Up to his neck ....
Soldier:
Dusty Rhoads
Date: June 6th 1944
Location: Omaha Brach, Normandy, France
Unit: 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 This is obsolete today!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 in France.

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.

Rhoads recalls:
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..

Personal Photographs

David Rogers
Shoulderpatch of the Engineers Special Brigade.

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