On the 27th of August 1944 we boarded the Saturnia, an Italian Ocean Liner, in New York City and took off for E.T.O. (European Theater of Operations). Since the allied invasion that started with D-Day was well underway we were the first convoy to go directly to Cherbourg in France rather than Southampton in England.
The crossing was relatively uneventful. Our squad was assigned duty in the officer's mess and we spent a good part of the day peeling vegetables, some by hand and some by machine. What I remember were the signs and constant warning over the intercom NO FUMARE COMPERTA which means NO SMOKING! in Italian.
Blackout was very important in a convoy. Any light may draw enemy fire at night. Many ships were destroyed crossing the Atlantic during the war.
Upon arriving in Cherbourg Sept. 7th (the D-Day invasion was in June) we were trucked to a large area of hedgerows where we bivouacked for about two months.
We were in pup tents. I shared a tent and became good friends with a real West Virginia 'hillbilly' type nicknamed "Gambel" and we got along very well. In fact, we agreed that this might be a pretty rough time and two alert people probably had a better chance of surviving than one alone. Gambel and I made a pact to stick together and watch each other's back. There were lots of mines in the hedgerow pastures and we were pretty well confined to our carefully cleared areas.
While in Normandy we drilled and trained and sampled the local booze. Calvados was the real killer. Guys who drank it like whiskey wound up with a real load. I remember one big old farm boy laying in the company street one night crying for his mama.
About this time, General Patton was starting to really move his armored divisions across Europe and there was a shortage of drivers for tank trucks to take fuel to the front lines. They organized the Red Ball Express and came around to recruit drivers. Immediately all the guys in our outfit,including me, were experienced truck drivers and volunteered to get out of the Infantry and into a truck. Driving is better than walking anytime.
Needless to say, I was never selected. We were located not too far from Omaha Beach. My brother Clark was in the Navy Construction Battalion (called the Sea Bees). I knew he had ridden a big pontoon across the English Channel shortly after D-Day.
These pontoons were positioned and sunk to form piers for ships coming into the harbors on the French Coast. I knew he spent some time on Omaha Beach, so I spent a lot of time asking about his outfit every time I had a chance.
I finally found one guy who said that his unit had been sent back to England.
Memories include a few raids on the mess area at nights to grab some bread and orange marmalade, which was one of the better chow items. We passed the time playing lots of cards by candlelight--four men sitting in a pup tent. We traded cigarettes for cider and booze from the French.
Normandy after D-Day was a fairly interesting place. I know I would not have liked to fight in the hedgerow country or on the beaches. We lost a few people to land mines when they wandered into un-cleared pastures.
We continued to have training sessions and then one day they came up with some entertainment! We hiked to a large open field, sat in the grass and had a U.S.O.-type show. The feature attraction (?) was one Beatrice Lilly, English comedienne who went over like a lead balloon. It was well intended but not very pertinent for a bunch of kids, hillbillies and Boston National Guard types.
Beatrice was better, however, than the next formation in the same field.