The WWII 300th Combat Engineers

LST 523
Unloading LST 282 at Utah Beach

History of the 300th Combat Engineers, 1943 to 1945


Rescuing survivors of LST 523 by Tracy Sugarman.

Voices of LST 523

PROLOGUE

The following is a report of findings in the case of MIA Clifford C. Alexander and others of the 300th . (This report is not edited here for grammar, punctuation or spelling)

EXTRACTED FROM AG FILE 569.14
"SINKINGS"
REPORT OF INVESTIGATION

5 DECEMBER 1944

In compliance with 3rdIndorsement to letter AGO, subject: Determination of Status, file AG PC-S 201 Alexander, Clifford C. (6 Nov 44) 38399159, the following information regarding the reporting of Tec 5 Clifford C. Alexander, and others, formerly of this organization, as missing in action 19 June is submitted.

Tec 5 Clifford C. Alexander, was, on 19 June 1944, a member of the 300th Engineer Combat Battalion and as such at that time was enroute to France together with 194 of our enlisted men and six officers comprising the second wave of the 300th Engineer Combat Battalion. This group of personnel loaded onboard LST 523 on 18 June 1944 shortly before noon at Portsmouth, England, and proceeded during the night of 18-19 June to Utah Beach, north of Carentan, France. The ship arrived about a mile to a mile and a half off the beach some time about 1200 B 19 June and dropped anchor, apparently to await the tide in order to beach properly. About 1300 B the anchor was weighed, and the ship started toward the beach and had been underway several minutes when a tremendous explosion occurred somewhat aft of the center of the ship.

Invasion fleet and passing by battleship Texas
Invasion fleet and passing by battleship Texas. Photo: Willie Hein

The explosion was apparently caused by some type of underwater mine. The force of the blast was exerted in such a manner as to lift up the center of the ship very forcibly, at the same time imparting a rolling motion above that caused by the waves due to the excentric point of the blast. Apparently the bottom of the ship was broken in such a manner as to permit the ship to bend at the point of blast, with the deck acting as a hinge. The upward motion was felt most by the persons nearest the center of the ship, those towards the stern and bow not being subject to such severe thrust. The center of the ship dropped back, filling with water and assuming a position in which the bow and stern were higher than the center. This flexing of the center of the ship broke the portion of the ship's center structure remaining after the blast so that the bow and stern separated. After the separation the stern section being the smaller, with the open end low and in the direction of motion, stopped and settled rapidly, forward part first. The water at this point was probably only slightly deeper than the height of the ship from keel to top of deck structure so that the forward of the stern piece was resting on the bottom before the fantail went under. The stern piece was completely underwater within 15 minutes after the explosion. The front section with the open end away from the direction of motion, settled gradually and did not come to a complete halt until the bow grounded on a bar. The front section came to rest with about the front 50 feet of the deck remaining out of the water with the forepeak about 8 feet out of water.

About 10 minutes after the explosion unidentified members of the crew, with Lieutenant McNeill, H&S Co, 300th Engineer Combat Battalion, gave verbal instructions to abandon ship. There was no ship's officer present and conscious on either of the two parts of the ship. The abandon ship order was given and transmitted in such a manner as to incite panic. The ship was abandoned in a most disorderly manner, most individuals acting without thought or reason, simply following the crowd, or some other individuals. All of the personnel of the 300th Engineer Combat Battalion with three exceptions who were seen alive after the explosion got off the ship.

There were four lifeboats on the ship, one of which was probably lowered to the water successfully. The balance of the lifeboats were damaged by the blast or the upheaval of the ship to such an extent as to make launching impossible or of no avail. Evidence indicates there were an undetermined number of lifeboats on board, practically all of which were put into the water before the ship sank. All personnel had been issued pneumatic life belts prior to leaving England and instructed in the use thereof, however about one half were damaged on the voyage across the Channel or lost in the excitement of the abandoning ship or otherwise not available for use.

The weather was partly cloudy, visibility about two miles, air temperature about 60°, wind moderately strong. Few survivors have any clear impression of which direction the wind was blowing, probably because of the secrecy surrounding the movement and the beach of destination. General opinion seems to indicate that the port side of the ship was the lee side, that the port side was toward the open water, therefore the wind must have been Southwest or West. The waves were young, that is short and steep with a height of about 5 feet. The water temperature was about 55° or 60°.

