A Hero Who Couldn’t Remember

His was one of the very first U.S. Navy ships at Utah Beach on D-Day

By Jeff Salter

[Note: Most of this content came from my Facebook post on 11-25-2011, nearly ten years ago.]

Saw an old guy with a WW2 cap at the ‘Y’ today. His cap indicated he was Navy, at Utah Beach, on D-Day… so, naturally, I wanted to know more. I introduced myself and began asking questions. Unfortunately – as his nearby daughter and two granddaughters chimed in – he no longer remembered very much. But they remembered bits and pieces of what he USED to recall. About all I could get out of him was that he was on a ship which sent other ships to that deadly beach.

But he couldn’t remember what type of vessels his ship was directing. I had assumed they were landing craft (infantry), which would be the ones we’re all familiar with… the Higgins boats which brought the fighting men as near to the shore as the beach obstacles would allow. But he couldn’t remember or couldn’t explain. His cap also was emblazoned with PC 1176… so I looked up his ship when I got home.

The Facts

He was on PC 1176 – a sub-chaser patrol craft – which was one of the first two “primary control vessels” in control of clusters of landing craft (tank), which unloaded – on choppy water – the duplex drive Sherman tanks which swam to shore. [Note: There were many variants, but a typical Sherman weighed around 38 tons!] His vessel was in control of 8 LSTs, each of which held several DD tanks.

The very first allied ship destroyed in the D-Day event was PC 1261, which was the sister ship of the 1176. This man (on this ship) saw his companion ship hit a mine and sink, killing most of those on board. Not long afterwards, one of the LCTs (holding the DD Shermans) also hit a mine and was demolished.

The skipper of the 1176 was supposed to send the LSTs to shore from a much greater distance but he realized the flaw in that plan and he took his own initiative to bring his vessel (with the 8 LSTs clustered nearby) to a distance of less than one mile from the beach. Remember, this was into the face of withering hostile fire and hazardous beach obstacles.

At that point the 1176 skipper released the LSTs and most of those 28 DD Shermans made it to shore… unlike many of the other tanks released into the water in other parts of the invasion.

Conclusion

This ship was in the very first wave of the dramatic, deadly action at Utah Beach and this man who was in the middle of it no longer remembers much of anything of what happened.
This guy’s family remembered (to me) that two “boats” had blown up very near his ship, but they didn’t understand the significance of one of them being the very first ship sunk in the D-Day invasion.

I truly wish I had gotten his name/address. My mom had been waiting for me for quite a while by then… and the old guy had gotten to a cycle of merely repeating what he had already told me several times. So I just had to thank him, shake his hand, and leave.

I felt honored to have met this gentleman, but the encounter left me quite sad.

Question:

Have you ever spoken to a combat veteran of WW2. Did he (or she) remember much of what had happened?

[JLS # 542]

About Jeff Salter

Currently writing romantic comedy, screwball comedy, and romantic suspense. Fourteen completed novels and four completed novellas. Working with three royalty publishers: Clean Reads, Dingbat Publishing, & TouchPoint Press/Romance. "Cowboy Out of Time" -- Apr. 2019 /// "Double Down Trouble" -- June 2018 /// "Not Easy Being Android" -- Feb. 2018 /// "Size Matters" -- Oct. 2016 /// "The Duchess of Earl" -- Jul. 2016 /// "Stuck on Cloud Eight" -- Nov. 2015 /// "Pleased to Meet Me" (novella) -- Oct. 2015 /// "One Simple Favor" (novella) -- May 2015 /// "The Ghostess & MISTER Muir" -- Oct. 2014 /// "Scratching the Seven-Month Itch" -- Sept. 2014 /// "Hid Wounded Reb" -- Aug. 2014 /// "Don't Bet On It" (novella) -- April 2014 /// "Curing the Uncommon Man-Cold -- Dec. 2013 /// "Echo Taps" (novella) -- June 2013 /// "Called To Arms Again" -- (a tribute to the greatest generation) -- May 2013 /// "Rescued By That New Guy in Town" -- Oct. 2012 /// "The Overnighter's Secrets" -- May 2012 /// Co-authored two non-fiction books about librarianship (with a royalty publisher), a chapter in another book, and an article in a specialty encyclopedia. Plus several library-related articles and reviews. Also published some 120 poems, about 150 bylined newspaper articles, and some 100 bylined photos. Worked about 30 years in librarianship. Formerly newspaper editor and photo-journalist. Decorated veteran of U.S. Air Force (including a remote ‘tour’ of duty in the Arctic … at Thule AB in N.W. Greenland). Married; father of two; grandfather of six.
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15 Responses to A Hero Who Couldn’t Remember

