Chapter: Invasion of Normandy
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Orv' WWII Autobiography
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Orv Iverson's WWII
While working at the signal office in early June, a fairly good sized package arrived via courier. It was marked BIGOT. Airplanes were painted with white stripes on their wings. I was ordered to have my truck ready to leave in the morning in a convoy with the Second Armored Division. I was issued a belt that would be inflated by an enclosed C02 cartridge. The next morning a 2nd Armored MP accompanied me as we joined the convoy heading to Southhampton. As we drove along, the English people lined the roads, as if it were a parade, cheering and waving flags. Along the way I accidentally set off the Carbon Dioxide capsule so my life belt inflated. Unfortunately I had had no instruction about the use of my belt. It nearly cut me in half before I discovered how to unfold it. This was June 6th.
After a long drive in the continuous convoy we arrived in the staging area where there were military vehicles of all sorts as far as we could see. Someone had a radio so we heard the news that the invasion had begun. However the news did not sound good, especially in the Omaha Beach area. There was some question about being able to hold the beachhead. That evening I had to back my truck onto the LCT, an open landing craft that held about five vehicles, all 2nd Armored. On board the LCT we had no toilet facilities, except a small toilet for the navy crew. Some GI's became seasick so they had to hang over the side to vomit. There was a cable to hang onto, and that was our toilet facilities during the ten hour journey across the English Channel.
When we arrived on board the LCT at daybreak on June 7 there was so much action taking place I find it difficult to remember the sequence of events. The big navy guns were firing point blank into the cliffs, probably the Point Hoc area, I cannot say with any degree of certainty. The entire area as far as I could see was busy with all kinds of landing craft and navy ships. The channel crossing was very rough with chilling spray coming over the sides of the LCT. There had been no place to sleep aboard the LCT, but I do not remember being tired. I believe we must have been pretty well hyped at this point. I can remember having a can of hot pea soup which heated itself when a tab at the bottom was pulled. I only saw something like that once.
Our LCT positioned itself to make the run into Dog-Red area of Omaha Beach. There were plumes of water from explosions from unknown sources which caused the LCT to make sharp turns. I think we would have made the landing within five minutes, but in one of the abrupt evasive turns we collided with another landing craft. I happened to be in view of the collision point. The two landing crafts did not seem to be moving very fast, but the three quarter inch steel ramp seem to crumple like cardboard.
The damage from the collision caused the ramp to hang-up so we had to remain off Omaha Beach until the Seabees could come with a torch to repair the unloading ramp which was lowered upon hitting the beach. We had to remain off Omaha Beach for two nights. During that time there was considerable amount of firing of Navy big guns, now they were firing salvo after salvo over our heads. At night German bombers would come over. Our Navy AA guns would set up an umbrella of antiaircraft fire. When the German bombers would get hit there would be flickers of flames coming from the wings. At that point the hit bomber would drop down to gain speed. However when it would pull up again the entire plane became engulfed in flames. The flaming plane would go into a slow spiral. This was taking place over our LCT. I can remember my teeth chattering, probably both from fear and cold, then when the bomber hit the water we would cheer as if it was a football game. What a relief!
I was scheduled to bring in the FM radio station early morning of D-1. Finally on the morning of D-3 our LCT headed to the beach. The ramp dropped about a quarter mile out in the water. We were given orders to keep our vehicle in its lowest gear, with all wheels powered, and keep the engine running at full throttle. Also we were told to drive straight until we were out of the water. My truck made it very well, but as I made my left turn on the beach to head up the hill, I noticed the truck behind me started his turn before he was out of the water. The last view I had of this truck was the top of his cab disappearing under water. Apparently he had driven into a shell hole.
In England we had been told that we would be driving on the left side of the road, like in England. I soon discovered this incorrect. As I drove my load of radio equipment up the hill from the beach I notice other six by six trucks with stretchers placed from bench to bench with soldiers on them. At first I thought they were wounded GI's being taken back to England, Then I realized they were the dead GI's being removed from the battlefield. Also I noticed six foot high piles of bloodied blankets piled all around. As I drove on farther I met a truck heavily loaded with bodies piled in a criss-cross, helter-skelter fashion. These were German soldiers being to taken to a bull dozed burial place. At this point I couldn't help feeling I could be one of those dead GI's being hauled out of the battlefield.
