LTC Al A. Alverez, USA (RET)
Sunrise came around 0600 that day, but I remember it as a still, dark, dismal, dank morning on the tossing English Channel. But we could have been in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean somewhere. Sopping wet and cold from our exposure on the deck of our LTC, we devoured a hot frothy cream of celery soup from our British field rations. This ingenious self-heating can included a wick to an enclosed heating unit within the oversized soup can! Loading this mixture with ration crackers produced a hot mush that literally stuck to one’s ribs and for me, stayed on my stomach. The motion of the ungainly craft had proven too turbulent, and the sea’s spray had wet us through and through.
We slowly continued to edge into the beach. And still it was too dark to see. Then a rolling thunder broke over us and seemed to push us forward, made by awesome explosions of the large-sized guns of the Navy’s battle wagons! Some seasick “expert” said it was the Toscolusa.
First indication that we were approaching landfall and H-Hour on D-Day was a strange pinging on the side of the LCT (I believe the LCT rammed some underwater obstacles because of the scraping noises). Then we were entering the smoke and strange snapping noises. The ramp clanked and came down.
At this time, all the vehicles were revving their engines, and the carbon monoxide and diesel fumes were overwhelming and we wanted out! The jeep, which could operate submerged and loaded with all baggage and equipment, went down and out while the rest of us carried heavy loads and trudged in…
Consider our personal equipment: underwear, “long Johns” impregnated with goo to preclude chemical gas contact, wollen OD’s, gas flaps at neck and wrists, field jacket and netted helmets, web equipment, 2 canteens, 3 first aid pouches (1 on helmet with morphine), Haversack, grenades, extra ammo – M1 ammo for doughboys on beach. I also carried a carbine enclosed in plastic with taped banana clips and one mag on stock, assault jacket with many pockets, and a plastic enclosed 1⁄4-mile reel of wire, a telephone and 610 radio wrapped in a life preserver. It certainly was an understatement to say we were overloaded! The US Navy LCT was crowded with armor; tanks and half-tracks had backed in first, and we (in the jeep) had backed in last so we “lead the charge” in exiting first!
The Jeep went down and out. The ramp clanked, and we jumped out of both sides into 5 feet, 6 inches of surf! I’m 5’7″ and had only my nose out of water. I inflated the radio preserver as I stepped in the surf and started to trudge in. These life preservers had explosive cartridges, which, when exploded, inflated a rubber doughnut around your waist. Our combat-assault veterans said, “Wear you rubber gas mask case (inflated) under your chin to keep your head up and out of water.”
Many of the 29th INF DIV soldiers, inexperienced in beach landings, drowned when inflated waist life preservers caused their heads to go under water! Their bodies with their blue-and-gray shoulder insignia lined the beach tidemark next day!
The beach bombing and shelling must have been horrific, but as we found out, had only been noisy – not as effective as we had wanted.