My name is W. Garwood Bacon, I was born June 26, 1920 in Camden, NJ. I enlisted in the Navy on Navy Day, November 11, 1941 as E-5 which is in the Naval Intelligence Branch in Philadelphia. My rate as E-5 was 2nd class yeoman.
On December 7, 1941 I called the custom house in Philadelphia where I was to be assigned and they told me they would be in touch with me for active duty. I went on active duty in February, 1942. I served as a driver for the officers investigating waterfront activities, I also boarded Spanish and Portuguese speaking vessels off of Lews, Delaware going out on the pilot boat and then going up the Delaware to the port of Philadelphia and ask questions of the crew. I examined all the way into the bottom of the ship to see whether there was any evidence of them possibly refueling German subs.
At one point, I thought it would be more exciting to be a flier. I applied and passed the physical and mental for Navy air, but then was told because of my importance to the Intelligence Branch that I would have to be put on a long list. So at another point I decided I would want some action and it just seemed like I'd entered the service early but yet the other kids were leaving, coming home and going away and I was coming home in civilian clothes and not very understandable to the neighbors.
Anyway, in 1943 I was transferred by request to the fifth Naval District and got boot training at Bainbridge, MD where I was assigned by request to the beach battalion program in Virginia. Because of my rate I was in the leading naval beach battalion which had about 50 officers and 500 men. It was my responsibility to take care of all of the paperwork of the transfers, incoming people, captains mast, court martials and so forth.
Commander L.C. Leever was our commanding officer, the man came from Ann Arbor, Michigan. He was an enlisted man in WWI, owned a good sized boat and was in the flotilla in the Hudson River and he became an officer to lead our group. We had many practice invasions besides the normal workout to stay in shape on the beaches at Solomon's Island, Camp Bradford, and then we went to Fort Pierce, Florida, began for similar training and to Ledapees, New York where we were for a short while before leaving for England in March 1944 on the Maritania which is sister ship to the Felicitania.
It was an English ship and I was quartered in the fourth deck below and it was only my guitar that saved me from being seasick the whole trip. We finally landed in England and was stationed in Devonshire, England where we did some combined exercises with the army at a place called Slapton Sands which had similar surface and ties that we would be landing in Normandy.
Actually it was shell and rocks anywhere from 2 inches to four inches in diameter and it was impossible to dig a normal foxhole. On one of the live ammunition practice landings at Slapton Sands. We saw what was to be one of the surprise weapons of the war. There were some tanks which had canvas bottoms so they would float but when the got in the water they actually did look like a small boat.
There were 32 of them on the invasion and I believe only 4 made it to shore. The rest were either sunk or shorted out because of the heavy waves.
May 15, 1944, 7th Naval Beach battalion left our training bases for the marshaling area for the invasion of France after 9 months of intensive beach battalion training and dry runs at Camp Bradford, Fort Pierce, Solomon's Island and several practice invasions on the English coast, under realistic conditions of live mines on the beach and naval gunfire from supporting ships of the British and American navies.
As the trucks loaded down with the battle clad men and tons of medical communications, boat repair and hydrographic gear rumbled noisily out of the strangely quiet and vacant camp the feeling of "this is it" was evident on the grim faces of the veterans of previous invasions and all of the inexperienced men. We could all sense the fact that this is not just another dry run but would be the test for all of the training and individual initiative that we possessed in a battle to obtain a foothold on a European continent.
As we careened crazily down the narrow country lanes of Devonshire towards our unknown destination some of us started to sing some old songs to break the tension. Since most of our battalion consisted of young men averaging about 19 or 20 years old, it wasn't long before our entire company of trucks and jeeps were yelling away lusty on such refrains as Marching Along Together, and a beach battalion song some of the boys had composed a few months before.
It was a relief to get rid of the pent up energy caused by the weeks of waiting. At Painton we disembarked from our trucks and boarded an awaiting troop train. Everywhere the British people gave us the "V" for victory sign and they too saw that something was up. They had been waiting for a long time for this occasion since 1939.
