| Dusty Rhoads
Brach, Normandy, France
6th Engineering Special Brigade - 1st Army
Date of birth: March 25, 1922 Place of birth:
Clovis New Mexico Schools: Elementary and High School 1927 to 1939
Farmington New Mexico College: University of New Mexico, Albuquerque
1939 until 1942. Engineering. Enlisted in the US Army at Ft Bliss
Texas in early 1942 (El Paso, Texas) When first enlisting, recruits
were billeted in tents since there were no Barracks available at
the time. Transferred to Shepherd Field, Texas for assignment and
training about two weeks after enlistment at El Paso. Shepherd Field
is near Wichita Falls, Texas At Shepherd field all recruits were
given tests and evaluated for skills applicable to the military.
I was chosen to go to Radio Operators School. Transferred To Scott
Field, Illinois (near St. Louis, Missouri) for training as a Radio
Operator for the Army Air Force. School lasted approximately 4 months.
At this school we learned radio maintenance and learned how to send
and receive Morse Code. This is obsolete today!
Transferred to California and spent most of the time as a radio
operator for the Army Air Force at Oakland Municipal Airport , about
4 months. At this time I thought if more exciting to become an officer
in the army rather than remain an enlisted man. So, I applied for
Officer Candidate School and was accepted in the Corps of Engineers.
I then went to Ft Belvoir Virginia for training to become an officer
in the Corps of Engineers. (Near Washington DC) Spent approximately
3 months at OCS (Officer Candidate School) Graduated as 2nd Lieutenant
early 1943 and was shipped back to California for further training
at Camp Cooke, California (near Santa Maria, CA)--about halfway
between Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo. Spent about 3 months
training for the Pacific Theater of operations. Happy I didn't
make that trip!!
Because of emphasis on the European theater, I was assigned to go
to the ETO European Theater of Operations in the Fall of 1943 and
was shipped to London in Late 1943 for assignment to the 6th Engineering
Special Brigade which at the time was attached to the 1st Army under
the command of General Omar Bradley. During this time we were trained
for the invasion of Europe and I was billeted in a village south
of London, Paignton, England. I'm not really sure of this location
since this village is some distance away from the actual debarkation
point of the invasion. Perhaps it was intended to fool the German
army into thinking that the invasion would be at Dover rather than
Southhampton. A lot of time and effort was made to attempt to convince
the German army that the Allies would invade at the narrowest point
of the English Channel which was from Dover to Calais or Pas de
Calais. I guess there was some success since there was considerable
armament and troops in early 44 around Pas de Calais.
We trained in England during the early months of 1944 prior to the
invasion. The invasion took place on June 6, 1944, I was there.
H-Hour + 30 minutes shortly after the first two wave of troops hit
the beach. That was the beginning of the end for the German Army.
Actually, it was planned to have the invasion begin on June 5, 1944
but the weather was too bad. The wind was blowing (seemed like 100
mph but guess it around 20-30mph and it was raining cats and dogs).
My organization (6th Engineering Special Brigade) loaded on LCI
191 ready for debarkation June 5th and were "ready to go".
But sometime around 3:00 AM on 5 June the orders came to "unload".
So we got off the LCI and tried to get a little sleep awaiting the
next order. The orders came 24 hours later and we boarded the LCI
once again in preparation for the assault on Normandy. The wind
was still blowing and it was still raining I suppose it was typical
Spring North Sea weather but it was not pleasant. If I had to guess,
the commander had finally decided that the invasion would have to
take place NOW or they would be forced to wait until September or
later for another "tidal" opportunity.
The trip from Southampton to Omaha Beach was uneventful except for
the waves and rough weather. The LCI is not a large ship so each
wave provided the means to make one sicker than a dog. Everyone
on board was SEASICK. Some lay down on the deck to avoid the misery
but that didn't seem like too good an idea with everybody heaving
the contents of their stomachs anywhere and everywhere. I did my
best to stay upwind but many others had the same idea. As we neared
the shore we could first hear the sound of the German artillery not
a very inviting sound!! But since I was unaccustomed to anything
like this I still didn't have enough experience to be scared.