Survivors were rescued by small craft, lifeboats, motor driven launches and various types of landing craft that appeared on the scene from unknown sources. The rescue boats appeared on the scene not much more than ten minutes after the explosion and kept up the search for survivors in the water for at least an hour, probably much longer some rescue craft took personnel directly from the LST, particularly after it appeared the bow would not sink. None of the persons available for interview were able to state whether the part of the LST still out of the water several hours later was ever systematically search by rescue parties.

Most survivors were apparently suffering little from exposure. Most seem to have suffered from shock or to a small extent, however they may seem to have recovered rapidly after a shower and a short rest.

Survivors were brought ashore between one hour after the explosion and five days later 24 June to Utah Beach, France, and any one of the ports in the south coast of England. A large portion of survivors were brought to Utah Beach on 23 June.

Invasion photo of LST 351 taken from LST
Invasion photo of LST 351 taken from LST. Photo: Willie Hein
There were probably in excess of 20 small craft engaged in the rescue operations at one time or another. Apparently the rescue craft encountered considerable difficulty in approaching persons in the water due to the violence of the wind and the waves. The natural elements made maneuvering and control of the small craft very difficult. The area surrounding the wreck was well searched so that it would not have been possible for any living survivor to have been overlooked. Testimony indicates that with only three exceptions, that of Dewey Lt. Sutherland, Pfc Ulion V. Lacey, and Pfc. Wayne L. Long, no persons was seen alive after the explosion who are not now known to have been picked up alive. In the case of Pfc. Long it must be assumed that he died either of injuries or drowning before he left the ship.

The only facts observed by survivors which bear on the fate of any personnel are: the statement of Sgt. Forrest J. McNeil which indicates that Pvt. Dwight L. Blankenship, Pfc Thomas Flick, Pfc Leonard L. Shappell and Cpl Forest C. Young are probably dead; the statement of Pvt Allen C. Wright is dead; and the combined statements that Pvt Allen C. Wright is dead; and the combined statements of Pvt Hostar M. Hawkins and Tec 5 Cots Shannon which indicate that Pfc Wayne L. Long is dead.

Testimony would indicate that a large portion of the personnel on board the ship were either in the mess line, in the mess hall or in the mess kit washing line, all of which activity was concentrated near the point of the explosion it appears that in the neighborhood of 100 man must have been in the mess kit washing line, since it extended from the center of the ship along the right radial to the fantail. There were survivors only from the extreme ends of the line. Apparently most of the persons in this area were instantly killed or so severely shocked that they were unable to escape from the incoming water.

It appears also that all available survivors were unconscious or semiconscious for a short period of time after the explosion, since few are able to give any intelligent description of the events immediately following. It is noted also that the degree of injury and shock seems to vary inversely with the distance of the individual from the point of the explosion.

The following men on exhibit "A" as having rejoined his organization after the sinking of the LST were not questioned the following reasons:

2nd Lt. John P McNeill,
Sgt Robert R. Keleher,
Pfc Luther E. Hamlett,
Pvt Mike Walden
0-110658 Reclassified, now in USA
38381439 KIA July 1944
38416498 Absent sick in hospital
38341797 Absent sick in hospital

Recommendations:

  1. That a BCR be completed changing the status of the following enlisted man from MIA to KIA:
    Cpl. Forest C. Young
    Pfc. Thomas W. Flick
    Pfc. Wayne L. Long
    PFC. Leonard L. Shappell
    Pvt. Dwight L, Blankenship
    Pvt. Allen C. Wright
    38208553
    33675075
    38474392
    32757191
    38432954
    34792893
  2. That all hospitalization records of the Army and the Navy operating in the vicinity and in station and general hospitals in England be checked against the personnel still listed as MIA. If not found there on, the individual to be changed to KIA.

