Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Our Mess on the Beach

I use this tongue in cheek title, because there was no building or housing
for the troop to eat their meals on the beach, for at least 3 weeks.
We ate near the chow line where we could empty our food waste into a barrel, wash our mess kit and canteen cup in another barrel, refresh our canteen with water, and go about our duties.
When we dressed for duty, we had some necessary apparel besides clothing.
We wore our leggings, our garrison belt, our inflatable
life saver belt, our carbine and our mess kit.
Leggings were worn around the calf and ankle to protect
against injury from sharp object or bramble in the field.
We had Orders, to wear leggings, when we went out to unload
cargo from vessels. We followed these Orders until we became aware
that many men drowned when their DUKWs capsized in rough seas and were pulled down by their leggings, which were made of heavy canvas, laced on, and impossible to remove in the water unless
you could cut them off.
Our Garrison belts on the other hand had a multitude of steel eyelets
capable of supporting various items.
A small canvas pouch with a supply
of a wound treating antibiotic called Sulfanilamide.
An extra pouched clip of ammunition for the Carbine
One could attach a 45 side arm holster and a 45 automatic as some
Officers were issued.
A canteen and canteen cup combo in a canvas carrier, was always suspended from our garrison belt full of water.
In the first few hours on the secured beach, large water containers were available to everyone and instructed to keep their canteens full. These containers were treated with iodine to prevent contamination.
The Garrison Belt had a quick release gizmo, so there was no problem, to get rid of it, if one was in trouble.
The Carbine, (rifle) had a sling and was always slung over the shoulder
with its stock at shoulder height, barrel pointing down.
Finally our Mess Kit.
I don't know if it is one word or two words but here is the physical appearance of this essential piece of General Issue (G.I.)Equipment.
The utensils,comprised of a fork and spoon, a 10"X 5"oval pan about an inch and a half deep ,hinged at one end, with an 180 degree handle, one inch wide, 10 inches long with the ability to support the pan, like a pan handle at one end, and fold over the pan to take up less room.
This Mess Kit Handle, slipped through and over our Garrison Belt,
folded in half but unable to lock closed, clanged against the pan with every motion that the wearer made.
You could hear us walking down to the DUKWs on the beach, through
the soft sands a half mile away.
We carried spoons in our breast pockets, tucked between our cigarette pack and the cellophane wrapper the pack came with.
No one went anywhere without their spoon, until we got a mess hall.
When we ate on the beach,we lined up,mess kit in one hand,canteen cup in the other,we had removed our leggings,but carried a slung carbine ,still wearing our garrison belt, with the canteen, open, with it's screw cap cover hanging by a tiny chain, ready to receive fresh water.
We ate on the beach in this manner for almost 3 weeks.
No shelter except the one we could devise out of any flotsam or jettison
we could find to make our foxhole more habitable
For 8 days the weather got more and more furious. We worked 16 hour shifts every day and spent very few hours ashore.
We carried K Ration aboard ship and found various ways to prepare them. Traded chocolate bars with the Merchant Mariners for fresh fruit
and cooked soups on the steam winches.
Then disaster.
4 days of squalls and the inability to go out and get supplies.
Many drowning deaths because of attempts to navigate out, to unload precious cargo's of gasoline, and 75 mm shells for tank ammunition, and stuff like, Sealed Orders.
Finally, orders came to shut down all off loading activity.
We existed on the beach on K Rations to conserve food,
dug our foxholes deeper, used shelter halves to cover them, lashed down with timber drift wood.
I found a U shaped piece, of a downed Mosquito Bomber,that was part of a door, to hold down my nylon shelter half over my foxhole.
Fortunately,the sand absorbed all the rain and there was very little flooding for us. My heart went out to the GIs stuck inland.
On the fifth day we were ordered out in very heavy seas with 12 foot
That day,against orders,I decided not to wear legging any longer.
When we got to the side of the Liberty, she had cargo nets hung over
the side. We jumped one at a time, from the DUKW,at the top of the wave toward the nets and quickly climbing as fast as we could to avoid the
rising DUKW on top of the next cresting wave.
The Liberty Ship was not anchored.
She was underway,against the tide the entire time we were boarding.
She was loaded to the Plimsoll Mark (a maximum load line on a ships hull to indicate her capacity) and her screws were below the waterline, but we knew,they were spinning.
It took hours to get 28 of us aboard.
14 men from each DUKW.
The two drivers and their crew men were the best example
of unsung heroes in a war, where heroes are determined
by the enemy deaths.
They unloaded one at a time.
The empty one waiting in case one of our company
fell into the water or was crushed by the rising vehicle they had just left.
When the second DUKW was empty ,they both left together to return
to the beach.
The Beach was now, out of sight.
The best wishes for God Speed and safety from every man in our company, Liberty Ship sailors and Officers, all were leaning over the railing, shouting down to them, good luck and thank you for an heroic job.
They waved back.
Smiling and joyful.
As if the way back, was a walk in the park.
They turned and headed into the fog on their compass heading.
We were at least 5 or 6 miles out in the channel.
The fog had settled in and we knew they would have a very rough, blind voyage home by compass, in 12 foot seas .....
I never knew the name of the Liberty Ship or it's commendable Master.
I never found out if the 4 soldiers,in their little amphibious vehicle, ever
got back to the beach alive.
I did find out that heroes,are not always connected to an enemy body count they amassed.
These 4 men, are some of the real unsung heroes you never hear about.
I can still see their smiling faces before they turned and hunkered
down to the arduous trip back,with water sloshing into the empty
Ironically, we were aboard the Liberty Ship for 2 days without a having a single Amphibious Vessel come out to us to unload her, because the weather had become more severe.
In hindsight, the heroic efforts of the DUKW crews that delivered us to their objective was fruitless.
The negative feasibility, of attempting to unload supplies could have been the turning point of the success of the D Day landings.
After the 2nd day aboard, the skies cleared a bit, and our supply ship proceeded to the beach, anchored, and we were able to deliver her precious cargo.