Remembering Amagansett on D-Day

D DAY – Operation Neptune JUNE 6. 1944. Drafted at 18, I happily trained as a High Tech US Army amphibious combat engineer with the rank of a T/5 corporal. My MOS recorded: draftsman, radio, mines, explosives, booby traps, camouflage design. I sailed through U Boat wolf packs to England on Jan.1, 1944. I became a corporal in the over strength 1st Engineer Special Brigade’s 531st Shore Regiment, invaders of Africa, Sicily, Italy and then Europe. D-Day. Operation Neptune. The Invasion of Normandy. It’s 12am. on the Barnett APA 5, troopship far off the French coast. Shrill whistles. Soft prayers. Lips quiver. A dense murmur. Clanging bells. Cargo nets slap down. Assault boats pitch wildly. Barnett rolls. Troops heavily loaded. Packed together. Wobbly unsteady feet. Hurt. New guys puke over port rail. Old timers chew, spit, grind teeth. Sip special canteens. Loud scream. One fell off net. Lost at sea. I’m next on a one-way ticket. No refunds. No trip pass. This is war. Heavy gun fire. . Circles form lines behind USS Corey’s green stern light. We Go. A Blinding flash. Cory explodes. Stern and bow point up. Fall back. Sinks in swirling oil slick. Rescue cutters scoop up survivors. Lines back; Target 8 miles ahead. Will we all die here? My Cherokee aunt’s face sings, Your spirit is a ram and a spirit eagle. Leave them behind. Your snake spirit will save you in war. You will live long.” Many diesel engines roar. Rockets Blast the beach. Smoke billows. Hundreds more rockets hiss down. A new lead ship slides in. Circles into lines. Follow green light. Getting close. Adjust battle gear. Nazi shells hitting lines. Dear God. Protect us. We’re at the meat grinders maw. A 2nd wave Higgins boat behind us explodes into splinters. Body parts fly. Boat vanishes into wild sea. No oil slick. 41 Dead. Another boat to our right hit. Breaks apart, fire spurts. An LST on our right is hit. Flames whirl in circles. Nazi deadly aim. Another screaming man. Drops off net Black clouds churn flaming pillars of white smoke. Boatswain yells. “Hold on. We’re coming in. Hit bottom. Scrunch. Bow door slams down. All yell. Go, Go, Go! Toe of right boot jams in bow door chain. Twist into sea. Under cold water. Bubbles blinding. Boot toe wiggles free. Knee burns. Icy sea ends pain. Snake crawl limp. Seawall D-Day target ahead. Sarg J.C. Ragsdale lugging a mine detector. Rags shouts over war din, “Carrier! You Ok?” “Yeah. I need help.” together we slide mine detector case around body parts. Faces buried in sand. Set up my first mission. Grab 2 bags of TNT. Snake up to steel Jacks: 40 in two rows to blow-up. Rags rigs row 2 and I rig row1. A 40 staccato blast kills 40Jacks. Bull dozers push Jack rubble aside. Next Mission 2. Blast 55’gap in concrete Seawall 10’ tall 4’top and 15’bottom. I’ll use 216,000lbs of TNT 1st wavers lugged in 2-30lb bags. A 30 lb bag TNT has 450 ¼lb blocks. Stuff TNT under Seawall. Blast creates twisted rebar clutter in the 55’ gap. Engineers lay road connecting the Causeway. Tanks and artillery traffic shoot Nazis while in motion. Above, C47s tugging gliders release over our heads. Gliders vanish behind trees. My gut signals morning call. Rush behind dead wrecked gun. Squat. See Gen Roosevelt caning helmets of his 4th Division troopers hunched down in a Seawall trench they dug. The General’s voice booms over invasion Noise: “Get your asses the hell out of there. Our war starts right here boys.” Pain hit my guts, signaled immediate release. A loud voice booms “Corporal?” General points cane at me. “The blue ring on your helmet. You a mine sapper?” “Yes, Sir, General.” I wiggle. “Go ahead soldier, finish your shit.” Jumping up. He points his cane at my pistol belt. “Could I have a drink from that canteen of yours?” I reached back and yanked out one of my two canteens and pass it over. “Yes, Sir, General.” Taking the canteen. The general leans on his cane digging into sand, unscrews the cap and takes three long heavy swallows. His eyes widened. Licks lips. Takes another solid swallow with a full “Ahhh.Whooo,Eeee.” Twists canteen cap on. Smiling and tosses it back. I catch it with one hand. Wiping his lips with the back of his hand. “Corporal. You got the makings