the other one, the number one man who has to keep the bubble level.
Dr. Burg: He's operating the training wheels.
Mr. Frank: Yes there were two bubbles and you got to keep these bubbles leveled while they are changing the direction, the height or the range, one fellow does one and the other fellow does the other and while he's turning it one way you have to keep these leveled and ready and then you put the thing in and you pull the lanyard and I used to pull the lanyard. That was the number one position and I usually worked number one positions. Sometimes I worked the gunner position.
Dr. Burg: How many men were there on one of those guns?
Mr. Frank: Well let's see they had a gunner, number one, number two used to load it, about 4 or 5, or 6.
Dr. Burg: Okay a crew about that size in about how many _____ to the.........
Mr. Frank: You see they had a couple of guys that would do nothing but take care of the shells, the bags, depending upon how many, a certain number of bags on an artillery shells so we would put in, say there were three, I have forgotten the commands now, so that he would have to take two out and put three in and then put the thing back on then he would hand to another guy and this guy would ram it in.
Dr. Burg: The propellant charges were in some?
Mr. Frank: Yes. Let's say there would be a gunner, number one, number two, there were actually about 4 or 5 men, maybe six because then when you start to jack the thing around you know.
Dr. Burg: The gunners pull by truck?
Mr. Frank: Yes.
Dr. Burg: By six or smaller?
Mr. Frank: Well you could pull them with smaller but we used to use a lot of 2-1/2 ton trucks and we would have ammo on top and on the back and a thing in the back of that to pull but you could pull them with smaller because it's a 105 caliber but its a small studboat.
Dr. Burg: How many guns in that Company? Would you have four guns in the Company or six guns?
Mr. Frank: I think we have four. And we were usually assigned, and I don't know why that was, but we almost were always with the 2nd Battalion for some reason or another. The Fox Company and the Easy although we would be assigned to, now I'm not sure, I think they only had one Cannon Company to a Regiment and the Cannon Company would be assigned to the Battalion that the powers they decided were needed.
Dr. Burg: Interesting. I never knew that.
Mr. Frank: Well nobody does, and I'm rather confused about that because I looked at the history of the 1st Division on D-Day and I can't find Cannon Company in there and I don't understand that.
Dr. Burg: I interrupt the tape with Frank Beetle for just a moment to say that Frank has told me he wonders if this whole concept of a Cannon Company was used any earlier than D-Day because he knew men who had served in the 1st Division in Africa and in Sicily and it was not clear to him as to this day, that they had served in anything called Cannon Company. He remembers that they had served in regular Infantry Companies so he suspects that maybe this was a new concept for the American Army. We now pick up our story at that point.
Mr. Frank: I landed in Liverpool as a replacement and was not assigned to nobody. Infantry replacement. Just Cannon fodder.
Dr. Burg: And what then? A holding camp in Liverpool?
Mr. Frank: We went to Liverpool from Liverpool we went to Bristol and then I don't recall precisely but I was assigned to the 1st Division Cannon Company, 16th Infantry Regiment in Bristol and I was taken by truck south and we went to town of Beaminister near Dorchester in West Dorset, near the coast on the Devon Water and that's where the Cannon Company and the other outfits of the 16th Infantry and the 1st Division where along that whole outfit down in through that area of Dorset, was where the 1st Division was.
Dr. Burg: Now is this about March of 1944?
Mr. Frank: About March, April, 1944. Because I was with them a month maybe when we were packed aboard and went into a camp on the Coast, I'm not sure where it was even and now we were prisoners virtually.
Dr. Burg: Let me ask one thing before we move into that, when you were brought over Frank from the United States, anything unusual about that trip over, was that quiet, uneventful?
Mr. Frank: It was a convoy of many ships. I was in a British ship the Britannia, I think that was the name of it and it took a long time and I remember watching the Porpoises and guys shooting crap on deck. It was a long trip.
Dr. Burg: Was it a fairly smooth passage or was it a rough one?
Mr. Frank: We had nothing happen of any great moment.
Dr. Burg: No path whether to.
Mr. Frank: Well, the North Atlantic is always bad.....
Dr. Burg: In Spring I wondered what it was like.
Mr. Frank: It was bad weather, but I'm a good sailor. I'm a good sailor.
Dr. Burg: Was she a liner Frank or .....
Mr. Frank: I think it was a, I'm not sure about this, but I somehow or other get the impression that was a small liner, well I'm thinking about Queen Mary, that's the big one, a liner, we had a _______, I don't remember how many troops were brought off the ______ packed in like sardines. I read mostly or when on deck when I could. The weather was bad. The sun would shine in the afternoon but the morning usually was foggy. I had never been abroad before.
Dr. Burg: Apparently no attacks made that you knew of my German submarines.
Mr. Frank: I don't think of any, no.
Dr. Burg: Let me ask you another question, now taking you back, sorry to jump around but just to fill things in, you have, you say about a month with the 1st Division, 16th Infantry down there in Dorcet. During that time period before you go, is the 16th Regiment, your Battalion and Cannon Company, are you guys run through exercises?
Mr. Frank: Oh sure.
Dr. Burg: At that time, are you told exactly where you're going to hit and what your first missions are?
Mr. Frank: No, No.
Dr. Burg: Just drilling to make sure you handle those guns well and efficiently.
Mr. Frank: I think it was common knowledge. In all of England so far as I was able to determine, something was going to happen and nobody knew when. But specifically no. I think what you're referring to, and that's why I'm answering it the way I am, is I think you mean were me told officially, "well boys, we're going to land in France x-day, no."
Dr. Burg: You know my question is even more specific than you thought. My question relates back to what you and I had been looking at Harrison's book on Cross Channel Attack the official history, and my question would be has Cannon Company been taken into the Dorset Country side and looking at a map on a board, and being told now look, we're going to be going in on a beach, never mind where, your first fire mission would be to fire on Exit A from that beach or.
Mr. Frank: I think maybe the officers may have had that done to them, but we didn't.
Dr. Burg: You guys didn't.
Mr. Frank: We knew, everyone knew that we would be landing in France. How the people in the army know things I don't know but they know things before they happened and they are usually accurate. But we were more or less told that we would be making the invasion, we knew that we would and further more the 1st Division is a highly decorated division and one of the Veteran Divisions and considered one of the better if not the best American Infantry Division. The Big Red One. We knew and we would have been disappointed if we hadn't made the invasion. So we knew we were going to make it, specifically where, what our specific targets might be. I suspect the officers may have known but we didn't.
Dr. Burg: So as far as you guys are concerned, you don't know whether you are going to go into Calais, in that area, or Cherbourg in that area, it's France.