I was supposed to meet a couple of the signal officers. I tell you I had no idea how I was to meet them. As I drove inland, the road was lined with dead soldiers, also dead bloated cattle with their legs outstretched. One dead soldier with curly hair really hit me emotionally. He looked just like a dear friend from high school days.
I gritted my teeth and continued to drive inland. Suddenly without any expectation the two signal officers from the 9TAC waved me down. They had not been able to set up any kind of camp yet, but were trying to locate inland from Point Hoc. We had to stay out of sight in an orchard until it was safe to set up the radio station. I can remember an argument between twoofficers about the bale of blankets aboard my truck. Also I can remember a gas attack alarm when a British Major had lost his gas mask and was in a panic. I told him he could sit in the cab of my truck to protect himself from mustard gas. I crawled under my truck with my gas mask in place. Generally things were mostly chaotic with explosions and confusion all around. I have difficulty remembering the sequence of events. However eventually we got the radio station in place. I can remenber the General asking that coffee be dropped when he spoke with headquarters back in England. We eventually set up in a more permanent site inland from Point Hoc, near Grandcamp-Criqeville area.
We set up tents along the hedgerow near a farmhouse. I had two shelter halves, but at night the navy guns would make our tents bulge up. It was almost impossible to get much sleep. One night flares lit up the area. I do not know where they came from. One night a large bomb hit about thirty yards from my tent. The bomb crater was filled with dead cows for the next day or so.
Lt. Col. Hopkins asked me to drive him down to beach to pick up some K-Rations. He gave me the wrong directions so we ended up in a dangerous situation. As we drove up this narrow Normandy road lined with hedgerow, I noticed riflemen walking alongside dropping down at intervals when the machine gun fire became louder. All at once in front about 25 feet to our left the dirt started churning up from what appeared to be larger machine gun fire. At that point Col. Hopkins said "Iverson, let's get the hell out of here!" Before he finished his command I was turning the truck into the right hedgerow, into the pasture with another right turn. Then I drove it down the pasture at full speed and drove through another hedgerow. After a drop of about four feet I attempted to turn the truck to the left to get away from the machine gun fire. The steering wheel spun freely, without turning the wheels. The steering mechanism was broken. We jumped out of the truck and ran down the road, finally catching a ride down to the beach.
At the beach we found an abandoned jeep and had it pushed to a sputtering start. We loaded up the battered jeep with a couple cases of K-Rations and got back to camp just as it was getting dark. I never did see my truck again, nor was I ever asked about it. My next means of transportation was an abandoned motorcycle which Major Rains and I shared until the engine stopped due to lack of oil.
I can remember one time we were experiencing small arms fire coming from the orchard across the street. We determined that it was coming from a small garden house. I was able to flag down a 2nd Armored Division six wheel armored vehicle. They fired a round from its canon at the gardenhouse door. The shot knocked down the door and four German soldiers came out with their hands clasped over their heads.
We had no way to wash or shave so as the days went on we began to look and smell bad. Also, we had gas impregnated woolen OD's which we lived and slept in without even changing even our under wear. Our sleep was interrupted by the big Navy guns shooting over us, and there were many unexplained explosions. I developed an intestinal problem with large amounts of blood being excreted.
One day after a couple weeks bad passed I was told that I was to fly back to England to destroy the secret communications left by the signal section. This was good news to me. I can remember taking off in the C-47 from the airstrip on the hill above Omaha Beach with the battlefield in view.
I believe I had been in Normandy about three weeks. I had not bathed, changed my clothes, or had a hot meal during that time. The first thing I did when I arrived back at Middlewallop was to take a long hot bath. The messhall was the next stop.
Now Normandy seemed more like a dream, or I should say a nightmare. I attended the evening services at Brown Street and was asked to speak. I was the first soldier back from Normandy at the church. The people listened with great interest. However, I'm afraid I disappointed them. I was not allowed to reveal any details about the invasion. Margaret had joined the army and most of my comrades had left the base. I was busy cleaning out the classified papers. Some radio messages were desperate requests for air cover, saying they could not hold out longer without air support. These were radio messages from the GIs in the initial stages of the invasion.
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