  1. My father lost the sight in one eye at a young age and had to have that eye removed before he was 20,(which would have been before 1930). He became an electrical engineer and then worked in a ‘war plant’ where put electronics into airplanes and was among the first to fit them with radar.
    Three of his brothers went to war, one as an Army chaplain, who saw the most action as he was at Anzio and other places, mostly Italy and was decorated, as was another brother, who was a bombardier. I never heard them speak of their service, nor did any of the other WWII veterans whom I knew.(The chaplain did write about it in poems). One uncle-by-marriage wrote a novel about action in WWII and what was then unnamed, but is PTSD, after arriving home,(which I covered here a few years back). I think most of the veterans then were simply expected to take what they had to do and compartmentalize it, and get on with life. So many scars healed-over , but probably not truly healed.
    The only veteran that I ever personally knew who was at D-Day was a pilot, who 30 years later complained that when he got back to base, he had to wait a very long time to get dinner. My mother seldom lost her temper with anyone who went through the war, but she hit the roof, with all those who died and were suffering on the beaches that night,( those alive not eating at all and being shot at), and he complained even then that he had to wait to eat!
    But Mom never forgave herself when she lost her temper with a teacher who over-stepped his boundaries of discipline when my brother’s hair was a little long, just a little, over his ears and on his collar. He picked him up with a couple of others, took them out of school and to a barber shop; my brother had never been in any kind of trouble at all in school. However, afterward my brother told her that the man had been on the ‘Bataan Death March”, and my mother, as I said, never forgave herself for berating him.
    There are so few left at all now.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      Those soldiers (American and Philippino) and many nurses and some civilians — who were captured in the Bataan debacle — suffered horribly under conditions that were unnecessarily brutal.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. jbrayweber says:

    I’ve mentioned my grandfather and his service in WW2 and the Korean War many times. His stories had made a huge impact on me as a child, making me fiercely patriotic. Only one of his experiences would he not talk about as it still haunted him well into his later years—the island overtaken by Japanese paratroopers. That was a deadly story of sheer survival my dad had to tell while my grandfather just listened, motionless.
    It’s hard to fathom the determination and fear of those fighting in a world war. The obstacles the troops overcame—at great costs—on D-Day were insurmountable. We look back now in awe.
    I am thankful for every man and woman who has served this country. The sacrifices made with life and limb, as well as mentally and emotionally, should never be discounted or politicized. As the saying goes “land of the free because of the brave.” Question is, do we have enough of the brave? Do we have that same spirit the “Greatest Generation” produced? Those after all the way up to just past 9/11? I worry not.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      Thank God for men like your grandfather… who served sacrificially and suffered traumatic memories for decades afterward.
      Without their grit and strength, we’d be speaking a foreign language today.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Th emajor difference is the clear and present danger during WWII, what and how to defend and protect against them. There seem to be no truly defined group with which to contend, new ones drop in like the next black hat coming to hit Tom Mix in the old movies.The Cold War was indeed chilling; once nuclear weapons entered the scene,outright battle between theU.S. and others with the same capabilities created a completely new situation. Eisenhower himself, a commander of the European Theater of Operations during WWII, thought that nuclear war was something to be avoided at all costs. He suffered massive heart attacks as President, yet hid how ill he was from most of the world and stayed with his job at the cost of his own health because he felt that he alone could prevent nuclear war in the 1950s.
      It is simply a different world now.

      Like

  3. John T Babb says:

    I’ve been fortunate to speak to many WWII vets (my father and father-in-law among them). I have yet to hear one “brag” about his own actions, but most spoke about what others did with true gratitude. I never realized my father suffered from any kind of PTSD until when, in his mid-80s, I sat with him while we watched the first half of “Saving Private Ryan”. The next morning he told me he couldn’t watch the rest of it “because his nightmares had come back”. The small town where I was raised had hundreds of quiet heroes. What an honor to have known so many of them.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Jeff Salter says:

      wow. It’s painful to realize that most of those in combat — whether Army, Navy, Air Corps, Marines, coast guard, or Merchant Marines — who SURVIVED… carry with them such traumatic memories.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Elaine Cantrell says:

    My father-in-law, my father, and my uncle were all in World War II. Some things they would talk about, and some they wouldn’t.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      My father and my uncles all served in uniform, but none of them were involved in WW2 combat… fortunately. But they all lost friends and they all saw horrors of one type or another.

      Like

  5. Patricia Kiyono says:

    What a touching story. My uncle fought in WWII, but my dad graduated from high school in June of 1945, so he was too young. Uncle Jim became a career officer, retiring as a Major, but we weren’t able to hear him talk much about his time in combat, because he was stationed in Okinawa, and then in Hawaii. But I know dad emulated his big brother, because he enlisted as soon as the Korean Conflict began.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      American citizens with Japanese heritage faced a lot of extra stress and hostility… it must have been hard on them.

      Like

  6. Both of my grandfather’s were in WWII but neither of them ever spoke about their experiences. The one Grandpa lied about his age to join the Navy. I don’t ever remember him speaking about what he saw or where he was. The other was in the Army. The one in the Army only ever told us that he was a cook. We found out after he died that he was not a cook but that was his way of getting out of talking about it. “All I ever did was peal potatoes.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      The Army veteran’s way of dealing with questions about his war-time experiences is both touchingly funny… and agonizingly painful.
      It would be impossible to guess whether he experienced the type of horrors that he literally had to shut out of his conscious mind… or if those memories were simply too painful to discuss with anyone. Such a sad situation.

      Like

  7. Dianne says:

    Yes, my father was in the Army and mostly talked about the Battle of the Bulge. He and another soldier were cut off from their troops and took cover and got stuck (alone) under a bombed German tank (complete with the bodies of the troops that were in it) while the German troops marched by. He referred to his mate as ‘a good hand with a knife’.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      Wow… that battle was so horrific in so many ways. I can only imagine how / why your dad was able to assess his buddy’s skill with a blade. [shudder]
      In addition to everything else he faced, the weather was horrific and supplies (like food & medicine) were incredibly scarce. Thank God he survived that experience.

      Like

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