Mr. Frank: Somewhere in France. As a matter of fact from what I read I understand that they were trying very hard not to let anybody know where they were going whether it was the Pasde Calais area or what to keep the Germans off. They did have quite a lot of elaborate camouflage I understand. We of course were camouflaged, but prior to going into, what I call a sequester, it's actually almost like a prison camp, a month or so before the invasion, we just couldn't get out and go anywhere, we were stuck in this place and before we went aboard the boat, it seems to me a month before the invasion, sometime in April, the beginning of May sometime, we could get no more leave, nobody could get out.
Dr. Burg: Frank let me ask you this. Since you go into this sequestered kind of camp arrangement Dorset. Before they put you in that, did you get to London? or any place else any of the cities of southern England?
Mr. Frank: Well we were some miles from London but some of us got into London sure.
Dr. Burg: So you were able to do that?
Mr. Frank: Three day pass and you could get into London, sure. If you ride on a truck or something, the trucks were going all over Britain at that time. But about a month, prior to the invasion everything was canceled and you couldn't move anywhere, even before we went into the camp on the shore. Now you must remember that Beamister is not too far from the water. It's on the southern side of Dorset, south western part of Dorset. But we left there and went somewhere but, probably six weeks or so, I'm not sure, a month, month and a half before we went into that final camp, before we made the invasion we could get passes and went to London.
Dr. Burg: The camps that you were in and from which you could do the passes, those camps were tented camps or rough buildings, barrack type structures?
Mr. Frank: Rough building, barrack type structures. Yes, poorly constructed, the usual Army thing. They had been there for some time, the outfit that I was in, they had been there since August I guess of 1943. When they came back from Sicily I think it was in August or September of 1943, they went down to Dorset and that's where the 1st Division was mostly. Some of the elements may have been in Wilshire or Devon or where ever, but most of them were in that section there of Dorset.
Dr. Burg: Do you recollect Frank, when you joined them, and this is a rough question, but approximately what would the percentage of combat veterans be in that unit that you joined?
Mr. Frank: Well there weren't very many because if you go back to the 1st Divisions making the original invasion of Africa in November of 1942 in Oran, they suffered a great many casualties. So then of course, they fought that campaign and then they went into Sicily with a month campaign and they lost some more so by the time I joined them, they did have veterans and that's why some of the men who were in the Cannon Company had been riflemen, in rifle companies and were transferred to the Cannon Company. But we had sprinkled among our group, quite a few men who had served in Africa and some that had served in Africa and Sicily, and some that had served in only Sicily.
Dr. Burg: Maybe 50-50 combat and __________?
Mr. Frank: Possibly. I'm not sure if it was that many but it may have been. Now you must remember that when we became part of the force, if an infantry company at that time I think was 200 men or something, they probably had 220. They had extra men in to allow for the casualties. So there were more men in the company than would be according to the table of organization and after the invasion there would be far fewer.
Dr. Burg: Let me ask you a second question. I think I know the answer to this one. What was the state of their moral when you joined them?
Mr. Frank: Oh, I thought it was very good. Oh yes, I thought it was very good. I was always struck by that. I'll say one thing, I thought that the 1st Division were an admirable group of men.
Dr. Burg: Before you ever got there?
Mr. Frank: No when I was with them. First place I thought we had good officers. I think the men were proud to be in the 1st Division, I know they were. They were proud of their Big Red One patch. Where ever they went, they had that pride. We used to wear Fourragere if you remember and we were just proud to be a member of the 1st Division. I thought their morale were extraordinarily high. I don't think my experiences that men don't dwell on the horror of war. Those that do become damaged. An interesting thing about some of the officers, one I remember was my officer, Captain O'Brien, he was killed in France, the Cannon Company and he had been a regular Army Officer, not a West Point, and one of the few 1st Division had a lot of West Pointers, they were good officers. They were good. O'Brien was a good officer. But anytime we had a minute to ourselves, this was when we were in combat, he would make us do short order drill. It used to infuriate me. And I heard him tell a Lieutenant one time I'd rather have them cursing at me than thinking about what happened, it keeps their minds, men don't go berserk in war, they go berserk thinking about what happened when they were in battle. So the point being, if you can keep them aggravated and angry enough, and keep them busy, they won't dwell on it. But you mentioned their morale, I thought it was first rate. Even I in my naivete, I expected to meet the Hun. As we had an officer say, "Are you prepared to meet the hun?"
Dr. Burg: That must have cracked all of you up?
Mr. Frank: It certainly did.
Dr. Burg: That first World War expression, what a thing.
Mr. Frank: Yes. But I thought their morale was admirable quite frankly, and I thought it all through my experience with them.
Dr. Burg: Let me ask you this Frank, because I think Steve Ambrose would ask you this? O'Brien was a good officer and the other officers were good officers? What makes a good officer Frank in your opinion?
Mr. Frank: Well I think one thing is the sense that you have that he's fair and that he is willing to serve with you, and not over you. Yet, at the same time you have no doubt who the boss is and you never doubted it with him. But he was a brave man.
Dr. Burg: Someone you can count on. Somebody who knows the job as well as you know it.
Mr. Frank: A man who knows what he is doing. And if he says go here, you know that he knows how to get there and he knows that's where he is supposed to go and when he is supposed to get there. Now we always had that sense with most of the officers in the 1st Division I thought. I was glad if I had to fight a war that I fought with them.
Dr. Burg: The reason I ask is that it was peace time, I was too young for the combat phases of war but I came out of the 2nd Infantry Division and I felt that way about my officer, and my division, high morale. So I like to ask men like you how you felt about it.
Mr. Frank: The man is no nonsense, and he's the boss but you have confidence in that he knows what he's doing and that he is fair and that he serves with you and there was never any doubt about that and I mean, he is not a man that just gives orders. For example, I'll give you an example of this, we used to do calisthenics every morning and Captain O'Brien insisted that every officer did calisthenics every morning including him. Now there were a couple of outfits I understand where certain officers could be excused but no officer was ever excused in my company. If we had x-number of men in the company when we had close calisthenics, that was the x-number of people out there. No x© minus anything. They were all there. So I think this whole sense of comradeship at the same time, understanding that he was the boss is what makes a good officer.
Dr. Burg: A lot of small things, consistent performance it seemed to me.
Mr. Frank: Yes.
Dr. Burg: Consistently you could always count on him to be what he was and . . .
Mr. Frank: Yes. When he was an S.O.B. he was consistent.
Dr. Burg: Everybody got the ______ of his being an S.O.B.?
Mr. Frank: Exactly.
Dr. Burg: Let me ask you this about the British themselves since you had a chance and especially since you were coming out of the home front in American and now you're suddenly in with these people who have been on the front lines since 1939. You had a chance to see them. Can you give me your impressions of them?
