The voices of D-Day: Reader story submissions

ST. GEORGE – On June 6, 1944, D-Day brought the beginning of the end of World War II as 156,000 Allied troops crossed the English Channel in the largest amphibious invasion in history.

The echoes from D-Day still ring strong. To honor the 70th anniversary of D-Day, St. George News has chosen to share your stories.

Submitted by Mike Munsell, (edited for style):

d-day-image-1My dad, 29th infantry 116th regiment, 1st Battalion, Company C, was in the first wave to land on Omaha Beach Dday.

He was dropped off in water 10-feet-deep and immediately sank to the bottom. He told me if he hadn’t been a good swimmer as a kid he would have died right there as he witnessed many around him drown. Finally on shore he explained the day long intense and brutal battle which nearly wiped out the 116th.

On July 6, 1944, my dad was wounded by German artillery while fighting in the hedgerows just outside St. Lo. He told the stories of the hedgerow fighting that were incredible. He spent two months back in an England hospital then reassigned back to the 29th, with a Purple Heart medal, where he proceeded through France until the German surrender.

He would tell you stories for hours if asked and some were unbelievable but I knew they weren’t and through the years you may hear a new one. If you knew him you would never know what he went through as he was very humble.

When the movie “Saving Private Ryan” came out we took him to see it and, as the first 20 minutes of the movie is brutal, after that 20 minutes I leaned over and ask him if that was how it was. He answered: “Oh yeah, pretty close but the battle was all day not 20 minutes,” and said nothing more.

I asked him years ago if he would go back with me to Normandy and he said no and explained he probably wouldn’t recognize anything.

Submitted by Kathleen Baber on behalf of Quentin Nisson, (edited for style):

Quentin A. Nisson will be 96 on Aug. 10.

Seventy years ago at 7 a.m. he was waiting off the Coast of Normandy on the Ship Susan B Anthony with the 535th Anti-Aircraft Battalion. He was putting on his pack in preparation for going ashore on Utah Beach. It was D-Day, the day he and many other soldiers had been stressing about it for weeks, not knowing when it would come, just that it was imminent.

The reason for the weeks of jittery nerves was more than just knowing the “Big” Day was coming; it started with an event that no one was ever allowed to speak of; one that was so horrible that it haunted many for the rest of their lives. It was dubbed “Exercise Tiger,” and was a live-ammunition D-Day rehearsal involving near 30,000 men and 300 ships and took place towards the end of April 1944, six weeks before the invasion.

Quentin has in his possession an article that appeared in National Geographic in June 2002, entitled “Untold Stories of D-Day,” by Thomas B. Allen, explaining the “Exercise Tiger” fiasco. It was given to him by another soldier who realized they shared the same experience on different ships and in different areas. It is the only mention he has ever seen in print addressing his experience.

The following is an excerpt from a letter Quentin sent home to his sweetheart Gwen about the experience:

We were in a marshalling area in South Wales getting all fixed out to go to France. While I’m on the subject of the war, I will tell you about the awful experience I had with our unit when on a “dry run” maneuver off Portsmouth, England the 28th day of April, last year. We were supposed to make an assault on a beach they had fixed up for us to practice on for getting our equipment off the ship or LST onto the beach. Anyway, we loaded all our guns on our trucks, with ammunition, gas, etc., and took off with six other ships loaded with other GI’s from other outfits about two o’clock the morning of the 28th.

Suddenly our boats (US tank landing ships or LST’s) were attacked by what we thought were German submarines, (they later turned out to be 9 German Schnellbootes, fast, ellusive torpedo boats). They had been going down the England coast toward Slapton Sands, where there was a beach similar to the ones at Normandy. When the Germans attacked, the Captain zig-zagged our ship back and forth and one torpedo missed our ship by inches.

I was sleeping underneath at the time and was knocked out of my sleep when one torpedo hit one of the six ships with us. This made an awful noise down in the bottom of the ship and immediately most of the soldiers went above board to see what was going on. I couldn’t see much as it was too dark, but I did see 3 of the ships we were with were on fire and GI’s were jumping off into the water. To see this and know that our number might be next really made me very uncomfortable. It was just light enough that I noticed one of our ships pull up parallel to us and then she slipped back of us until she was about 300 yards away. The other ships burning were causing her to be silhouetted in the water.

All at once a torpedo hit her squarely in the center and I never in my life seen such a sight of destruction and hell, not in all my life!

Two and one-half ton trucks on the top bed of the ship flew intro the air and it wasn’t too many minutes until the whole boat was burning with the gas and ammunition helping it along. The poor soldiers didn’t have a chance as she was hit in a vital spot.

Even in this mess, the German’s fired upon her from an E-Boat. We knew our boat and the others must have been spotted from the great light put out by the other ships burning. The Captain of the ship we were on kept full speed ahead and we stood petrified on the ship awaiting a torpedo in our ship.

We gradually got to an English Port and it was mined, so we were lucky there also, that we didn’t hit them. We only had a Cavet (a small guard ship) to protect us, I found out later, and it had to run for it as there was too much after us.

I really had a prayer when things settled down, for it was only God that brought us through!

I can’t begin to describe the awful feeling or give you a description like I’d like to of this experience. When I come home I’ll tell you more. Many lives were lost (700 dead, 370 missing) and my feeling is that it was due to carelessness on the part of the Navy for not giving us more protection out in this area of water when everything was like it was. I heard the British were responsible, because they pulled one of the big ships that was supposed to protect us back in, but can’t say for sure. I just know I don’t want to ever come this close again.

I can’t begin to tell you all in this letter, my mind sometimes goes blank when I think of what I’ve gone through and I’m still okay.

As Quentin was standing there, an officer standing on the deck with him as they were watching the ships burning all around, turned to him and said: “I think I lost most of my engineers on that ship.”

Immediately, Eisenhower ordered extra measures taken to keep the incident quiet, there had to be a great secrecy because it was not known if some of the higher Officers who had the D-Day plans on their person had been captured by the enemy and if the Germans would know their plans and be prepared for the Americans’ assault.

Yet another tragedy was that many dead men were found floating face down with their life vests around their waists instead of under their armpits. Quentin said it would have been helpful if they had taken time to teach the men on how to use the life preservers, because no one had any idea what to do with them.

It’s easy to see why Quentin and his fellow soldiers were unnerved as each day passed and they didn’t know when D-Day would be, so as he loaded up his gear the day it had finally arrived, the horrors he experienced six weeks earlier were playing through his mind.

He had barely finished putting his pack on his back, and they had just announced it was time to disembark, when suddenly his worst fears were realized. The ship was shaken by a terrible explosion. Everything blacked out and everything was shaking making him unstable on his feet.

They all stood there in silence waiting, then it was announced to leave everything and go to the deck. There was a British Destroyer pulling up along side and they had to go down to the smaller ship on ropes hanging down the side. They sailed away further up on Utah Beach, and as they looked back, the Susan B. Anthony broke in half and disappeared beneath the water. Luckily all the personnel got off, but everything else was lost. All their equipment and personal belongings were gone.

They were put ashore with nothing but the clothes on their backs. They tried to find a shovel to dig a foxhole and were told to check with the makeshift hospital that was set up further down. Much later they were able to dig in and spent a long stress-filled night never knowing if the Germans would come upon them in the dark. Fighting raged around them for several hours and one of their companions was so terrified he kept jumping from one foxhole to another back and forth.

Luckily Utah Beach wasn’t as bad as Omaha Beach just above them, but it was far from over, they had many more miles to go and battles to fight before they could even think of going home.

Assistant Editor Cami Cox Jim contributed to this report

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