In Dorchester, we detrained and an awaiting convoy of trucks transported us to the marshaling area which was located on a large estate outside of the city. Those of us who were assigned to this area were forced in being put on side of a hill in five adjacent buildings. In all of our operations we worked very closely with the army, thus the major portion of the area was composed of army engineers, MP's, infantry and medical units of the 1st Division.
During the next two weeks our time was spent in writing letters, calisthenics, and sports to relieve the minds and bodies of the men. Toward the end of the second week, officers began briefing the leading petty officers as to their definite assignments on the "maneuver". We were taken under guard into a big room which contained air photographs taken as recently as May 25, 1944 by low flying P-38's. And a huge rubber map approximately 20 ft x 10 ft which showed us in minute detail the exact beaches we were to hit.
The types of obstacles and their positions in the water with respect to our particular beaches. The two rows leading back from our beaches to Le Moulin and Vierville Sur Mer. The sea wall along a portion of the beaches a ridge we could expect to sight on approaching a beach from the water. The gun emplacements would rise and fall tides, the proposed locations for army and navy evacuation centers, ammunition dumps, water and supply depots and the areas to be taken by the Rangers, Airborne troops and more details.
In addition we were given several first aid demonstrations, gas mask drills, lectures and demonstrations on German uniforms, markings, weapons and equipment. It may seem incredible that so many men could keep so vital a secret but each and every man was fully informed not only to his particular job but as to the full import of this tremendous undertaking. It can be openly seen that the American fighting man is the best informed in the world.
On June 1st we were broken into specially formed groups called boat teams. Composed of both army and naval personnel and loaded onto trucks. Once more it was evident to all of us that this maneuver was soon to begin. Our boat team consisted of 220 men. 41 of whom were from the 7th Naval Beach Battalion and the balance composed of infantry, engineers, MP's, and medical men of the assault wave.
In an overcrowded port, we the navy, clamored aboard the LCI 92 designated by the army as LCI L531. And were assigned to hold #3; 1,2, and 4 being occupied by army personnel. Once aboard no one was permitted ashore for security reasons. We had been informed that we would not be in the harbor more than 3 days.
Our quarters consisted simply of bunks stacked 4 high and rows so close together that it was impossible to go between them clad in battle togs. As we scrambled down the ladder we shrugged out of our packs, gas masks and ammunition carriers and carried them in our hands along with our weapons in order to squeeze back to our assigned bunk. We felt reasonably that we would be here for a couple of days anyway so everyone set his mind to that fact.
From June 1st until the afternoon of June 4th we spent our times playing cards, reading, passing rumors, eating our K, D, and C-rations in shifts up on the open deck and waiting our turn to use the limited supply of water in the two wash basins on the ship. Considering the fact that so many men were crowded with equipment into this small space there was little or no bickering or arguing.
On the morning of June 4, a Sunday, services were held on the open decks, and few if any failed to whisper the prayers regarding some protection in the great undertaking we were about to experience. Shortly after noon I went up on the bridge with a pair of binoculars, I could see that already many of the ships had left the harbor and others were getting up steam including our own. The scuttlebutt passed as we were all sure that June 5 would be D-Day and we were going to shove off soon.
However, around 4 o'clock the ships shut off their motors and by morning of June 5 the harbor seemed full again with ships of all descriptions, LSTs, APAs, LCTs, etc. It is my belief that from what I can understand the invasion was actually to be June 5 but high winds and stormy weather caused a 24-hour postponement, that a good part of the slower vessels such as APAs and LCTs had started out earlier on the 4th were considerably on their way towards France before turning back because of the rough seas.
In any event, by noon of June 5 the harbor was again pretty devoid of large and stronger vessels and at 5 o'clock our flotilla of LCIs got under way. We were permitted to remain above deck until blackout time. Fore and aft on both sides of the ship as far as you could see, were ships, ships and more ships. Despite all that lay ahead we somehow were able to drop off to sleep after our boat commander read us Eisenhower's speech. Some of the ships crew passed down to the less sleepy occasional reports describing huge armada's of airplanes passing overhead towards the French coast for the apparent purpose of softening up the Gerry's.