Mr. Frank: Well I had great admiration of the British. Stalwart people and did it with a great deal of, I was always struck having come from New York City and I used to think to myself can you imagine, we're more apt to walk over you at a rush hour in the subway than these people are in a bomb attack. They have a way of underplaying things, that is admirable, but they were, I like the British people and they were good to us.
Dr. Burg: In what way Frank? I would be interested in knowing that?
Mr. Frank: Invite you into their home, treat you like a son, you know, in their way.
Dr. Burg: Even in spite of the very famous British Reserve? They came out of that reserve to do for you?
Mr. Frank: Yes. I think so. They would invite you into their homes for a dinner and whatnot and shared with you, I thought. I think most men that served in England liked the British.
Dr. Burg: You were saying to me Frank and I am sorry I cut you off, you were saying that while many men appreciated the British and were well taken care of, you weren't sure if everyone appreciated the whole British Army and how it operated?
Mr. Frank: Oh no. And of course they talked, I didn't have that experience but the men in the company, as I got to know who did, you know they fought with them in Africa and Sicily and so forth, well you know how that goes, I think a lot of it was talk and a lot of it is probably in a different culture and Montgomery of course was a strange fellow.
Dr. Burg: He certainly had his ways.
Mr. Frank: And I came to, after we made the landing of course, in Caen and then all we heard was that he was gumming things up because he wasn't moving fast enough or some such thing
Dr. Burg: Over to your left.
Mr. Frank: Yes and Caen, but I don't know, but I think the American forces loved the British people but had some doubts about the British Army, but I don't think that means any thing, I think that's just the way it is. Typical.
Dr. Burg: It is certainly nice to hear about the kind of treatment that American soldiers got there.
Dr. Burg: Now let me ask you this, before you're going into sequestered camp or even when you're in sequestered camp do you recollect being issued any kind of special equipment out of the ordinary Frank or was it pretty much what you always had?
Mr. Frank: Well, the only thing that I can recall that was particularly special was when we were given a lot of instruction on gas and we made an invasion with impregnated clothing, which is a bloody nuisance. It turns black and stiff and it.....
Dr. Burg: Was it the treatment given to the cloth uniforms that is O.D. pants, and O.D. shirts but sprayed with _____ gas?
Mr. Frank: Yes. Evidently impregnated with something to protect against gas, whether or not it would have or not I don't know and we were given a lot of instruction about gas and told that we might expect gas attack.
Dr. Burg: Were you given also the arm band, which is apparently some kind of a gas detector?
Mr. Frank: Yes. As a matter of fact we were, yes. That's right. I forgot about that.
Dr. Burg: An odd looking thing?
Mr. Frank: Yes. I remember now that you've mentioned it. I had forgotten about that. We were given an arm band. Yes.
Dr. Burg: Where you say that the gas impregnated clothing are the specially treated clothing
Mr. Frank: They made us turn in our other clothing as I recall. I think we were made to take off the uniform we had and put on the impregnated clothing. This was closer to the time of the invasion, and we had another set of clothing in our gear somewhere, because I can remember after we made the invasion I got those damn things off as quickly as I could and put on my regular gear because they were bloody nuisance.
Dr. Burg: Yours turned black and stiff?
Mr. Frank: It seemed that way to me and it was just uncomfortable I thought.
Dr. Burg: Some men who were in the water who really got themselves soaked, they said the stuff turned slimy.
Mr. Frank: Well it did that too, it was a slimy dark, and we all landed in the water as far as I know, the Navy dropped us all in the water as I recalled.
Dr. Burg: So probably nobody came off the landing craft dry?
Mr. Frank: No I don't think so. And of course also I can recall now we were in the landing crafts with people throwing up. We were given two paper bags. Ordinary brown paper bags to throw up in. I wasn't quite sure why they were giving them to us because I had never made an amphibious landing before and of course I never get seasick.
Dr. Burg: Was there any warning prior, in that last phase in the sequestered camp, was any part of your last minute training or the talks you probably got, did it have to do with that crossing phase and the possibility of seasickness or did they say much about that?
Mr. Frank: I think it was mentioned. I don't know if it was emphasized particularly, it was said that you will be given this and you will be given paper bags for those of you who got sick or something of that nature. I don't think they dwelled on it particularly. It did seem to me that they did talk overly much about gas.
Dr. Burg: That's an impression that I've gotten too from other invasion D-Day people that I have talked to. You almost wonder why all of that concern about gas which hadn't been used to anyone's knowledge and why would anyone think they were going to use it there?
Mr. Frank: It seems like a worthless thing to use because if an area is rendered impossible for us to use, they can't either, just no one can use it and who can be sure which way the smoke is going to blow. It seems to me, and has always struck me as very strange. The interesting thing about the gas was when we landed one of the first things we got rid of was the gas masks. I think the beach was loaded with gas masks. We kept the package. It had come in because it was good for carrying stuff but we threw the gas mask away.
Dr. Burg: Did you yourself in Cannon Company have gas shells? Do you recollect or was that part of the ammunitions you had?
Mr. Frank: I don't recall that we did. I don't remember that. I don't think so. I really don't think so.
Dr. Burg: Sometime after I left Abilene it crossed my mind well gee, since there seems to be so much attention paid to gas, had we ourselves, were we carrying it as artillery shells?
Mr. Frank: I don't remember whether we did or not. The artillery, I don't remember that we did.
Dr. Burg: I think Frank I would expect you would remember if you had.
Mr. Frank: Well, I don't know about that.
Dr. Burg: You think not.
Mr. Frank: I don't know. Maybe the artillery had it .....
Dr. Burg: Oh I see, the bigger stuff that was further back,
Mr. Frank: Yes. Corps artillery may have had them. I would expect if they had them they wouldn't have given them to us because we were up close and I don't think they would have given them to the artillery. I think they would have kept them at the artillery headquarters or something where they could have been delivered to selected companies, selected batteries for use. I don't think they would have given to each individual battery.
Dr. Burg: If we came under gas attack ourselves then....
Mr. Frank: I think they probably had them somewhere but we didn't have them as individual batteries as I remember.
Dr. Burg: Now, try to think back into those last few days in the sequestered camp. Is there anything now,like the gas clothing, anything else stand out about that time before they put you into the ships to take you. About those final days and what is said to you, what seems to be emphasized?
Mr. Frank: Well I remember close to the time that Eisenhower, it seems to me made a speech or something that came over the speakers and I think I remember him making it and too, I remember seeing him with Bradley.
Dr. Burg: So he did hit your unit too. You had a chance to see him?
Mr. Frank: Oh yes. And Bradley came along with Huebner and that whole bunch of them. I tell you one fellow that we remember very well is Roosevelt, Theodore, Brigadier General.
Dr. Burg: And Huebner is Clarence Huebner, the Division Commander?
Mr. Frank: I don't know if he was the Division Commander then or not?
Dr. Burg: I think he was.
