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LCVP Coxswain Don Beach Remembers Omaha Beach Landing and Life Aboard LST 494
When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor I was Fifteen years old and in High school. The country was just coming out of a long depression and our family like so many others had little or nothing.
I guess maybe that helped us to vent our anger on the japs. How dare anyone to scar our country??? From that time until I was sixteen, school meant little or nothing to me and others. I changed my birth certificate and attempted to enlist in the US Navy. Unfortunately I got caught and was told to come back when I was seventeen. That was a long year; my dad made me promise that if he signed for me I would complete my high school education once I got back home after the war. Of course I made that promise.
After enlistment I was sent to Sampson, NY boot camp. In seven weeks they made men of us and sent us on to our next assignment. Mine, like others, was to Little Creek, VA Amphibious training base. There we were taught about LCVPs (Landing Craft Vehicle Personal Assault boats). I made Coxswain and our crew was formed and united till the end.
After extensive training there we were sent to Fort Pierce FL for advance training. This was a brand new base with few good things to offer, not even a mess hall. We had to eat out doors standing up to make shift tables and not allowed to take our meals from that area.
Once we completed our training the crews were sent in many directions. My crew and five others to Panama City, Florida. We were assigned to the LST 494 that was on its shake down cruise. The ship was built in Indiana and its primary goal was to invade France.
After the ship had proven itself we stopped at many ports to load with war material including an LCT on our top side to deliver to England. Our ship was designated a hospital ship so we had many Navy corpsmen aboard known as foxy 29 group. As we unloaded troops at the beach we were to bring wounded back to the ship.
Once we reached England some thirty days from the time we picked up our convoy in Halifax Nova Scotia, we were ready for some shore time. Then came more preparation for the invasion. We had no idea when it would be but we felt we were ready, a lot of young blooded Americans who had no fear of what lay ahead for us.
The invasion known as Operation Overlord was to have been on the fifth of June but was cancelled because of bad weather until the sixth of June. One thing we did not need was rough seas but we had them. Our job was to reinforce the first wave. When we arrived we found out most had been pinned on the beach and it was not known at the time if we would have to remove them. Words can not describe the death and destruction on Omaha beach.
When we got the go ahead to take in troops only two of our boats were able to go in, my crew and one other. When we reached the beach we had no place to land. Amphibious craft were blown up almost two deep at our spot; there was only one small opening to get in and we had to wait our turn. I decided that we had better not stand still as the German 88s were picking us off like flies. The tide was high enough to just cover the underwater obstacles that the Germans had planted on the beach. These were strung with mines. As luck would have it our fellow boat crew hit one + the last we saw of them they exploded. The hardest decision that I ever had to make in my young life was did we try to help. My better judgment told me not to jeopardize the 35 soldiers we had aboard, so we went into unload and when we came off the beach nothing alive was in the area.
We took a load of wounded back to the ship and found out upon arriving that our crew survived. It is not believed that many of the army did.
The next few days were very hectic, the LST were not able to go in so we spent our time unloading men from any ships that requested us to do so + we kept returning with the wounded.
Once the LST was able to go in + empty out a decision was made to leave two boat crews to help unload ships that needed it. We joined the other LCVPs. Our first and foremost problem was what do we do now to survive? There was a row of old ships that were sunk purposely to form a break water which was supposed to give us some aid in landing. We found that the main decks were above the water line so we made our quarters there.
All was well until the big storm hit and did about as much damage as D-Day. We lost everything. Next thing we knew we were on shore sharing a half of pup tent per two men. That is after us Navy people learned how to dig a fox hole under our tent to protect us from the nightly air raids and flack.
After a couple of weeks of that it was decided to send us back to England to rest camp, word had it that we would be sent home!!! Good old Navy scuttlebutt. It was only a few days of rest then the call came for us to get ready to go back to our ship. We were trucked to the location and once aboard it was like old home days.
Our bubble was soon to burst...the skipper informed us that we would be leaving in a couple of days to invade Southern France. After many port stops we were loaded and found that we would be in the first wave. We had visions of another Omaha beach but much to our surprise it was a piece of cake. The ship made about fifty shuttle trips carrying supplies to the troops.
We were ordered back to the States given 30 days leave and then headed for the Pacific to invade Okinawa. New experience!!! We could not believe that any human being would dive his plane into ships for the glory of it.
After that invasion was over we would now be getting prepared to invade Japan. Thank GOD for the two Atom bombs that ended the war.
By this time I had not reached twenty-one yet. I am now Seventy five years old and this year my promise to my Dad was fulfilled, I now have my high school diploma.
For sure war is hell and I can only thank the good LORD for looking after me. Let's hope our country never has to go through it again!!!!!
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