At precisely 6 a.m. on June 6 the big guns of the combined fleets, the allied fleets, began a muddy barrage of the invasion coast striking for predetermined coastal defense batteries. Shortly after 6, we began filing topside again for our morning ration of food. We all ate something because none knew how soon we would be lucky enough to eat again. It was still too dark to discern the coast line but the next 40 minutes filled with the deafening roar of the coordinated gunfire from our battle wagons, cruisers and destroyers, blasted and rocked the coast into a smoking and firing line.
Everything seemed to be going smoothly and very few of us inexperienced men could shake off the feeling that this was just another maneuver. At 6:40 a.m. the allied sea monsters, belching forth their message of death, suddenly ceased firing. Just as abruptly as they had begun and we knew that this very moment, the very first waves of the invasion craft were scraping bottom in an attempt to land their fighting cargo.
We dipped our mess kits in the cold greasy water with an effort to clean them and took another hasty glance at the smoking and blazing shoreline before ducking through the hatchway leading down to our quarters.
At approximately 7:40 a.m. five of us, Johnakin, bosuns mate first class, tall, gangly, serious-minded, and 21, veteran of North Africa and Sicily, and leading petty officer of this platoon. Haynes, bosuns mate first class, also a veteran of previous operations, Arts and Beemus and myself went topside to move all of our units, medical, hydrographic, communications, ship repair, geared to a prearranged position on the ship.
Alongside the conning tower, portside, amid ships, and on the fantail. We had volunteered because of our swimming ability to cut loose and throw over the side the rubber raft lashed against the conning tower. Loaded with the aforementioned gear and paddle, swim or drag this precious cargo safely ashore somehow while the remainder of our group landed in the usual manner from the two forward landing ramps.
According to our schedule, our craft was to land on beach, Dog White, at H hour plus 100 minutes or approximately 8:10 a.m. through a 50 yard patch cleared by our demolition men and the maze of obstacles and mines prepared by the Germans. Our ships crew were veterans of North Africa, Sicily and Salerno and promised they would get us ashore somehow.
At 7:55 only 15 minutes left before our scheduled landing. No shots had been fired on us and we were rapidly approaching what seemed and actually proved to be an impassable barrier. Nowhere in sight was the hope for clear passage. Finally with only a few minutes between us and our appointment with fate, our LCI veered sharply to the right and headed straight directly for the right flank of the Dog Green beach.
Some few yards to the right of us another LCI was drifting aimlessly and German machine guns were mercilessly cutting to ribbons any floundering troops who had managed to jump clear of the smoking and burning hull. On our left along the obstacles, I could see 2 or 3 LCMs aft, sunk or overturned by shell fire or mines.
Only 100 yards from the first row of obstacles it was still quiet, yes, I said to myself, it's too damned quiet. I spoke briefly with my executive officer, Lieutenant Commander Southward, who was standing by the number 3 hatchway forward and eased myself back to a position of readiness beside the rubber raft.
Suddenly, without warning a blast shook our sturdy little craft from stem to stern and a sheet of flame shot up some 30 or 40 feet in the air through the number 1 hold directly forward of the conning tower. A fire broke out below and smoke poured out of the gaping hole torn by the flames.
As if the explosion were a prearranged signal, the Gerry's opened up with everything, 88's, mortar's, machine guns, and so forth. Terror seized me as I gazed horrified at the burned and bleeding frantically rushing and stumbling past me trying to get away from the blinding fire and smoke. I fought off the weakness in my knees and struggled to keep my mind clear.
Then I heard a voice yell for blankety blank sake somebody cut the blankety-blank line and there against the rear of the thickening smoke I could see Johnakin slashing at the lines, holding the rubber raft against the conning tower. Haynes cut the remaining strand and with the appearance of Arts and Beemus we quietly dropped the raft over the side.