So I awaited the coming event much as one might anticipate a football
game. But, as we got nearer the shore, I heard the shouts of personnel
in the sea shouting and calling, "help" help HELP. Then,
it dawned on me that ,maybe, this was not such a good idea. It was
just a little late for that and there was not time enough for fear
to take place. My first instinct was to help those that were making
a plea for some aid to save their life.
But, I thought to myself, "What can I do".
If I jump overboard and try to rescue some of the helpless what
would that accomplish. I had on two suits of clothes-inside clothes
were ordinary fatigues, outer clothing was specially treated clothing
to repel any chemicals that the opposition might try to use. In
addition, I had bandoliers of ammunition draped around my neck,
several grenades attached to my belt and a back pack with some rations
and blankets. Seemed like it was enough for a small donkey. I knew
that I had no chance to swim anywhere with that load and trying
to rid myself of any of that bundle in water over my head was "impossible".
So I listened to those poor souls thrashing around in the water
awaiting the inevitable. The LCI I was on continued on its way to
shore. Suddenly the ship stopped abruptly! We had landed. Now what?
We waited until the two "ladder ramps were lowered on each
side of the LCI. That seemed to take forever. It was probably no
more than 60 seconds or so but when you look around and you see
ships and craft being blown to bits and go up in flames you get
a little anxious to get off the blasted ship.
After the ramps were lowered, I was among the
first to debark. Thankfully!! The next surprise was when I hit the
water. I had expected the water to be ankle depth well, maybe as
much as knee deep, but when that cold north sea covered the top
of my head, I thought, "What is this?" The water can't
be this deep. But it was!! So in an attempt to get to shore, I jumped
up to get my head above water to get some air (clothing and equipment
too heavy and cumbersome to swim) and pushed myself as rapidly as
possible toward the shore line with my feet in some sort of underwater
walking fashion. After about 10 minutes of this, I heard a huge
blast. I turned around and the LCI from which I had just debarked
went up in flames with about half of my outfit still on board. It
was a total mass of flames. The remainder of the personnel on board
that were not killed when the 88 shell hit jumped overboard and
began to make their way to shore much the same as I was doing.
Finally, I got to the open beach out of the cold water then!! I
looked ahead. It seemed the beach stretched on forever at least
a half mile--. In reality it was more like 100 yards but with the
heavy wet clothing, the back pack, the rifle, ammunition and other
equipment, I thought my knees would buckle. But, then, I looked
to my left about 20 yards and saw some sand being kicked up in spots
about 6 feet apart coming in my direction. It didn't take long
for me to realize that these were machine gun bullets headed in
my direction. I thought, what can I do? Answer: Nothing!! Just stand
there and wait for the inevitable for that bullet to hit. I waited
and waited and then I looked to my right and the bullets continued
to kick up the sand and traverse the remainder of the beach. When
you see that, the wet clothes, the ammunition didn't seem quite
so heavy. I tried to run but it turned out to be a faster walk but
it was in as much of a hurry that I was able to muster. After two
or three times of missing the bullet meant for me, I finally got
to a small mound at the "high water" edge. Just enough
to let me lie down for a moment to catch my breath before going
on a little further.
After a brief pause, I thought to myself,"Now what do we do?"
Artillery shells were continuing to pound the ships and craft that
were coming to shore. Some made it some did not. The fire was incredible!
In addition, mortar shells were continuing to explode in the land
area between high tide and the small hill only a few yards from
high tide area. But, thankfully, the machine gun strafing was confined
to the beach area ( the area between low tide and high tide). I
assume that the reason the landing was timed for "low tide"
was because of all the obstacles and mines that were placed along
the beach to prevent or impede the landing of ships and or craft
of all types. But landing during this time exposed troops the the
machine gun fire and the 88 shells.