Mr. Frank: Yes. I think he may have been.
Dr. Burg: And that would make Theodore Roosevelt the Assistant Divisional Commander. He was an extraordinarily brave man. Now I heard about him from guys that had served with him in Africa and he was a legend.
Dr. Burg: I get that impression also.
Mr. Frank: And I didn't know him that well obviously, but fellows that had served with him said they just couldn't get over this, he was a very brave man, a man that seem to have no regard for his safety at all, would walk around the front line up at the infantry men without it with an overseas cap on and shells winging all around him. These were the stories they used to tell me about Teddy. I assume they were true and of course on D-Day I guess he displayed great bravery and got a Congressional Medal of Honor I think or a DSC, I'm not sure which.
Dr. Burg: High Decoration.
Mr. Frank: High Decoration. He died with a heart attack. But I guess I did see him, but most of what I know about him was the stories of the men who had served with him in other campaigns would talk about him. But I could remember Ike and Bradley and Huebner coming around and then of course they would send papers out and then you would hear something over the public address system of some kind that they had hooked up and one impression I got was awful crowding and just mobs of things and equipment, people and .... we were lucky the island didn't sink.
Dr. Burg: So you're describing that end of England jammed full or just military?
Mr. Frank: Just jammed as far as you can see. You know how far can you see. But every chance that you had, you could just get this impression of this enormous congestion of truck after truck, tank after tank, gun after gun, shell after shell. Any place you would look it was jammed. Every square inch was taken with something.
Dr. Burg: All those marvelous targets Franks, do you remember any German attempts by air or any other way?
Mr. Frank: I remember the ME109's coming over and I didn't know a 109 from the man in the moon although I had been given training in aircraft and they would flash these things on screens for us to identify them and I took the position even before St. Lo when they were bombing our armed forces that the most proven thing to do with an aircraft when you heard one was to duck, no matter whose it was. But I don't remember whether they specifically bombed us. I don't really remember that. I don't even know if they were bombing London anymore at that time.
Dr. Burg: I wonder if the V-weapons aren't falling ......
Mr. Frank: I don't think they came into play then. I can't remember. Where I remember the V-weapons specifically was after I had been wounded and this was in October or November of 1944 and I was in a hospital train in Liege, Belgium and they were flying them over there and dropping them in the town.
Dr. Burg: So it may have been later. They may have been in the autumn of 1944?
Mr. Frank: Yes. They may have. Of course they didn't know where they were going.
Dr. Burg: Yes. That's pretty much at random.
Mr. Frank: When they ran out of fuel they dropped where ever they happened to be, whether it was the cathedral or where it was. I don't remember them until later on to tell you the truth, although that doesn't preclude their being used.
Dr. Burg: Now your recollection I suspect is right because those targets were enormous. I mean as you say, every field filled.
Mr. Frank: Subsequently I have learned, I didn't at the time, but I have learned and understand they had great decoys in the Northern up further in London and England I understand.
Dr. Burg: I have heard that too, the inflated tanks, inflated trucks, parked out there and looking very, they were simulating Patton trying to look as though there is a force for the Pas de Calais.
Mr. Frank: I even think they went so far as to build piers, or phony docks or whatever that was they built and did a marvelous job with that kind of thing and I didn't know that at the time obviously but subsequently I had read it. So I don't think, quite frankly, that the Germans had a great deal of aircraft left at that time or didn't have the petrol or the pilots, I don't know what they were lacking but they were lacking one of all three, I suppose. Both planes, pilots and petrol.
Dr. Burg: I think that's probably quite correct.
Mr. Frank: And they were probably saving it for something that they felt they would need it for.
Dr. Burg: And on D-Day they weren't even able to accomplish much.
Mr. Frank: No. My overall impression of the, I thought that the, it seems to me that the American Army was especially good in artillery. They say a lot about the Air Force. Well obviously having air cover is better than not having it, that's just plain common sense. I don't know, I was shocked when they made the landing to find that the Germans were still there because my God, the bombardment, who, could stand up under this bombardment. That means the Navy, Air Force and there they were.
Dr. Burg: Yes. There they were, you bet.
Mr. Frank: And I thought the artillery was particularly effective. I may be prejudiced because I was in a certain arm of artillery.
Dr. Burg: I want to talk with you more about that. Let me ask you a final question for today. We are asking you to think back a long time but a pretty important time. Can you tell me how you felt in those last days, any recollection now come to you of confidence, fear, expectation and one can think of all the things that a young man, and you were a young man, might be feeling at that time? Anything now comes strongly to your mind about those days?
Mr. Frank: I'm trying to think up a word that might sum it up and I really can't think, it wasn't fear because I had never fought before. So I really didn't know what to expect. Anticipation perhaps. After a while I really didn't think that much about it. When we got on board the boat, after a while it was almost like a dream that I was in and I've never quite been able to find the words to explain the state of mind that I was in, but you're talking about prior to getting on board the boats in the camp and I think it certainly wasn't fear, not because I'm courageous but because I didn't know any better. If I had known better it probably would have been fear. It wasn't fear, it was expectation I guess.
Dr. Burg: Let's leave you there in a state of expectation and on our next session let's put you aboard the ships and take you to where ever you are going to go. * Part Two of this interview was done on January 28, 1988.
Dr. Burg: Frank when we left off we had taken you to that period of time coming up I think probably on June 5 or June 4, where they were going to take you out of the sequestered camps and put you aboard ship. Would you be kind enough then to start with that. You're formed up I assume in the camps with vehicles and guns. Now what happens to you?
Mr. Frank: I don't remember the date. It seems to me it must have been almost a week before we eventually landed. It may not have been that long but it seemed that way to me, and I think if I recall correctly that we originally were to land on the 5th of June. My guess is that we were on board that boat on perhaps the 1st of June.
Dr. Burg: As early as that?
Mr. Frank: That's my recollection. I can be wrong but it seems like that period of time.
Dr. Burg: That can be checked.
Mr. Frank: I'm not even sure of the port we left from although it might have been, I used to think it was Borgnemouth but it wasn't obviously it was probably Pool or Plymouth or some place.
Dr. Burg: Do you recall a fairly long truck ride to reach it?
Mr. Frank: Didn't seem to be relatively long, and we were boarded on this boat.
Dr. Burg: How big was she?
Mr. Frank: I don't recall. It was quite a big boat. I recall, and of course you are always cramped and we were cramped there, and it was quite large. It wasn't
Dr. Burg: Not an LCT?
Mr. Frank: No. But of course we knew by this time what was happening and we knew where we were going, and what we were going to do. I mean there was no doubt about that.