As Johnakin tied the afts stern line to the LCI, I climbed over the side and dropped the remaining 7 or 8 feet and landed on all fours in a pitching and rocking craft. Haynes made fast the bow lines and I braced my knees against the gunnels to prevent my being pitched overboard while catching the radio set and medical packs they began dropping to me.
Arts leaped into the other end of the raft and together we managed to catch all the gear safely and stow it as compactly as possible. Next came our personal gear, packs, tommy guns, ammunition, canteens and finally, Haynes, Johnakins and Beemus dropped into the loaded craft.
Arts handed me his knife which was to cut loose three paddles, secured forward which we used heading towards shore some 150 yards away. Machine gun and rifle bullets whined past our ears, or plunked into the water near our craft. As we pushed our way through the iron and wooden ramps and poles to which were wired telemines. As we reached more shallow water, where 3 and 4 ft waves were breaking, I marveled that there we were not dashed against some mine or reeled to pieces by gunfire as yet.
We slipped off the ramp into the cold channel water and keeping the ramp between us and the beach we pushed it into shore where we crawled out along the sides of it and dragged the equipment to the water's edge. From our position to the 3 ft. seawall was a scant 30 yards at Ropard beach littered with dead and dying soldiers, unused weapons, and off to our left some 50 or 60 yds. an amphibious tank with its treads in the water was firing bursts of machine gun bullets at German pillboxes and gun emplacements in the side of the hill while about 300 yds beyond the sea wall.
Destruction and chaos engulfed the entire area. Troops were dug in and still fighting from the beach. It was even tougher than we had anticipated. All this took just a matter of seconds to observe. I did not know just what to do next. As we dragged the last bit of gear out of the ramp, Johnakin yelled, "Hey Bacon do you think that we can make it out to the ship again. Some of these wounded guys will never make it ashore."
"I'll give it a try if you will Johnny," I replied, so while Haynes, Beemus and Arts pulled the units gear away from the waters edge to the shelter of the seawall, Johnakin and I quickly tossed our packs, tommy guns, and helmets on the beach and crawled around behind the raft to catch our breath before starting out around the raft.
"Wow," Johnakin cried as a bullet ripped into the water where he had just been, "those S.O.B.s mean business." A couple of more bullets plunked into the water harmlessly nearby and we began crawling backward out into deeper water, keeping the ramp between us and the beach. Bullets continued to whiz near us and our gas impregnated clothes were trying to pull us under as we struggled into deeper water.
We finally managed to fight our way out through the barriers and obstacles to the side of the ship. In a matter of a few minutes some 15 or 20 wounded or non-swimmers were crammed into it or hanging on the outside of the raft and with the help of free hands and feet flailing the water we all managed to reach shore once more where several able-bodied men helped to take the wounded to the protection of the seawall and administer first aid wherever possible.
Safe for the moment, I shouted to Haynes, "Where's my gear."
"Here's your helmet and a pack but someone grabbed your gun and ammunition," he answered. I muttered something unprintable out of my breath and crawled out of my foxhole long enough to pick up an unfired carbine lying useless beside one of the countless bloody uniforms littering the beach.
The rapidly rising tide and stiff breeze had by now swung our LCI around broad sides of the beach and was slowly drifting to the obstacles toward shore. There were still some survivors struggling in the water trying to reach shore. Wading through the choppy sea in my direction I could see two soldiers about 10 ft apart.
Just as it appeared that they would make it to the beach, I heard that already familiar but clear whooshing sound that an 88 shell makes, zipping through the air overhead and wham, it burst so class that the concussion blew them sideways in the water.
One staggered drunkly to his feet with a stunned expression and then gave a hysterical scream, grabbed frantically at his face as blood spurted and poured down his face and the front of his jacket from a head wound. The complexity of mingled expressions of surprise, pain, fear and bewilderment he showed were indescribable.
His buddy came up unhurt and yelled, "For God's sakes take hold of yourself."
That seemed to snap him out of it momentarily and together they stumbled past the breakers to the beach. The amphibious tanks were holding their own with small arms fire but the deadly accuracy of the 88's fire forced them to change their positions on the beach occasionally to prevent them from being blown apart.
