We left Whatcombe Farms in May of 1944 for what was to become the invasion of France...the Allied forces' attempt to recapture France from the occupying German army. My unit spent two weeks at a marshaling area at Abergervenny, Wales, and left Bristol aboard the HMS Liberty on June 1 to spend the next four days in the English Channel. We were told on June 5 that, on the next day, the invasion would begin. By early morning on the 6th, planes were flying over, headed toward Normandy. The bombers literally blew that part of the coast of France to bits to clear the area, making it safe for our landing by sea to begin to set up Allied occupation. Then, for hours, our battleships fired thousands of rounds of ammo onto the beaches until it seemed impossible that anyone could still be alive there. Finally, it was time for the ground troops, of which I was one. The 101st Airborne had been divided into separate air and water assaults, with the first half going in by glider and the rest of us approaching the beach by boat. The troops who went in by air had a lot of unexpected trouble as most of the available landing areas had been sabotaged by the many short stakes that had been pounded into the ground, causing our gliders to crash when touching down. We lost General Donald Pratt in such a crash. Those of us coming in by boat had problems too. As per our orders, we observed the destruction from the deck of the Liberty until about 2:00 or 3:00 in the afternoon, and then, during our approach, we hit a mine and had to evacuate the ship by climbing over the sides on ropes. We scrambled into an LST filled with personnel just in time for me to see a German fighter plane get shot down, the pilot parachute out, and get rescued by a boat. Our LST attempted a shore landing three times before we could get off since the water was so deep right at the shoreline. The water was up to my shoulders, and I had to hold my equipment and gun over my head because I sure didn't want to hit that beach with a wet rifle!
I finally slogged up onto what was known as Utah Beach. The coastline was littered with dead bodies - many of them piled up like cord wood on the beach. We were immediately strafed by a German fighter plane and I dove underneath a Caterpillar tractor for protection. When we got the all-clear signal, we marched several miles inland to meet our glider sections and set up our guns into firing position. I don't think we fired a single round that night. It was interesting that, by pre arrangement, U.S. planes had black and white stripes marking the wings and bodies so we ground troops could more readily identify our own aircraft but, by the next morning, the Germans had their planes marked in exactly the same way.
During the next several weeks, we moved to several more gun emplacements. We never fired the somewhat short-ranged machine guns we carried, but we did make use of our artillery, which meant we were usually within two-and-a-half miles of the Germans, which was the range of our big guns. A few of us went out scouting during a lull in the activities and ran across several dead German soldiers. A search of one of them revealed forty dollars of our invasion money that he must have taken from one of our guys in a similar situation. I relieved him of the rifle he would no longer need, and I still have that weapon to this day.
During combat duty, it seemed to rain an awful lot, and we were always cold and wet and muddy from sleeping in our foxholes. Not that the experience didn't have a few light moments though, as we stumbled upon a nearly full wine cask one day and we did our American duty of drinking most of it. The joke was on us when we all got very sick because of it. Apparently it was still very green wine!
We were involved in combat around Carentan and St. Lo, where I took the opportunity to pick up a few other souvenirs. My division was transferred out of battle after about three weeks and we pulled guard duty around Cherbourg, France for a week before being returned to the British Isles.