Dr. Burg: So you knew this _______
Mr. Frank: Oh sure, we all knew, and we were all aware of it and of course there had been the usual admonitions to do our best and things came over the loud speakers, prayers and all the rest of the things that goes on prior to this. Interestingly enough I read aboard that ship and I remember what I read. It was a book of a trilogy I believe by John Dos Passos, one of the books, the Manhattan Transfer, I remember that book. It was a rather interesting book and I like the way it was done and also I remember reading some Plato believe it or not. Which I think may have been Durant's Story of Philosophy. I was reading this believe it or not.
Dr. Burg: You were reading in those arm forces paper back issues that came out at that time?
Mr. Frank: Yes. And we had the impregnated clothing and the gas mask and God knows what, all jammed together and sometime I don't remember when it was but it seems to me the day before. In other words now that we are talking about the 5th, we climbed down this ladder onto smaller boats.
Dr. Burg: At sea?
Mr. Frank: Yes.
Dr. Burg: On the 5th.
Mr. Frank: I think it was the 5th. Now we had done that before. We had done that as part of our training, although my training was actually rather brief, I had had some brief training in England when we first landed there. When I first got there, a pseudo invasion somewhere, I don't know where it was, somewhere on the coast of England and one of the things I remembered was that because I can't swim to start with, and at that time I had a fairly fear of water not a panicky and I like being aboard ship but if I had gotten immersed in water I would have a tendency to lose my head and thrash about.
Dr. Burg: You were wearing the jacket kind of May West?
Mr. Frank: Yes, May West and we also had the gas mask. But anyway I remember practicing, climbing down this appalling ladder.
Dr. Burg: Sure I can imagine.
Mr. Frank: It doesn't seem very sure. But I had done that before so when we did it at sea on the 5th, that was when it was, I think it was, I succeeded well and we went into the smaller boat. I also remembered something else that struck me as rather odd because now remember this is my first invasion. We were given, as I remember, two ordinary paper bags. They call them sacks out here, and that was to be used to throw up in. Then we went around and around and around in the channel.
Dr. Burg: In the small craft?
Mr. Frank: In the small craft and what seemed to me like ages. Mr. Burg: I'll bet it did.
Mr. Frank: And then it was in the bloody middle of the night and a terribly rough sea. Very rough, terribly rough and we guys were sick. Throwing up terribly.
Dr. Burg: Would you say Frank most of them with you?
Mr. Frank: Almost everyone, I was one of the few that didn't. I never got seasick. I'm a good sailor in spite of the fact I can't swim up to this day. On board ship I have never been sick. I have never gotten seasick but most it seems to me that almost everybody but me was sick and it was because of the pitching. It was just horrible. Then some time around dawn, this barrage started of the big guns of the Navy and the battle ships and the destroyers and there was a awesome Flotilla and I looked out and as far as the eye could see the ships firing. Planes coming in and the thought occurred to me, how on earth is anybody going to withstand this type of barrage and still be in a position to fight. My company proceeded toward land I would think at about eight o'clock or thereabout. We landed nine o'clock in the morning or somewhere in that vicinity, I am not sure. You see the 16th Infantry was supposed to land. Guys in the 16th always made a joke and they said the 16th does the attack, the 18th helps and the 26th is always in reserve.
Dr. Burg: Regiment 16, 18 and 26th of the First Division?
Mr. Frank: Yes. Well naturally every man in the division thinks his division or his regiment is the best, his platoon, his company, and all the rest. That's how it should be. But I recall that because we were either told that our it was our impression that the 16th was making the assault and the 16th infantry was going to land and presumably I guess they landed before anybody from the 18th or the 26th were landed. So the 18th, the 16th landed, everybody in the 16th infantry had landed by mid morning as far as I knew. We didn't wait very far when I got on the beach.
Dr. Burg: Before you got on the beach Frank, let me ask this. You're put into an LCI a landing craft infantry?
Mr. Frank: Or an LCVP maybe. A small craft.
Dr. Burg: About how many of you are in that boat?
Mr. Frank: I didn't think it was more than about 30 if it was that amount. Very few.
Dr. Burg: So really not even your full company?
Mr. Frank: Oh no. No no.
Dr. Burg: Only part of your company?
Mr. Frank: Yes. No guns. Just personnel.
Dr. Burg: About 30 odd men or so?
Mr. Frank: Evidently. Somewhere around there. No guns.
Dr. Burg: The guns were coming in later?
Mr. Frank: The guns were coming in presumably about the same time they board other things.
Dr. Burg: They were going to come off larger landing craft, be towed out and you guys will take them in charge and up the beach with them?
Mr. Frank: Precisely. The problem was none of them landed.
Dr. Burg: That is kind of a problem isn't it Frank?
Mr. Frank: Yes. Now the one thing that struck me was now here all these bodies and people, when I say bodies I don't mean necessarily wounded, although them too, or dead, wandering all over this beach and no idea of apparently what was going on, they weren't very far inland and there was a steep hill and firing was coming down onto us as we approached, machine gun and artillery.
Dr. Burg: And this stuff hit your vessel as you come in?
Mr. Frank: It didn't hit ours. Pings our something it may have hit, but the small arms fire may have hit, but nothing big, but around me there were things being hit and being sunk. We also landed in a heck of a lot of water.
Dr. Burg: So when they dropped the ramp you were?
Mr. Frank: I was up to my neck in it.
Dr. Burg: With a full combat pack?
Mr. Frank: Yes, sure and I thought "my Lord." Now the Cannon Company carried the artillery men as far as I know, did not carry fire arms, they carried automatics, 45 automatics, we carried carbine. But I got rid of the carbine as soon as I could because I didn't think it was very effective. At first it wasn't effective and it also used to jam a great deal and I ended up getting myself an M-1.
Dr. Burg: Did you pick that up off the beach?
Mr. Frank: I picked it up somewhere around the beach. There were many men that were being attended to by medics and there was this huge cliff along side this hill grey. Now the one thing that struck me as being kind of odd, I had never seen a mine field before and there was a mine field and this grey, this hill up from the beach up to "Minen." Then it sort of occurred to me, I don't know if it did at that precise point, although I was struck by the fact that I saw the sign if you're going to mine something why would you mark it so they wouldn't know? They do mark them. I have seen them many times after that. So I was struck by that. I was also struck by the fact that there was this huge, almost straight up cliff and we huddled and we ran to that huddle by that cliff. Now the doggies, the rifle companies were mixed in with us and some were up further but we had not gotten very far on the beach and they were still on the beach.
Dr. Burg: Once you got out of the water you ran for that cliff?
Mr. Frank: Yes. That cliff.
Dr. Burg: Did you lose any of your 30 or so in the run?
Mr. Frank: There were people that were hit. There weren't many. A couple wounded and I think one person there got killed. Not very many.
Dr. Burg: You had the incentive to move that distance pretty quickly?