Every time they changed position compelled those of us dug in close to that particular tank to move and dig in again out of immediate danger such as this target presented. Since most of our group were some 1200 yds to the right of our assigned beach we took advantage of a lull in artillery fire to gather all the radio and medical gear we could carry and began to trek along the beach.
This trek lasted some 10 hours instead of it taking 30 minutes. We were crawling under coils of barbed wire, swishing our way through wooden ramps and barriers washed ashore, ducking behind burned out tanks and digging foxholes. When the enemy opened up with the artillery, with small arms fire, at one protected point, Lieutenant Carpenter in charge of Dog Red beach requested that a message be sent to the flag ship asking for supplies and men on our beaches as the situation was quite desperate.
This was one of our beach battalion jobs. Our radiomen and I put the waterproof radio set 609 together which we had been lugging along with us and after trying unsuccessfully for about an hour we finally got a call through. All of us were beginning to shiver as the cold wind whipped through the water so close. The allied planes flying overhead with their wings and fuselages plainly bearing five newly painted black and white stripes were very reassuring as we were quite vulnerable to the attack.
Occasionally, broad sides from those close lying cruisers and destroyers gave strength to the fainthearted. Since my assignment was to locate my commanding officer to help set up a command post, I asked permission from Lt. Carpenter to go further down the beach myself and search for him.
Leaving my packs in the foxhole, I picked up my carbine and started down the beach. The seawall at this point was about 3 ft high so I crouched low, ran about 10 yds, hit the dirt for a few seconds. In this fashion I covered some 200-300 yds. without mishap. The army ships I requested had not seen any of my battalion as yet. I got up again for the umpteenth time and dashed another few yards.
Suddenly I found myself in the midst of 50-75 men all prostrate on the sand or rocks. Thinking they were lying there held down by gunfire, I threw myself down between two soldiers and buried my face. Suddenly I realized there was no rat-a-tat-tat of a machine gun or rifle bullets whining overhead so I lifted my head cautiously and looked around.
The sickening sight that met my eyes froze me on the spot. One of the men I had dropped between was headless, the other was blown half apart. Yes, every last one of them were dead and apparently blasted and battered by 88 or machine gun fire during the first assault wave. Directly in front of me there was an opening in the seawall through which this murderous gunfire would probably come.
Although the Gerrys were responsible and undoubtedly met their just fate, I did not wait around to find out. In no second flat I leaped up and put considerable distance between me and the squad. I continued my search for another hundred yards of beach without success. So I holed up behind a protecting bank for a few minutes to decide my next move. I concluded that my commanding officer had either hit the wrong beach or was among the missing so I turned back and retraced my steps to Lt. Carpenter's small group without mishap from the harassing small arms fire.
It was noon now and we could see that the outgoing tide had left our LCI lying broadside to the beach in about 2 ft of water. Several men volunteered to go back along the beach and get aboard the craft for whatever food or other useful supplies they could find. Johnakin led a small group toward her and threw down a few cartons of self-heating soups, some blankets to a couple of us. We broke open a carton of soup for noon chow and used the blankets to keep some of the wounded men warm.
I was one of the lucky people that had saved his D-rations, that's chocolate bars, so we divided the 3 bars equally among 6 of us to ease our hunger a little later in the afternoon. Although our 4 beaches were closed for landing men or supplies until the tide had receded, beyond the obstacles about 3 p.m. in the afternoon there was a gradually increasing stream of trucks, jeeps, tanks, men and supplies landing further down to our left.
Taking advantage of the receding tide, about 8 or 10 of our demolition squad began securing among the obstacles hastily stringing wire in preparation for blasting open a passage through which landing craft might pass undamaged when the tide rose again later in the day. Just as they seemed to be finished and were grouped together fixing the fuse a detonator, a small shell came hurtling out of nowhere with precision-like accuracy and landed plump in their midst sending their mingled bodies flying in all directions.