/s/ /t/ Robert J. Jagow
Major, CE
Investigating Officer


VOICES OF LST 523

Fourteen young American men came together on June 19, 1944 off the Normandy coast. They were men of the U. S. Army 300th Engineer Combat Battalion, the Navy and Coast Guard. All of them risked their lives in some of the most critical days of World War II. These men were: Homer C. Garrett, Supply Sergeant, Co. A, WIA; Forest Wood, Tec 5, Co. A, WIA; Lester W. Aumann, Tec 5, Co. B, WIA, returned to duty; Clovis E. Brown, Pfc, Co. C, WIA, returned to duty; Harold J. Didier, Staff Sergeant, H & S, WIA; Rayburn H. Kennedy, Corporal, Co. B, WIA, returned to duty; James W. Kennedy, Jr., Tec 5, H & S Co., WIA, returned to Co. C; Simon Maberry, Pvt, Co. C, KIA; Joe Leyva, Tec 5, Co. B, KIA; Donald J. Richter, Corporal, Clerk, Co. B; John Durant, Sgt, H & S, WIA; Tracy Sugarman, Ensign, U. S. Navy, eyewitness; Tony Leone, U. S. Coast Guard, eyewitness; and Wendell Plastridge, US Navy, eyewitness. These men tell their stories, some through the voices of relatives, and the story of one of the most tragic events of the Normandy Invasion in June 1944.

The LST (Landing Ship Tank) was the primary Allied transport ship for beach invasion in WWII. The ship was designed and built for utility and durability but not for appearance. Most of the LSTs were built in the United States after the U. S. entered the war in 1941. They transported millions of troops along with millions of tons of vehicles, equipment and supplies in the Normandy invasion alone. The LSTs continued to transport supplies, equipment and replacement troops from England to France and then reversed the process until the end of the war.

Tracy Sugarman

Tracy Sugarman

Unloading a LST
Unloading a LST (Landing Ship Tank) Illustration by Tracy Sugarman
The largest ships were the LSTs, long, gray, awkward vessels. They were almost ten yards longer than a football field, and fifty feet in width. Our small invasion craft, the LCVPs, were carried on davits on each side of the vessel. Manned by four sailors in each, the boats would be lowered to the water, where they would attempt to hover close by the mother ship [the LST]. Their job was to assist the soldiers scrambling down the cargo nets into the boats and then carry the men safely to their destination.

The main function of the LST was to carry tanks, trucks, jeeps, half-tracks, food, ammunition, hospitals, and troops onto the enemy beachhead once it was secured. Day after day, the great unlovely ships would drive onto the beach. The great bow doors would swing out, and out would pour all the tools of war that would keep the invasion inland fed, armed, and moving ahead. Without the LSTs, the invasion of Europe and the conquest of the Japanese would have been impossible.

LST 523 was laid down on October 15, 1943, at Jeffersonville, Indiana by the Jeffersonville Boat and Machine Company. It was launched December 6, 1943, with commissioning on February 3, 1944. LST-523 first sailed from Bayonne, New Jersey to Boston. From there, it went to Halifax where it joined a large convoy of 60-75 U. S. ships taking a month to make the trip across the North Atlantic to Europe. Convoy SCI56 departed Halifax, Nova Scotia on 29 March 1944 and arrived at Liverpool, England and other English ports 13 April 1944. It was an orderly 16 day trip. The convoy consisted of 40 ships from several countries, with half of the convoy American ships including LST 523 and 13 other American LSTs. The cargo of the ships varied greatly including food, mail, copper, lumber, gravel and general cargo. LST 523 docked at Milford Haven (Plymouth), England with its general cargo. The seas were heavy and when the convoy reached Plymouth, England it was necessary for welders to come on board to repair the ship. LST 523 was part of the buildup of the Allies in anticipation of the planned invasion of German-occupied countries in Europe. The ship was fitted out and crewed by the Navy as it waited on the English coast.

LST 523 was assigned to the Western Task Force, Follow-up Force B for the Normandy Invasion. Force B consisted of 50 LSTs loaded in Falmouth and Plymouth, England. When the Normandy invasion began on 6 June 1944, LST-523 made the first of three round trips from England to the Normandy beaches. They left England arriving with men, vehicles and equipment at the Western Task Force area, Utah Beach, on the June 6 invasion. On the first landing, the ship did not get in to the shore as far as it should. When the ramps opened and vehicles started debarking, many sunk due to the depth of the water. They were able to take 175 Allied casualties on board to return to England. The second trip to Normandy was more successful. The third and final trip was tragic.

