When Does A Nightmare Begin? Does it begin at the start of a dream or at the first sign of fear and terror?
At 3:00AM the morning of Tuesday, June 6th 1944 the transports Thomas Jefferson, Empire Javalin & Charles Carroll were at anchor about 12 miles off the coast of Normandy. Around 3:15 we started loading the assault troops onto the landing craft on deck. The craft was on davits that would swing out and lower into the water. The seas were very rough with waves 6 to 8 feet. The landing crafts were like corks. We started getting sick right away. The crafts began circling until time to head for shore. The boats started to take on water which the pumps couldn't handle, and we had to bail with our helmets.
Finally the order was given & we started the run on to the beach. It started to become daylight and the battle ships opened up. As we approached the shore while several hundred yards away, we began taking on artillery fire. There were mainly German 88's, French 75's and 120 MM mortars. One boat on our right took a direct hit. Boat parts and body parts were flying through the air. All 31 men on board died. This is when the real fear and terror began. With a very strong tide taking us to the left ' East, and an extreme amount of smoke on the beach we knew we were off course. We were supposed to land next to Co. A at Vierville; however, Co. A was decimated within 20 minutes and ceased to be a fighting unit. Co. B came in behind Co. A and suffered the same fate.
By a stoke of fortune, our being off course landed our crafts of G Co. Three quarters of a mile down the beach from Co A. At low tide the beach was about 300 yards with no cover. Our craft hit a sandbar which added an additional 50 yards. On the beach some of us took cover behind obstacles that had not been cleared; however, most of them had mines on top or French 75 artillery shells. Using these obstacles for cover became a very dangerous idea. Having been assigned to the 29th division just two weeks prior I thought I would die amongst strangers as I didn't know anyone. As it turned out, it was a good thing because I didn't know those who were dying around me.
The fear was so great that the mind would not function. I was hit in the hand by a small piece of shrapnel and I thought a bee had stung me. I thought how strange a bee would get me at a time like this.The few who reached the shingle and seawall were useless due to fear and lack of leadership. Most officers had been killed by being the first off the boats. I didn't know if our Company Captain, Scott was dead or not. Later we discovered he wasn't and also our Batt. Co. Maj. Bingham was OK as well.
There was concertina barbed wire strung along the beach road. Bunkers were still blocking the exits. All up and down the beach was pure chaos ' burning vehicles, terribly wounded men, and, of course, the dead. You couldn't walk without stepping over bodies or body parts. There were lines of bodies that the tide would bring in. Many wounded drowned by the fast rising tide. The water was actually red from blood and I remember there were greenish blue jellyfish in the water. It was sickening to see.
No one had fired a shot as of about 9:00AM. Everyone's weapons were full of sand. Around 9:30AM a lieutenant named Miller from the engineers took a group and had us clean our weapons and after blowing the barbed wire with Bangalore torpedoes we made it across the road and over a small swampy area to the base of the bluff. He took us up the bluff which had defilade in it which shielded us somewhat from the machine gun fire. We were out of the artillery fire as it was all landing on the beach still. The bluff was mined and some were unlucky enough to step on them. After reaching the top we were subjected to machine gun fire from the right and we came into Hedgerow country.
After the Lt. sent a detachment to knock out the machine gun, we continued along the bluff fighting skirmishes with pockets of Germans. By dusk we had only advanced several hundred yards when three of us became separated from the group. Not wanting to move around by ourselves we decided to dig in for the night. We found a horse trough by a barn and dug in under it. It gave us cover for our heads and a clear field of fire for 50 yards or so, thus passed the first day and night of June 6th. Forty-five more days of combat and 2000 more casualties followed in the bocage, which was the French name for hedgerow, before taking St. Lo.
But the division was to continue through the Siege of Brest and onto the linkup with the Russians at the Elbe River; however, I would not be there for that historic moment. I was wounded at the Rohr River crossing at Julich, Germany and so ended the most terrifying 8 months of my life. I started this adventure, if you want to call it that, at the young age of 17. I ended 'old', at 18 years of age with a changed outlook on life. I have since returned to Normandy two times. The beach is now serene and beautiful, but as I look out over it I see but the death and destruction of June 6th 1944. It is indelibly etched on my mind forever. I remained in the army for two more years transferring to the HDQ Co. 13th Port command in Antwerp, Belgium running a G.I. night club. Finally I returned stateside to New Orleans where I was discharged in December of 1947.
Clarence "Mac" Evans