Some three or four did not get up and there were a couple of them who could do nothing but hobble with the aid of their luckier shipmates out of site behind a wrecked and overturned LCM. In the same murderous manner, the Gerrys would wait until a small craft beached dropped its ramp and as the troops were bunched forward ready to leap onto the beach a shell would explode among the unsuspecting men, killing or maiming a greater portion of them.
By 6 p.m. the entire beach 300 yds wide at high tide was a mass of men, supplies, and equipment waiting for the moment when the two roads leading off our beaches to Le Milan and Vierville Sur Mer would be cleared of mines. According to the invasion plan these particular roads were to have been cleared of mines for traffic by HR + 12 hours approximately 6:30 p.m.
The Germans opened up again in a terrific barrage on the vulnerable troops and supplies sitting helplessly on the narrow beach. It was no wonder that many of us were speculating just how prepared we were going to be for a German counterattack. In our briefings we were informed that mobile Panzer units were only 8 to 9 hours away from our strategic strip of beach.
To make matters worse the tide was already on its way again and within an hour or two we'd covered most of the area occupied by the mounting mass of vehicles and supplies.
During this heavy bombardment in our section directed at the equipment laying on the beach we sought cover in the only direction possible, good old Mother Earth. We used our hands and feet to push the stones away from our bodies and dug ourselves down into a hastily formed foxholes as far as possible.
During this a wounded soldier and I shared a foxhole. Closer and closer the shells kept dropping methodically, blasting the cluttered beach every few yards. The last couple I remember hearing shirred us with loose stones, and metal and debris. Then blam, something exploded in my head making crazy patterns of dancing lights. My head swam and my entire body seemed to be vibrating. Everything continued to whirl and with a fading of the flashes of blinding lights and tremors through the body I opened my eyes to find everything black.
From far away I could hear my foxhole buddy asking, "Mate are you hit."
My limbs seemed paralyzed and it was all I could do to slowly mumble, "I don't know. I think so. Maybe it's a concussion."
Now I began to feel a heavy pounding in my head and my neck hurt too. With extreme effort I raised my hand to my neck, the back of my head and felt a warm stickiness that could only mean one thing. I had been hit but how badly I could not know. I was blind and that was plenty for me. Fortunately, I still had a dry handkerchief in my pants pocket and the soldier kindly tied it over about my head to keep out the dirt.
Throughout the remainder of the bombardment lasting about an hour, I prayed silently and fervently that God would spare me my eyes, man's most precious gift. Little did I know that a few days hence my prayers would be answered and my eyesight restored.
At approximately 8 p.m. the barrage lifted and the roads to Le Milan and Vierville Sur Mer were opened to traffic. At long last, I was piled onto a truck with some 12 or 15 other wounded men and taken inland. We were laid in a row in a small sheltered area on the seaward side of a ridge which began it's rise some 300 yds beyond the beach. The army men whoever they were, gave each one of us a blanket to help protect us from the cold of the night and the intermittent showers.
An interesting side note was, as I was starting to climb into the truck I got a cramp in my leg and yelled and someone said, "Oh, he's dying," and it gave me a laugh then and I said, "No, it's just a hamstring."
While we were being settled as comfortably as possible on the rocky ground I heard a sharp command to move an anti-aircraft battery being set up nearby to a safer position. In as much as they were exposed to the enemy snipers still active in the area. As they disassembled the unit I asked softly, are you leaving a guard with us.
"Sorry, we need every man we have here, but you'll be okay buddy until medical men get to you in the morning."
Quietly they slipped away and I resigned myself to sweating out a long and eventful night turning my intermittent attention to wrapping my single blanket closely around my weary body to ward off the cold, damp night. Sometime during the night some enemy bombers came over and bombed the ships in the harbor and the still of the night was often broken by sporadic bursts, machine gun fire or the clang-clang of a tanks treads as it changed it's position to cover some new sector with it's guns.
Not being able to see I could only surmise and imagine what was transpiring. The boy on the left of me was very restless and in pain and his body kept jerking spasmodically. I did not know what his injury was but the lad on my right was moaning softly, he could not stand the pain in his right arm much longer.