Our greatest support during this initial phase came from the huge
naval guns on ships further offshore. Had it not been for those
guns, I wonder how many other casualties that the US and other forces
might have suffered on D-Day and the days following D-Day. There
were many casualties on June 6. both during the landing and the
following bombardment after getting to shore. That night all the
wounded, dead and dying were laid together on the beach awaiting
evacuation. They seemed to me to stretch forever. Those personnel
were not able to be evacuated to the hospital ships until the following
day. It took several days for trucks, tanks, and artillery to be
unloaded to secure the beach head. Then our job began: Unloading
the cargo ships and supplying all the landed troops and equipment
with the necessary supplies to attack the German emplacements and
fortifications. This effort continued for several months until the
ports of Le Havre and Cherbourg became operational. When this occurred
there was no longer any requirement to supply the armies from the
beach head. About this time the third army under Patton was on its
way to Germany. During the breakthrough many German fortifications
and troops were bypassed and stranded on the Britanny peninsula
Since our efforts were no longer required on Omaha Beach, we were
assigned to guard the exit points of that peninsula. We were located
in the vicinity of Le Mont St. Michel. An old Monastery and Prison
located off the coast of France near Brittiany. We remained at this
location for about 3 months or until the German counter offensive
around Christmas time in the Ardennes forest area in Belgium. Because
of the critical nature of this offensive, we were called to travel
"immediately" to that area. So, we packed up all our equipment
and all our belongings and departed for Paris on December 23, 1944
to assist in the defense of the area. We travelled all night and
the following day, arriving in Paris the night of December 24 (Christmas
eve!) Some Christmas!! But, by the time we arrived the "breakthrough"
was contained and our services to stem the advance were no longer
required whatever they might have been. So we bivouaced on the outskirts
of Paris for a couple of weeks doing nothing but reading the Stars
and Stripes ( an American News paper that reported on the advance
of the war effort.
Not much happened to our organization after that. For the most part
the war was over. It was just a matter of time before the unconditional
surrender of the German war machine and the negotiation of the occupation.
I just waited until I had sufficient "points" to get back
home and be discharged from the army. That happened during the spring
of 1945, I was discharged from the army April 1945. From there I
went on to continue my education and graduated from Missouri School
of Mines, Rolla, Missouri in 1947.
The most remarkable and enduring experience for me was the invasion
of Normandy and for me at Omaha beach. As I've told you, I didn't
know what to expect since I had never been on any duty where the
opposition was trying to eliminate me. To say the least, this was
different. But, since I had no idea of what to expect, I was not
afraid, rather, I was a little excited. Well, I was excited until
about and hour after debarkation from Southampton. Then, I was too
sick to care. The weather was terrible. The seas must have been
10 to 15 feet. To my knowledge every soldier on the LCI (Landing
Craft Infantry) was sick. The deck was from stem to stern pure vomit.
But, that didn't make a lot of difference since everyone on board
was sick sick sick. SEASICK!! But, that experience evaporated quickly
once we neared the Normandy shores. I suppose the reality of the
situation first became apparent to me as we neared the French shore.
I heard the cries of personnel in the water shouting for help. I'll
never forget those cries of "Help" "Help" "Help!"
When you hear those cries you know that those people need help,
they're drowning or wounded and drowning and your first instincts
are to jump ship and try to assist.
But, then, the reality hits you. You can do nothing.You have a job
to do and then, what could you possibly do. You could jump overboard
and drown as well. So you do nothing feeling badly because you're
helpless. Then the ship slows and hits the sand. Personnel lower
the two ladders on each side of the bow of vessel you're on seems
like it took forever for them to lower the ladders. 88 hells (German
artillery) are landing everywhere. You need to get off the ship!!
but you have to wait until the ladders are down. So you wait and
wait forever it seems! Then, they're down!! you leap off the ship
I was one of the first to hit the water after the ship hit the sand.
I was in for a shock. I thought the water would be ankle deep. Silly,
I know, but that's what I thought during that short period..
Shoulderpatch of the Engineers Special