Wartime Birthday

       The year was 1944. I had been in the Navy for almost a year. Still, only a teenager, I had already completed boot camp, been drafted into an amphibious battalion, shipped overseas and assigned to the crew of the USS LST 279. In the spring, it was training and exercises, followed by the excitement of the Normandy Invasion. Thru'out the summer, it was the tedious, monotonous routine of channel crossings, bouts with foul weather and the occasional diversion to some new destination or critical support mission. And so it was on this particular week-end in the middle of September that our ship, and several others, were each hand loaded to capacity with about 500 tons of ammunition needed by the 3rd Army in it's siege on Brest. We sailed southeast through the straights of the German held Channel Islands, down and around the Breton peninsula to Mont St. Michel. To confuse and devert German radar, allied aircraft spewed and wafted tons of shredded metal foil along the route as we made our way thru' the night. It worked! and in spite of the harrowing tensions and frayed nerves, we arrived and beached safely with the morning tide on the sand in the bay near the famous monastery. There, high and dry, and while army engineers unloaded thousands of shells and ammunition crates, most of the ship's crew was allowed 'tide liberty', a time off the ship until the ship was unloaded or the tide returned.

     The shore of the Bay of Mont St Michel is a flat crescent shaped cove more than a mile and a half across. The tide line varies by as much as a half mile with each rise and fall. When an LST is beached at high tide, and the tide recedes, it is left stranded, 'high & dry', allowing for trucks to drive onto and quickly unload it. As the tide returns, the ship re floats itself and pulls away from the shore.

       The 279 had beached to the left of center of the crecent. At the far right end of the beach was another little cove surrounded by an outcropping of rocks, an ideal place to swim and relax; a place you could forget about the war and for a little while, be a teenager again. I went there with a shipmate, and very much to our surprise encountered two young ladies, not quite sunbathing or swimming, but frolicking among the rocks. As it turned out, we made friends and spent a lot of time trying to communicate. Somehow we got across the suggestion of a picnic and my buddy went back to the ship for bread, cold cuts, beer and even cold chicken from the galley. It was a happy time, - the 19th of September, and my 18th birthday as well! - We made it a party, - we celebrated ! Quickly and joyously the hours passed by, and in spite of all, and our best, efforts to seduce them, we failed. The afternoon began to fade, and suddenly, almost without warning, the sound of the changing tide awakened us to the reality that we had to hurry back to the ship or be caught ashore. The tide would rush in almost as fast as one could run and we were at least a half a mile away. Without hesitation, we ran at full speed to beat the tide, just barely succeeding but not without first having to swim the last few yards, clothes on and all, to reach the the bow ramp. Once on board, I went up to the bridge and with a pair of powerful binoculars looked for the girls . There they were, having shed most of their clothes, frolicking once again, near naked, among the rocks. What did we do wrong ? I never knew. but what I do know is that it was my first birthday, ever, away from home and that I was still a 'virgin'. Maybe I was still a boy.

----- WELCOMEBOB@aol.com


Biography of Bob Benvenuto, LST 279, USN

Bob Benvenuto, Gangway Watch, USS Berkley County, LST 279

LST 279 and Christmas `44, Bob Benvenuto, LST 279, USN

USS LST 279 Deckload, English Channel, Fall, 1944

USS LST 279 Enroute to Normandy, English Channel, Fall, 1944

LST 279, High and Dry, Utah Beach, Normandy, Summer, 1944

USS LST 279 Stern Anchor, Weymouth, 1944

LST 279, Unloading, Utah Beach, Normandy, Summer, 1944

Some of the Crew on Deck, USS Berkley County, LST 279

USS Berkley County, LST 279 - in 1954

USS LST 279 - Captain's Inspection, 1945

USS LST 279 - Weymouth England, 1945

Wartime Birthday, Bob Benvenuto, LST 279, USN

White Caps, Watch Caps and Dress Blues, Bob Benvenuto, LST 279, USN

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