Mr. Frank: Yes. We headed right for that cliff and we were told to take cover and that was the best thing to take cover on. Another thing that struck me at the time, there were some of the riflemen bringing back prisoners that they had managed. And the first prisoner I saw in a German uniform was a man who looked to me like Japanese. And I thought my God, I thought we were fighting the Germans, not the Japanese. Well of course there are oriental people who live in this side of C______ and whether or not they had been prisoners, they were pressed into fighting for the Germans, I never quite figured out or read anywhere.
Dr. Burg: I think some of the books say exactly that. That's exactly what happened.
Mr. Frank: The first prisoner of war that I saw looked to me like it was an oriental, because I remember the thought went thru my mind. I was expecting to see this tall, blonde and here is this little short oriental Mongol and I think somebody said they must be Russian prisoners that they had impressed with the German. I read over and over and I don't remember reading about that.
Dr. Burg: You knew the second class troops or third class troops, no intentions of using them in any tough situation.
Mr. Frank: But at any event we didn't have any guns and one of the first things we did was throw in the gas mask. The beach was lit with gas masks.
Dr. Burg: Now Frank how long, I can just imagine you people are denied the weapon you're trained to use and is needed there. So you're looking back at sea and of course there is not a thing you can do until the landing craft drops a ramp and your guns are there?
Mr. Frank: We didn't do anything except huddle behind them.
Dr. Burg: Did you have an officer or more than one officer with you in the landing craft?
Mr. Frank: Oh yes and they were in communication and trying to find out what it was that we were supposed to do. We were being landed, walkie-talkies radios or whatever, or they would send somebody to go somewhere's else to find out what was going on and we had no guns.
Dr. Burg: Noise Frank?
Mr. Frank: Oh a great deal of noise. Continuous noise. No enemy aircraft. I don't remember any at all. Artillery fire, mortar fire, machine gun fire, small arms fire, but I don't remember any aircraft, American aircraft but not their's. And the big Naval guns going off and of course those big guns make a rather strange sound. (imitates sound). Sort of like that. Like a train that's going through the air and there we were. We didn't do much of anything but have that defilade and a lot of people wounded, not in my company or my immediate, but they were ______ and many of them had their legs blown off trying to get up to that incline where all the mines were.
Dr. Burg: The approach _____ to the bridge?
Mr. Frank: Yes. My impression was that those mine fields were practically cleared by men rather than mine sweepers. In other words people just walked up and a lot of them lost their legs in the process and it really was quite an extraordinary thing.
Dr. Burg: More that than the exudation of individual mines by engineers?
Mr. Frank: Yes. Then they would put flags of some kind, little white things down, so they would try to show a path where you could walk where there were no longer any mines as far as they knew. Now we were there a long time. I don't remember how long but quite a while.
Dr. Burg: Oh 10:00 I saw before we began to move up that hill. And here we are with no weapons, other than the carbine or whatever you grabbed, and walking up this hill and still there was firing going on and I wondered what we were supposed to do. Well that went on to night fall and I think they got, as I remember, I think they got some howitzers aboard by nightfall but we didn't have hardly any ammunition.
Dr. Burg: Nobody attempted to take over your group or Cannon Company at large and make you into infantry?
Mr. Frank: Yes. We more or less were attached. So as I recall the 2nd Battalion, we had our officers but we were more or less attached to the 2nd Battalion and we sort of dragged along like a caboose. We went along with them but we .....
Dr. Burg: To the extent that anything could be done in your special case?
Mr. Frank: Well they know what we could do, we did. We were not officially, but we were just attached you might say, but I believe, I'm not positive. It seems to be it was the 2nd Battalion. 2nd Battalion had a fellow, I think his name was McCarthy that was a terrific mortar. Captain McCarthy and I think he was with the H Company, and that's why I think, I'm almost positive it was the 2nd Battalion that we were attached to. They had suffered. The 2nd Battalion of the DFGH Company had suffered very heavy casualties, extraordinarily heavy casualties.
Dr. Burg: Why Frank do you know?
Mr. Frank: I think they were the first ones to attack and I think they were hit the hardest. So we were attached to the 2nd Battalion to sort of fill in the rank. That happened until nightfall when we were inland a mile or two, or something like that and we just dug in, in the field somewhere and went to sleep.
Dr. Burg: When you're on that beach and up against that, let's call it a cliff, it isn't exactly that, but it's a very steep thing and let's for the record, the approximate place in the small French village of St. Laurent Sur Mer.
Mr. Frank: _____ Coleville I think was the closest. Well both. Both of those. The names have come to me St. Laurent Sur Mer. Mere, Caumont were places that I recalled. Now of course I saw signs and I'm trying to distinguish between the places we were and the signs that pointed to some place else that we were down the road. But Coleville Sur Mer is where I believe we were ostensibly.
Dr. Burg: As you were there on that beach, you mentioned you're in defilade. You're protected from fire coming from the front because you're in a ________. How about enfilade, firing coming in from either side, small arms fire, or any artillery fire from the German positions?
Mr. Frank: Artillery fire that I remember was landing in back of us on the beach and around the water edge area and we were farther enough so I don't recall but I could hear them going over and seeing them land on the beach and in the water and hitting ships in some instances, but I don't recall having any. You must remember that one of the principle weapons that the Germans used for infantry was a very flat projectory weapon, which was the 88. The 88 was an awesome weapon in that it could do so many things so well, but if you could get defiladed it was of no threat to you. Whereas a mortar is a terrible weapon because you can't avoid it. They could put it in your hip pocket and they were good very good mortarmen. The Germans are extremely good mortarmen. So that the weapons that they were using, the artillery primarily, I don't know this, but I think it was the 88's. Of course we used to swear they used it for shoulder weapons. They used it on the anti-aircraft, they used it on tanks, they used it as anti-personnel, they used it for everything but it was a flat projectory. For getting defilade you generally could render them ineffective.
Dr. Burg: Let me ask this because I'm sure it varied from unit to unit, and actually group to group probably. How did your outfit feel, you're on that beach, are you confident that you're damn well going to hang on and go forward or is there doubt expressed in your group or around you can we hang on here?
Mr. Frank: Well I think there was a good bit of doubt.
Dr. Burg: You think so?
Mr. Frank: Yes. And as a matter of fact, I think retrospectively, had the Germans counter-attacked that evening in any force, I don't think we would have held down the beach. I don't know that because I'm not a strategic soldier but it seems that way to me because I don't know how we could have, we had very little heavy weapons, or artillery, very little ammunition, elements of the 1st Division were badly disorganized and beat up. Now the 18th Infantry had landed later on in the day. The 16th Infantry was the attacking regiment in that particular occasion, so they were badly beat up. Then when the 18th came afterwards and as I recall, we practically went into reserve the next day virtually.
Dr. Burg: Was the 18th moving .....?