LST 523 left the United States traveling to England in preparation for the Normandy Invasion. It was crewed with a Navy crew of 145 as well as 40 Navy medics to care for the wounded that would be evacuated from the Normandy beaches after delivering men and equipment to the area. LST 523 made three successful round trips from England to Normandy and back. Three of the 40 medics attended a reunion of the survivors of LST 523 in Pigeon Forge, Tennesse in September, 2009 - 65 years after the last mission of LST 523. They talked with Charlie Thompson whose father was killed that fateful day in 1944 on LST 523. That conversation was recorded with the permission of the Navy medics.

Navy medics recall the trip of LST 523 from the U. S. to England:

We went from Bayone, New Jersey to Boston and stayed there for a day or two and picked up three or four other ships and then went on to Halifax, Nova Scotia where the convoy was getting ready to leave for England. We were there for a few days and when we took off there must have been 50 to 70 ships or more in the convoy. The swells would come up and seemed like you could see forever and you couldn't see the end of the convoy. It took 28 days to get from Halifax to Plymouth, England. That was in the North Atlantic and it was a rough trip. It was Easter Sunday 1944 when we saw the icebergs. We were in an ice field all day long.

We made four trips, or really three and a half trips. The first trips were quite routine as far as going into battle. The first one we never hit the beach. Couldn't get in because of the swells and the debris. So they sent out small boats to us to unload. The beachhead had already been established.

The second trip we did hit the beach and unloaded the Army men. We loaded up the casualties and we headed to England taking care of the casualties. We got our rest and sleep while they were loading back up in England. One of the trips we went over there on, it must have been the second trip, somebody had left a jeep on the beach for a few minutes and we found it. Well, the ole man, the skip, wanted that jeep. And so we stole that Army jeep and brought it on board. And by the time we got it back to England it already had been painted Navy blue.

On the third trip we were on the beach and had to abandon ship on dry land cause the German 88s were zeroed in on us. We went in on high tide and we were unloading on the beach and we had to abandon ship on dry land cause they were zeroed in on us and we were on the front. The beach couldn't move so you just hoped they wouldn't hit you.

We could bring back about 200 survivors. One time we brought back prisoners of war. I remember we had this one German on there that Jack kept working with. He hollered, "Hiel Hitler, Hiel Hitler." That rubbed Jack the wrong way. He kept giving him shots to quiet him down. One shot he gave his skin was so tough that it bent the needle. I won't repeat what Jack said. He never did get that German quiet.

Because we were bringing back casualties they had lined both sides of the LST inside with cots that would fold up to go over and after they unloaded we would bring down the cots for the men wounded.

By the time we went into the fourth trip I guess we figured the days were over then. We had gone back and forth with no problems. I guess we all got a little bit cocky that we were exempt from any danger.

William French, Navy Crewman, Brought LST 523 to England:

William FrenchI was on LST 523 on its first sailing. We left from the U.S. and went to Nova Scotia. We went in a convoy of many ships and it took us 30 days. We couldn't go any faster than the slowest ship in the convoy and that's why it took 30 days before we landed in England.

William Allen, Navy Medic describes his experience on LST 523 (Excerpts from story by Dan Whittle in the Murfreesboro, Tennessee Post August 18, 2013):

We had been scheduled for the invasion of Normandy a few days earlier but it was postponed to June 6 because of the weather. Our first trip to Normandy and Omaha Beach was on June 6. We saw that many of our men had drowned from the huge waves and the weight of the packs and weapons. Some of the waves were 10 feet high and we couldn't land. It took your breath away to witness all of this. The second trip of our LST [523] was to Utah Beach to pick up the dead and wounded and bring them back across the Channel. One man in our unit was the son of a preacher and we designated him to read Scripture. We read the Scriptures and said prayers each trip and counted it a miracle that none of the German artillery shells, so far, had not hit our vessel.

The following V-MAIL was written by Cpl. Joe W. Foraker to his father on 13 June, 1944 and postmarked 27 June, 1944. Cpl. Foraker was killed in action on 19 June, 1944 aboard LST 523:

Joe W. ForakerDear Dad,

Thought I'd better drop you a few lines, to let you know, I'm doing fine. How is every little thing at home? Fine I hope! It's beginning to look a darn sight better, here too. Guess you're keeping up with the papers! We all hope to be home soon.