The cold ground and sharp stones we lay on caused us to shift our close huddled bodies often during the night. It was a weird feeling lying there blind, listening to the jerky movements of the chap on my left and the heavy breathing of the soldier on my right, breathlessly listening trying to identify any unusual sounds such as might be caused by German snipers prowling about.
I dozed off to sleep many times for short intervals and it seemed that the night would never pass. Guns began firing more regularly so I turned to the soldier on my left and whispered, "Hey Joe is it daybreak yet?"
After receiving no answer or movement from him I rolled over and nudged the boy on my right. He too was unresponsive. Thinking out loud I mumbled, what's wrong with these guys anyway. "They were dead, lost too much blood," came the unexpected answer from further down the row.
"Oh, sorry." I said wondering just how many more of our little group would follow that example before medical help could reach us.
Just before midday, June 7 an army medic managed to get to us uninjured, gave us each some sulfa pills and a sip of water from his canteen. He explained to us that the stretcher bearers could not come up to move us until all the remaining snipers holed up in the side of the hill were wiped out.
It gave us hope. Sometime in the afternoon they could get to us and we were rushed to an evacuation center. Late morning and the early afternoon the naval gun firing increased in intensity as observers sought out the positions of the murderous 88's.
The noise was so deafening, it was necessary to open our mouths to prevent our eardrums from shattering from the concussion of nearby bursting shells. Four of our group died during the day from lack of blood. Just before dusk we were carried down the ridge to the beach and after examination to an evacuation center.
Those of us considered critical were placed on a jeep and were taken to the waiting LCM around midnight. About 20 of us were loaded on the small craft. After getting stuck by the outgoing tide and pushed off by a group of men, we bounced our way out to an LST. A crane was rigged to swing us aboard, being lashed to the stretcher. About 1/3 of the way up one side slipped off and I was raised the rest of the way hanging head down lowered into a hold where several naval corpsmen kept constant watch to care for the needs and desires of the wounded.
We had no sooner loaded aboard and we experienced another brief but distasteful air attack through which we lay unscathed.
We had our damp heavy clothing cut away from our dirty bodies and were given sulfur pills periodically. The pills stayed down but the water didn't. I couldn't hold the pill in my stomach until about June 13. We lay overnight in Normandy, harbor, to await the formation of a convoy and late on the night of June 8th we pulled out and headed for the subsequently proved to be Portsmouth, England.
We arrived at the port on the afternoon of June 9th but examinations followed at a first aid station that was set up on the docks. Those of us requiring immediate attention were taken by ambulance to the 228th station hospital at Mansfield, England.
On June 10th x-rays were taken and pieces of shrapnel removed from my skull, one of which I still have measuring about 3/4 of an inch by 3/8 of an inch and weighing approximately 1/2 ounce. Being part of an 88-shell fragment. I found this taped to my wrist after this operation. Although some vision was restored I continued to have severe headaches and pain and on June 30, I was given a GI army uniform. My navy uniform was destroyed and not available and instead of being sent by ambulance, we were given a train ticket. No money and put on a train stamped Holywell.
It should have been Chester, England where I was destined to end up at the neuro-surgical hospital, 184th General and then 83rd General Hospital. The only things that I had to show that I was a member of the navy were my dog tags and chiefs pin. I boarded a train at 6:45 a.m. along with a couple of other wounded men and was sent to another hospital and nearly 13 hours later after making 4 changes I arrived at Holywell junction, the end of the regular train line.
From there to Holywell was a four mile ride almost entirely straight uphill. The small train just a little larger that is used in amusement parks. Traveled on a single track forward up the hill, and backward down the hill. Eventually I learned that Holywell is a place for people with sicknesses and otherwise crippled go to for faith healing.
It got more and more like a fairy tale as I approached my destination. As we slowed down from our puffing 3-4 miles an hour to a stop, all I could see was an old tumbledown station and by the track a porter waiting to collect tickets. They only spotted tickets at their starting station and turn them in at their destination rather than having conductors on the train.