Mr. Frank: The 18th moved through and we had to regroup and get our weapons, we had to get replacements and so forth. So the 16th after the original penetration and the securing the beachhead to the extent that it was secured, we then stopped, dug in and protected ourselves the best we could. Send out controls, and so forth, and then the 18th moved through as I recollect, with the 26th bringing up the rear. Now I don't know when the 26th ____.
Dr. Burg: Then you don't have a recollection of them moving up through ......?
Mr. Frank: The 26th? No. I don't. I know the 18th did.
Dr. Burg: Now let me ask you this Frank, during the night do you by then have your guns, have howitzers come through?
Mr. Frank: I think that night they came in, yes, but we didn't have very many shells.
Dr. Burg: Where you were did the Germans put much pressure on you in terms of Infantry trying to dig you out of there?
Mr. Frank: Now that's some sporadic attack, not heavy pressure in that particular point. They used to drop these heavy flares, they were quite amazing things, I was stunned by how visible we must have been because if they fired flares, the little silk parachutes then they would hang and light up the area so you're force to stay still. If you have a tendency to want to move, of course if you move you can then be seen. We had mortar fire and we had artillery, but I don't remember if any point attack on our particular, where I was. I guess we did but I don't know how strong those attacks were. My impression quite frankly Mack is that if they attacked strongly enough I don't think we could have held on. So the attacks that took place were not that strong.
Dr. Burg: The impression I have is that they had their own problems trying to ascertain what is this? How bad is it? How big is it? Where is it?
Mr. Frank: Also they had another problem, they had Hitler who was trying to conduct things in contradiction to his field officers.
Dr. Burg: He doesn't seem to send his armour in when it might have been politics ________.
Mr. Frank: Oh I don't think we would have held. I really find it difficult to believe that we could have because what would you have fought them with. I mean a bunch of men, no matter how courageous, we're certainly not a match for Panzer Divisions and in force we just simply didn't have, the guns began to arrive, some artillery and some tanks began to arrive later that afternoon but I think there was a shortage of ammunition. I can remember an ammo truck being blown up on the beach. An awesome sight. It got hit and exploded. I don't recall we had very much ammunition. Matter of fact I don't recall firing a howitzer the first 24 to 48 hours we were on land. I don't remember setting up the guns and firing at all.
Dr. Burg: That's interesting. You have the guns, you have some but not much ammunition, some of you by now are armed more like the infantry would be armed, with M1 rifles or whatever you could pick up.
Mr. Frank: Yes. Well we always had the carbine.
Dr. Burg: But you're not really in infantry combat in that first say 24, after the first 24 hours or so, there may be another 24 hours where you're really not serving as Cannon Company and you're really not doing anything as Infantry either.
Mr. Frank: Not doing much of anything.
Dr. Burg: Because I think the common picture one would have is everybody on the beaches, Utah and Omaha, Gold Sword Juna, they would all be bitter.
Mr. Frank: Well I'm sure.
Dr. Burg: But it wouldn't even be quite necessarily like that.
Mr. Frank: We did serve as Infantry but we were dug in and the usual thing, but it just so happened evidently that the attacks that did take place sporadically or however feebly, did not hit our area where we happened to be.
Dr. Burg: The other thing that interest me Frank is that Infantry has gone far forward of course your own
Mr. Frank: We were about as far forward as our Infantry was about that time.
Dr. Burg: Your own 16th Infantry, the remnants of that, is that up forward.
Mr. Frank: Yes, the 16th had penetrated the furthest in that area. The 16th was as far forward as anybody else. There was nobody else further forward that I know of.
Dr. Burg: And the 18th was moving up in further strength and going to go through us while we were going to stay. We weren't being sent back. We would say you stay here and we are going to move the 18th through you. I remember seeing them go by and then they took over attacks and what not while we stayed behind to get more people aboard to fill in the casualties.
Dr. Burg: But one of the interesting things of course is you're there, now you've got guns and you've got some ammunition and nobody's giving you fire missions, perhaps because it is still so confused up forward with the Infantry that they don't realize now we've got in the 16th case, we've got Cannon Company and they've got their guns now and they've got some ammunition.
Mr. Frank: Well they were using at that time, a lot of tank fire and they had landed some tanks. The ones that had come aboard and they were using tanks instead of artillery. I don't remember the 1st Division Artillery at all taking a role until later on. Hey, I don't believe that they did. Tanks were being fired.
Dr. Burg: That is interesting. I can understand how it could happen but what a pity having they needed you on the first day and the guns aren't there, one gun I think you said out of 6 of Cannon Company, one gun.
Mr. Frank: Nothing to put in it.
Dr. Burg: I see it reached the beach and not a thing to fire with.
Mr. Frank: That's right and when we finally got the rest of them there was still a shortage of ammunition and I'm not sure that the powers that be, knew what their objectives were, and how they were going to get them and I really don't know what was going through their mind. I have no idea. The 18th of course as I say, took over the burden of the struggle after that first day until we, the 16th was able to recoup. They took the bulk of the burden. I don't know what the figures are, but if we would look in History books to find out the 16th Infantry Regiment on June 6 I'm sure got far more casualties than any of the other regiments of the 1st Division.
Dr. Burg: In those statistics, in fact they're probably in the cross-channel attack. It is quite a different picture isn't Frank, than what one expects? You're there for this monumental operation, it is not at all what you yourself would have been expecting?
Mr. Frank: Well I remember saying to some of the guys, some fellows in the Cannon Company who had made the invasion at Oran in November, 1942 and had made the invasion in Sicily and I said what a screwed up affair this is. And he says to me they're all this way. And I said really. Well he said this one perhaps more than the others, but they are always all like this. I said how the hell do we ever win a war, because it just seems. . . .
Dr. Burg: It's seems we ran out of tape. You were saying that rumor had passed around that Colonel George Taylor was Regimental Commander of the 16th was to receive the DSC.
Mr. Frank: Yes. How they knew that I don't know, but he apparently was the officer who had landed in the early morning and told the men that there are either two things you can do, stay here and die or move up the beach.
Dr. Burg: I think that was Dutch Cota. Deputy Division Commander.
Mr. Frank: Colonel Taylor was the Division Commander. Not Division Commander, Regimental Commander and I think he did get a DSC for that and later on I think he became the Assistant Adjutant Divisional Commander if I'm not mistaken. But George Taylor was the regimental commander and I believe the rumor was that he had done something brave and he would be getting accommodations for it. But how they knew that, I don't know. I didn't see it. It happened before we got there. We heard that so.
Dr. Burg: Do you remember the longest day?
Mr. Frank: Cornelius Ryan?
Dr. Burg: The motion picture.
Mr. Frank: Did I see that? I don't remember seeing it, I may have.