of a Real general in that there canteen of yours.” Saluting. “Thank you General, Sir.” “Corporal! Now let’s you and me take a look at the damned minefield we got to’ walk through to get after Nazis and blast their asses off.” At the top of the dune The General points his cane at a flooded field below. “Corporal. That dead paratrooper floating down there. Nazi bastards robbed his life. And the French citizens their freedom. And worse. They stole France.” Hard eyes looking at me. “Your job Corporal is… kill them sons-a-bitches… and give back to the French their freedom and liberty. I order you to do this without getting your balls shot off.” Mad and swearing loudly, waving his cane at the floating paratrooper. “That dead boy floating down there and the dead on our beaches here.., they died to free the world from an insane dictator. Hitler his goal is to rule the world, his way, the Nazi way. So, do your job Corporal. Now take me and my boys on our way. Do your job well and we’ll win this war we were sent here to fight. Free the oppressed people. Don’t you forget that Corporal. That’s exactly why we’re here.” Dusting sand from face. “Now let’s have another swallow from that fine canteen, then lead my boys through that mine field. And if you please I’ll have your good canteen .” We both had a solid D-Day laughing together. Quickly pulling Our mine sweeping squads We escorted the 4th Division boys safely through the fields of deadly Mines all the way to the Parallel road. Both sides of Causeway shoulders to the tree lines were covered with thick poppies. Mission 3, Blow a 55ft gap In the seawall for beach traffic access to La Madeleine, so tanks, troops vehicles, artillery can move up and attack the Nazis. Using 1,024 bags of explosives we lugged in and packed under and in behind the Seawall. Igniters on Primer cord Attached to sacks. Clear. Yell. “Fire In The Hole.” The blast opened a 55’ gap. With primer cord we sheared rebar and concrete from seawall edges. To expedite beach traffic, road crews hooked up the causeway. Our key weapon systems, Tanks and artillery raced ahead blasting retreating Nazis. Next mission? Survey mine fields on occupied beaches. Record Nazi Engineering dumps. Report findings to Hq. Be alert. The southern end of Pouppeville is dangerous. In Pouppeville. A young Girl vendor sold calvados. I checked prices. The girls smiling father invites me to celebrate their new freedom from Nazi cruelty at their home. His Wife served cheese, on a baguette of bread and their great home brew, calvados. The Father says. Calvados is a “cadeau pour vous.” Time to go. It’s pitch black and dangerous at night. His daughter knows a safe way. She takes us Back to Uncle Red Beach Hq. The CO liked my report, Yvette, and calvados. Yvette excited at seeing night sky filled with tracers leads the way upstairs to the 75 mm gun tub on top of Hq bunker. There the night was lit by tracers fired from 6,000 invasion ships. Yvette marveled at the night scene as we ate cheese and drank calvados from glasses Yvette brought. We sat on ammo boxes, sipped drinks, ate cheese on a baguette while watching D-Day fireworks. The night air was cool and dry. No rain. The night’s sky filled with bright red fire. Pencil flames race across the entire horizon. A risk- taking Nazi scout pilot droned across and was trapped in a spider’s web of fire. Instantly. Thousands of criss-crossing tracers chewed up the prey. An explosion spewed streaks of red sparking leaves in a fluttering twisting aurora of colors, then fizzled down and snuffed-out in a black sea. I saw a Nazi’s soul descend in sputtering flames. Calvados mellows. Yvette’s glass clicking against mine triggered a blinding vision of Amagansett beach. I’m in my sea scout uniform. My loving Sister holds my hand. It’s my 18th birthday. A brilliant sun rises. Dawn light shimmers across the ocean. Two mounted Coast Guards galloped toward us on Amagansett’s beach. Stopping they said they were looking for Nazi spies. I told them my Pittsburgh volunteer stories with River Patrol CGs also after Nazis. They said 8 spies were caught here in 1942. As mounted Guards gallop away… I saw Nazi spirits dancing in the mist over the horsemen on Amagansett’s Beach. ***