by Tracy Turner
As a Gunner’s Mate in the U.S. Navy, he had first been assigned to cargo ships in order to man guns placed aboard for defensive purposes in supply convoys to Russia. He was aboard two ships that were sunk, miraculously surviving each time, although listed as missing for a short time on one occasion. Sometime after this, he was assigned to U.S.S. LST-56; a ship built to land tanks and troops on the beach, which is exactly what they were doing at Normandy, France on 6 June 1944.
On that evening he went ashore as a volunteer on Omaha Beach with a group of sailors to help pick up casualties. Shortly after returning to the ship, he wrote the following letter about the air battles, artillery shelling, and the bewildering scene on the beach. He knew he could not mail the letter to his mother but that is not the reason he wrote it. Surviving the war, he came home, got married and raised a family. Here, in his own words, is his letter written from the ship at 8:25 p.m. sitting just off Normandy Beach immediately after he returned from picking up casualties.
USS LST -56, Omaha, Beach (Dog Red Sector), Normandy, France 6 June 1944, 8:25pm
You have probably heard the song “Just Before the Battle, Mother”, it goes on…” I am Thinking Most of You”. Well, that’s the way it is with me now, only the battle is well under way. You probably will never read this letter, in fact, it isn’t being written for that. My crew has just been relieved for a couple of hours and we are recommended to do something to keep our minds occupied so I am writing.
The time is exactly 2025 and this has been the worst day of my life. We are sitting about one half mile off the beach and about every ten or fifteen minutes the jerries are giving us a few rounds of 88’s. I just counted three going off while I was writing that last sentence. They must be getting too scared to aim anymore for those weren’t as close as the last ones. The day started about 0610 this morning. We sighted land and almost at the same time (that one was a little closer) had our first air raid. It only lasted about four or five minutes but they certainly seemed like hours to me. I counted seven planes but I know there were more. My crew got off sixteen rounds. We didn’t hit any as I saw but we must have sure scared the devil out of them for they didn’t come back until dusk this evening.
Talking about being scared, mom, you will never know how badly I was or am right now. I don’t think I have spoken more than a dozen words other than commands to my crew since daylight this morning. All I keep thinking of is you and Charlotte and wondering if you have the news yet that this is going on. I surely hope you have and that you are both praying for me-not only me but the rest of the boys here that are to die before the night is over. Also, for the poor souls that have died out there already. You know, mom, a fellow never realizes how much God, his mother, and sweetheart mean to him until times like these, and believe me, I am certainly finding out now.
I don’t know why I am so scared. I have been through sixteen air raids including the two today and ought to be getting used to being shot at by this time. I wonder how some of these fellows sitting here feel being it’s their first time. It is getting to be a little different around here now. There are “E” boats on our starboard and coastal guns on our port and planes above. Thank God, they don’t all come at once.
To tell you a little of what happened to me today: first we came to within about one third of a mile from the beach. We couldn’t get much further because of the Texas firing directly in front of us and also mines and wrecks. We started to unload on barges at 0915 and were unloaded at 1330 and about the same time got the first shells thrown directly at us. We got two through number two and one through number one boat davits. No casualties. At 1600 we lowered two small boats to take Army personnel ashore and to pick up casualties. That’s where hell really began. Big brave me volunteered to go ashore to pick up casualties.
We got about ten or fifteen hundred yards to the beach and two small boats ahead of us hit a mine. I saw five soldiers and one sailor swimming afterward. I don’t know whether that was all that was left or not. The coxswain of the small boat fainted (I thought he was hit) and Ellett took charge. We hit the beach and a sight almost sickened me. There were rows and rows of soldiers on stretchers and some didn’t even have them. Some were dead, some were limbless.
One, laying almost at the ramp of the boat, was without head or shoulders completely. (I think he was German). I think about one third of them were German there. There weren’t enough medics so ours had to take care of them, too. About the next thing that happened, I heard someone holler and our officer in charge was laying on the deck (or rather beach) shot through the head. He was about done for when I got there. We carried him to our boat.
Finally, we were loaded and started our return to the ship. How I ever lived through it I’ll never know. There were snipers not more than two hundred yards away. I didn’t see them but I saw the flash of their rifles. Our men were getting them slow but sure. We got back to the ship and were unloaded by 1740. I ate a piece of bread (about all I could hold) and went to relieve the gun crew.
It is about time for me to gather my crew and go back now. This is going to be a night of hell, so if I don’t pull through I will meet you and Charlotte on a better ship and dad will be the first mate.