Dr. Burg: Quite an international cast. Robert Mitchum played
Mr. Frank: The story of GI Joe I remember seeing with Robert Mitchum.
Dr. Burg: No this is John Wayne who plays one of the 82nd hundred first Airborne Regimental
Mr. Frank: That may be one of the reasons I didn't see it because I can't stand John Wayne.
Dr. Burg: Well, every one of the roles is cameo Frank, every one of them and Mitchum plays Dutch Cota. Cota is on that beach, if not the first maybe the 28th and he is the one who says there are only two kinds of people on this beach, those who are dead and those who were going to do something.
Mr. Frank: Well, George Taylor received a DSC for that but I don't know what his express words for it, but I understand that he was the one that rallied the forces of the 16th and got them to move.
Dr. Burg: I'm sure that a number of men all along the beach were doing things like that and it's all put together that's what finally gets them off.
Mr. Frank: Oh sure. But I know that Taylor received a DSC that day.
Dr. Burg: Do you recollect sleeping that first night? The night of the 6th/7th? Once you're on the beach and inland to
Mr. Frank: As a matter of fact I remember guys going out and getting calvados.
Dr. Burg: That first night?
Mr. Frank: Oh sure. Men are amazing I tell you. I remember someone, I think his name was Larock that came back with something and a matter of fact it wasn't calvados but I thought it was going to be, well I in fact I didn't know what calvados was at that time I don't believe, but he said it was some cider they called it, but it was cider. It wasn't strong, it wasn't .......
Dr. Burg: And calvados would have just blown the top of your head off.
Mr. Frank: Oh yes. Well we got calvedos not long after that and sustained us through but he got some, I guess from some of the French farmers and what not in the area that he managed to get some cider, because I can remember drinking cider; and yes, we slept.
Dr. Burg: The second day, that is the 7th, since things don't happen, you're simply dug into a hole, you dug a foxhole for yourself? Is that day simply pretty much spent sitting in that hole Frank? or can you recollect what you did?
Mr. Frank: Oh I think on the 7th we began to get more organized and we had a semblance of the company at that time.
Dr. Burg: Did you emplace the guns for example?
Mr. Frank: Well we moved up and did yes. We were able to move up to the 18th I guess and pushed up further and we moved up a bit, I'm not quite sure where we were, but we ran into the beginning of the Bocage Country, the hedgerows and we fired some artillery at that time.
Dr. Burg: Would your guns be dug in?
Mr. Frank: You get them off the truck and then you would spread, you didn't have to do it like you have to with a big 105's that had the legs, the trail, and the spades on them and you could stick them into the ground and they didn't have the same recoil as the bigger 105's. It was bad enough we would fire them and then we would reset them. We would dig in and then we would have to reset them. We would set them, fire a round or two, and then we would reset them again and then we could usually continue to fire.
Dr. Burg: In order to keep your fire accurate?
Mr. Frank: Yes.
Dr. Burg: Because the guns recoil would jolt the guns and then you would be off time?
Mr. Frank: Yes. Right. And I'm trying to think of what we used to put, pieces of log or whatever we could find as I remember, back of those spades. But they used to dig right into the ground pretty much and we would fire maybe 2 or 3 rounds and then we would reset these.
Dr. Burg: But you didn't have to physically dig out a gun pit?
Mr. Frank: No we never dug a gun pit. We used to put a camouflage sometimes and hold the camouflage around the gun. I don't recall ever digging a pit for a 105.
Dr. Burg: Let me ask you an infantryman's question because anyone in the infantry is very nervous around things that make a lot of noise or throw a big flash and flame. Did your guns, when you're firing you're firing high angle, did those guns tend to give away their position?
Mr. Frank: Oh sure. Well of course not only the fire would be seen but the mere fact that anything draws fire, a tank, artillery, machine guns, Bar's, mortar. The riflemen, while he might be very happy to have the support, does not like a tank pulling up behind him and beginning to fire because that gets counter battery and once the counter battery begins to come in, the tank drives off and leaves the doggie sitting in his hole. So, they don't particularly like it. We went up with them and we acted the same way, we drew the counter battery and we'd stay there, we didn't leave. They felt about the same way toward us as they did everybody else. They liked the fact that they had the support but they were wondering how they could get it without getting the counter-battery.
Dr. Burg: Yes. They would like to tip toe away from their positions if they possibly could.
Mr. Frank: Yes. And even a BAR will draw off fire more so than just a rifle. It's an automatic weapon, and an automatic weapon of any kind or any heavy weapon of any kind draws it, and they're stuck with it. Well if you know what a heavy weapons company does and how close support they are to ABCD Company as in support of ABC Company, they very often will have say A & B Company will be at the point of attack, C will be in reserve and D will be in support and they're very close together. Well the Cannon Company is right there very close and the artillery is further behind.
Dr. Burg: How long would you say Frank, just in estimate if you can, how long is it in terms of days or hours before Cannon Company is routinely daily doing what Cannon Company is trained to do? It has become now the unit that its trained to be, since the first couple of days you're really not doing what you're trained to do?
Mr. Frank: Maybe about the 10th.
Dr. Burg: As long as that?
Mr. Frank: Three or four days. About the 10th of June.
Dr. Burg: Again I think that will tend to surprise some people, that it takes that long sometimes. But let me ask you a second question, ammunition I assume your supply of it increases, how about food? Food, water, is that alright from the outskirts?
Mr. Frank: I don't remember having much trouble with food or water.
Dr. Burg: My feeling is you would remember Frank, if you had.
Mr. Frank: I don't remember having an awful lot of trouble with food. The First Division was remarkable in the fact that I think the First Division had the best chow of any Division. Whoever it was, was a smart guy that decided that, but the First Division fed its troops very well. And they would come right up to the front and give you hot food and the officers always made the men eat first, and if they ate everything and there was nothing left then the officers would not eat. That was a rule for the First Division. The First Division always had a good kitchen. They took care of that. Every unit of the First Division. That was just a commandment. I always knew that because we would have hot food there when other outfits didn't have it. Trucks would pull up under fire, and set up their kitchens and we always got good food. That's a fact. Cigarettes, in those days I smoked cigarettes, and we had so many cigarettes in the beginning of the campaign; Camels, Chesterfield, Lucky's, Old Gold, Pall Mall, good brands. We didn't know what to do with them. We would throw them off. Now remember the Cannon Company walked sometimes and took trucks some times. I'm talking about the men in the Cannon Company. The cannon would be attached to the back of a truck with the artillery in it, with the shells. Very often we would walk and we would also ride in a truck, but we more often walked. As we went through, we had so many of these cigarettes, we didn't know what to do with them all, we used to throw them off the trucks or throw them off the side of the road as we were walking along the road to all French kids. I was sorry I did that because it wasn't very long before we couldn't anything except Avalons, Dominos and Twenty Grand.