As I stepped from the train the porter looked at my uniform with a quizzical expression on his face. I gave him my ticket which was correct in every detail and kindly asked him if he could direct me to the army hospital. Well, right then I realized that the chap who had put the town on the ticket head sent me to the wrong place.
Without money I had no choice but to find my way to someplace where I could ask a question and learn where I was supposed to be. The porter said that there was a hospital in town and a small lad offered to lead me to it. The boy said he knew of no army hospital nearby and that very few Americans had ever visited the town. He did say there was a small brick one-story building for a hospital and led me past a theater where people were lining up for the Saturday night show, many of whom looked curiously at the American uniform.
Centuries old buildings and shops lined both sides of the main street. After reaching the hospital I gave the lad the remainder of a small bag of lemon drops and thanked him. I entered the hospital feeling so much like Ronald Coleman in "Rain Harvest" but he had amnesia and that I was a victim of a ridiculous circumstance.
As I entered an elderly lady dressed in a white dress and hat similar to those that the Quakers wear came to meet me. I proceeded to explain briefly and explicitly "a navy chief petty officer in army uniform with a head injury looking for an army hospital".
The nearest army hospital I learned later, was sixty miles distant. Well, as you can imagine that was a bit more than she could take all in one breath. Therefore, treating me like a baby she asked me to be seated and wrote down all the pertinent facts and opened up my sealed orders.
She suggested that I eat something which was the first time since morning. I introduced myself to Noel and Clifford, brothers about 8 or 9 years old who were bed patients for varicose veins and heart ailments.
At about 9:30 p.m. I dropped off to sleep only to be awaken at 11:30 by the nurse advising me that they, the army, had come for me. I saw a first lieutenant of the army and a medic who had been informed that there was an unconscious man, a navy patient to be picked up.
The lieutenant asked me if I felt dizzy and how I got there. Where was I supposed to be and why the army uniform? If I was a navy man and the rest of the logical questions, which I didn't blame them for being puzzled over.
I finally convinced them that I was conscious, sensible etc., but they insisted upon carrying me on a litter and putting me on the floor of a truck outside where I bounced around for 60 miles to the hospital. The lieutenant was perturbed at being called away from a Saturday night dance to come for me.
At about 2:30 a.m. I arrived at my true destination very much disgusted with the army and things in general. Whereupon a nurse escorted me to the kitchen and filled me with chicken dinner and all the fixings which smoothed my brow. However, all the excitement and weariness of the day plus the fact that I still had shrapnel in my skull and chest plus a compound fracture of the left occiporal lobe where bone fragments had damaged some brain tissue, left me unable to sleep for almost 72 hours in spite all types of medication.
After many x-rays and examination, one by Dr. Frank A. Elliott, renowned neurologist on consultation to the American Army and one of the best neurosurgeon, Dr. William R. Lipscomb from Denver, Colorado, determined the necessity to operate further to remove fragments and pressure.
Dr. Lipscomb operated removing bone and shell fragments and inserted a large titanium plate during an approximately 5 to 6 hour operation with local anesthesia. Once during the operation, Dr. Lipscomb reprimanded one of the nurses for humming "Blues in the Night", finding out however, was that I was trying to keep myself in a happy frame of mind.
Dr. Elliott came to Philadelphia Hospital after WWII involving spinal surgery from service connected injuries on landings. He had made an international impact on neurological research and continues since retiring. A very remarkable man.
Dr. Lipscomb specialized in neurological surgery in Denver. Over the years we exchanged correspondence. September '44 I was shipped to St. Auburn's Naval Hospital, Jamaica, Long Island, where I underwent a third head operation and in March '45 I was discharged honorably.
The following awards were received by me: Purple Heart, received by the 83rd Army General Hospital in England along with some other soldiers; a Bronze Star with 2 presidential citations from Rear Admiral Stark, Commander of European Naval Forces and Naval Secretary Forstall awarded to me at Lido Beach, Long Island, New York. I also received an army unit citation awarded after WWII as a member of the 7th naval beach battalion attached to the 149th engineer combat battalion, member of O force. There were only 10,000 of the entire invasion force were involved in this unit.