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.
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.
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.
Have you ever spoken to a combat veteran of WW2. Did he (or she) remember much of what had happened?
[JLS # 542]