The Anniversary of the D-Day Landing

 The Anniversary of the D-Day Landing



I was in Korea in the 1950s….though it was after the war. I was an EM then, and I was a squad leader in A Company, 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division. Our Battalion was selected to participate in an operation called JOLLY ROGER, which was a field exercise in which we would be taken by ship to a part of Korea where we would made a landing assault.
Our exercise took part on the 15th anniversary of the D Day Landing, and I don’t think the date was merely a coincidence. I am mindful of this . . . because today, June 6th, is the anniversary of the D Day Landing.
For weeks before Jolly Roger, we practiced . . . including climbing down a cargo net from the top of a sixty foot high tower. There, we learned such things as how to grasp the vertical ropes for hand holds, rather than the horizontal ropes…..this would keep your hands from being stepped on by the man above.
Then we boarded the ship…a round bottomed tub that would, no doubt, roll 60 degrees from side to side in a swimming pool. The bunks in the bays were stacked 12 high, and the stacks were so close together that you had to turn sideways to walk between them.
Then came the day of the landing. We were divided into serials just as the men were on the real D-day, and we had numbers chalked on our helmets so we wouldn’t forget where we belonged. We went out on deck at 0200, and just as it had been on D-Day, we were supported by the large guns from a couple of accompanying destroyers. We could see tracer rounds flying toward the beach, and we could see explosions on the beach. It was strikingly real….and there was a sense of awe and excitement, as if we were really doing this . . .EXCEPT ALL THE SHOOTING WAS GOING THE OTHER WAY.
I don’t think there was a man among us that dark morning who wasn’t thinking of the men who had done this same thing fifteen years earlier….but….who faced enemy fire all the way into….and onto….the beach.
The order came to climb down into the boats. A piece of cake . . . we had done this many times before now. Except, before, the ship and the landing craft were rising and falling, but movement wasn’t coordinated, so it opened up the gap between the bottom of the cargo net, and the deck of the craft by as much at ten feet. We had to time our release at the bottom.
Then came the hard part. In order that all the boats hit the beach at the same time, we had to go in circles until every boat was loaded. The sea was heavy, and we were circling back through our own wake, and in the stench of the diesel fumes. Getting sea-sick doesn’t quite describe what happened next. I don’t know how many we had in the landing craft, somewhere between 50 and 100, but I do know how many were sick. WE ALL WERE! I don’t want to gross you out, but we were ankle deep in vomit. The navy coxswain was laughing at us.
“Big brave army men can’t take a little boat ride!” he chided.
We had been told that when we reached the beach, we should hold our rifles at high port and charge off the beach and into the tree line, because there were cameras set up on the beach to film our landing. “This will make the newsreels, men, you can write home about it! And, we’ll use this for training films, so look sharp.”
The boats hit the beach, the front gate went down. In all the pictures of the men who landed on D-Day, and in the Pacific Islands, the next scene after the front gate drops, is of soldiers, with their weapons at high port, charging the beach…into the jaws of rifle, machine-gun, mortar, and artillery fire.
HOW DID THEY DO THAT? None of us “charged” off. None of us ran off. Quite a few of us crawled off, made our way through the surf, then fell face down on the sand, gagging and trying to breathe. We didn’t have to brave rifle, machine-gun, mortar, and artillery fire. If our landing had actually been opposed, the enemy could have come out and clubbed us with ball bats. We could have done nothing to stop them.

The film that they took that day was, I understand, not useable.
My admiration and respect for those men who made such landings during World War II is without measure. God bless all of them. And on this special day in our history….God bless America.

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