How is your job doing now? Better than ever, I guess. Hope it stays the same for you, from now on out.

I'm about the same I guess. Seems like I'm gaining by the day. If I'm not careful, I'll hit 185 pounds, before I get back home. Ha Ha. That's just what I want to do tho'.

Well, how is your grandson? Sweet like his mama, or onery like his dad? Like his mama, of course. Ha. Couldn't be any other way. Write when you can Pop. Don't forget my cake.

Love, Son

John Durant describes loading in England and the trip:

John DurantWe were ready to go across and we came down in trucks and loaded right on LST 523. I think we stayed much longer at the dock than we were supposed to. I remember the ride across the English Channel. It was rough and got rougher as we went across. We were below deck most of the time going across.


Don Richter

Don Richter   We [300th Engineer Combat Battalion] left "Tent City" in Swindon, England to participate in the invasion of France. We were replaced by the 299th Combat Engineers at the last hour for the June 6 invasion. We missed the deadly D-Day. The First Echelon of the 300th went over on June 16. All of the men of the Third Platoon of each company in the battalion were designated to go across in the second wave. The battalion moved across in three waves so that an entire company would not be wiped out in a disaster. I had loaded all my possessions into the Third Squad truck ready to leave with my best buddies when Sgt. Poteet told Sgt. Sneed, my squad leader, to "Get Richter off the truck and to headquarters where he is needed to back up the company clerk who has a sinus infection." So I stayed in England as my Third Squad buddies moved out on LST 523 on June 18.

James Kennedy describes his friend "Chief":

James KennedyIn England, I agreed to spar with Chief [Johnnie Watashe]. He was the heavyweight Golden Gloves champion of Oklahoma so he had some privileges. Chief took good care of me. He was my buddy. We both were in Headquarters and Services Company.

Every morning we would box until reveille. I weighed only 150 pounds and he weighed about 220 pounds. I would run for about 30 minutes every day so I could just keep out of his way. I was much faster than he was and I could sting him every now and then. He would get to me when my arms were down and he would start hitting me. If I hit back he ignored me and kept hiting me. He didn't hurt me during all that time. I could hit him as hard as I wanted to at any time. That was the relationship we had.

In June when we loaded on the LST to go to France, Chief and I got on together along with other men of the 300th .

Chuck Bice recalled Johnnie Watashe:

Chuck Bice   That rascal could mock any bird or animal. He could sound exactly like anything you wanted him to sound like. He was a full-blooded Indian and heavyweight Golden Gloves Champion of Oklahoma. He was quite a good natured guy.

I had seen him work out on a workout bag and man, it would look like he would tear that thing up, you know. So, someone asked him one day, "Do you think you could whip Joe Louis?" He said, "If I had four or five good fights I believe I could." He might have done it if he had lived.

On June 18, the Second Echelon of the 300th left their marshalling area in England at 0030 traveling by motor convoy and arriving at Plymouth, England at 0130 hours. Homer Garrett, Forest Wood, Lester Aumann, Clovis Brown, Rayburn Kennedy, Charles Olive, James Kennedy, Simon Maberry, Joe Leyva and Harold Didier were among the 195 enlisted men and six officers of the 300th along with the a Navy crew of 40 who boarded LST 523 at 0630 hours. The Second Echelon of the 300th left Plymouth Harbor at 2100 hours enroute to France.

In an effort to protect the coast of occupied France, the Germans set mines of various types off the coast of France before D-Day. Newly designed acoustic-magnetic mines were deployed along the Normandy coast by the Germans during the night following the D-Day Invasion. These new mines could be activated by either sound or magnetic forces.

The weather in the English Channel was very unpredictable. In the early hours of June 19, a gale force wind erupted with no warning. Winds gusted to 40 mph, building waves to eight feet. LST 523 was on its way to the shore of France on that day in the face of the most severe June gale in 40 years. The storm destroyed the Mulberry Harbor which was under construction by the Allies on the French coast. At Omaha Beach, U.S. landing craft were destroyed on the shore when they were smashed against rocks and seawalls.

