I Remember Only Too Well
I joined the Navy in '42. I was sent to study electronics at the Naval Research Laboratory in Anacostia DC and eventually specialized in Radar, (our secret defense weapon). The heart of radar was the magnetron which was prepared with explosives to be detonated to prevent it from failing into enemy hands intact.
In 1943 1 landed in Scotland. My unit was to be used for Harbor Control. We were to occupy the first captured port in occupied Europe. On June 6th my group was on a Liberty ship, the 'Thomas Johnson, heading for France with all necessary equipment loaded below. Cherbourg was our destination.
What happened was unique. Cherbourg was captured but our ship couldnt enter its port. The Germans planted so many delayed acton mines in its harbor that that we had to land on Normandy Beach, unload, and enter the town from behind.
I installed our SG radar unit on Forte de Roule, a high cliff overlooking the port from which, on a clear day you could see the England.
On the evening of Dec 24, 1944 an announcement was made over the PA system that wolunteers were needed to assist in the evacuation of a torpedoed troopship.
The name of the ship was the LeopoldAlle. It carried about 1500 lst Army troop replacements which were destined to relieve our troops at the Bulge.(Bastone) This troopship was torpedoed by German E boats which were stationed on the Jersey and Goernsey islands that were just off the coast of Brest. These islands remained in German hands for the duration and they were a constant threat. Escaping prisoners would try to get there, if they could.
Four miles from shore we saw a huge vessel listing to one side. Troops, were heavily dressed to ward off the cold, lined the rails. Rescue boats surrounded it like ducklings swimming around the mother duck. It was getting dark, and the water was rough. We were told that the ship could make it to port on its own power so we returned to base..
Soon after we landed we were called out again. This time the boat had capsized and hundreds of men could be seen in the water. We busied ourselves pulling out as many as we could. It was extremely dificult. Their overcoats, soaked with saltwater, made them almost impossible to lift. We unloaded the survivors at Gare Maritime and went out again. This time it was different. All was quiet, no yelling, and no cries for help.
We spent the next few hours pulling out dead bodies. All succumbed to the freezing cold and drowned. We had to secure the operation because the wreckage was drifting West of Cape de la Hague and was then in artillery range of the Islands.
At the unloading station, we moved the bodies to the pier where ambulances were waiting. Machine gun fire could be heard. The report came back to us that MPs were shooting civilians in the process of robbing bodies. That evening over 900 men drowned. A fiasco that needn't have happened.
I was informed that my brother was lost at sea when his aircraft carrier, the Bismark Sea, was Kamikazied off Iwo Jima. Another brother, an infantry platoon leader in the 71st Inf., 44th Div, was evacuated to a hospital with trenchfoot, a condition similar to gangrene. I saw him aboard a hospital ship in the port of Cherbourg. They didn't have to amputate.
The radar station was closed down and I volunteered for reconnaissance duty.
I was issued army clothing, given a rifle and headed for Germany. We crossed the Rhine at Remagen and settled at the circumference of the Rhur pocket, it was so called because about 200,000 Krauts were surrounded. I was in charge of a mobile comm. Unit . German civilians informed the enemy where we were and they sent night patrols out at night to kill us. We set up an alarm system with string and tin cans to warn of intruders. Another unit like ours got hit a few miles away and everyone was shmizered (a type of automatic weapon).
Nearby was an Army unit similar to ours. One soldier in particular befriended us. He was an American indian. H was a little crazy. He wore a high hat, stovetype, a white silk scarf, both of which he liberated from a funeral parlor. He would disappear at night to scavenge. He would bring back all kinds of stuff. Lugers, German chocolate, cameras,etc. This lunatic, or hero if you prefer to call him, would go into the German lines, alone, strangle a few of the enemy, rob them, and one time came back with machine gun holes in the windshield of his jeep.
Every once in awhile I look at a group picture we took of ourselves with a Leica camera he liberated from a dead German officer.
To this day I cannot believe how animal-like we behaved in that envrionment.
I have recorded dozens of incidents which I experienced during the time I was there. There isn't enough room here.
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