On the morning of June 19, 1944, LST 523 arrived off the coast of Normandy in that violent storm. Aboard the LST was the Second Echelon of the 300th Engineer Combat Battalion with their vehicles and equipment along with several Sherman Tanks. At 1245 hours, orders were received by the skipper of the loaded LST 523 from the Convoy Commander to anchor off Utah Beach.

William French, Navy Crewman, recalls 19 June:

I don't think I had any conversations with them [men of the 300th]. We didn't have much time to talk because we all had jobs to do. I was Quartermaster [on LST 523] and I was in charge of the steerage. I believe the LST had a Navy crew of about 145 men, officers and enlisted men, and there were a few medics on the LST maybe three or four. I believe that our LST made two or three trips across before that day. We took troops and jeeps and tanks over on the trips and we had doctors and corpsman on board so we took wounded troops back to England.

On June 19 we were given General Quarters and we were underway to go into the beach (Utah Beach). We were moving backwards into a safe position and getting in line to go in. The weather was terrible. It was just terrible. Oh gosh, it couldn't have been worse. And that's when we got tangled up with that mine. It exploded. I was down in the crew's quarters and it was down on the second level in the stern of the ship. I was sitting there and to my right and to my left there were stairs going up to the top deck. We were sitting on a rack of ammunition.

Tracy Sugarman

The English Channel is always a restless and moody body of water. In the long months of preparing for D-Day in our tiny craft, we had learned to mistrust the capriciousness of the Channel's weather. In a twinkling, a sunny and bracing day at sea could be transformed into an angry, dark, and wind driven maelstrom of waves and spray that could swamp our open boats. Shortly after the invasion we had lived through the horror of such a Channel storm. For three days and nights the savagery of that storm nearly destroyed our entire beachhead. All that protected our fragile toehold in Normandy from the full wrath of the sea was our "gooseberry"-old merchant ships and freighters that had been towed across the Channel to act as our only seawall. When the worst storm in decades began to lash the invasion beaches, our ancient sunken ships became our only protection from the wind-driven rains that swept in from the North Sea.

Goosebury at Utah Beach
Goosebury at Utah Beach, drawing by Tracy Sugarman
English Channel Storm
English Channel Storm, watercolor by Tracy Sugarman
Homer Garrett

Homer Garrett   Then there was that danged boat [LST 523]. I went up into the bow and just sat still. Later, I went below and a voice told me, "Stay out of there." I got out and went back on top. There were some tanks below and some of the boys slept in them at night.

The next morning we stopped out there. There were three lines of LSTs and we were in the middle. We were all stopped [off Utah Beach in Normandy]. We were broadside to the beach and did they ever shell us. I was scared. That was the first time I'd seen war. One LST pulled out and went around and I thought, "I hope there are not any mines out there."

  The water was the coldest and the wind was blowing stormy weather at high tide. It was terrible. It was rough as it could be with that flat bottom boat. Just like a tub being in it. Up and down, up and down, up and down.

At 1300 hours, orders were received from the USS Bayfield directing LST 523 to the beach no later than 1330 hours. LST 523 dropped anchor in ten fathoms of water in order to swing the ship to make a proper approach for beaching. At 1310 hours, LST 523, with the Second Echelon of the 300th Engineer Combat Battalion and the Navy crew of the ship, was underway proceeding to Utah Beach. At 1315 hours, LST 523 activated a German mine that exploded under the LST loaded with men, vehicles, equipment and explosives. The violent explosion broke the ship in two and killed or wounded one third of the men of the 300th . [From the Navy Action Report of Commanding Officer H.H. Cross.]

Tony Leone

LST 523 as told by Tony Leone, Crew Member of Coast Guard LST 27:

Coast Guard LST 27 moved cautiously among the submerged wrecks, third in the column, enroute to the beach where she would unload her troops. Trailing LST 27 off her starboard quarter was LST 523, known as “Stardust” by her skipper. The group of LST's moving in to unload on Utah Beach were about five or six miles southwest of Ponte du Hoc.

LST 27 had just begun to move through the water when it slowed to a gradual stop, gently nudging the submerged hull of a sunken LST. At 1250, her anchor could not be retrieved as it was caught on submerged wreckage. She could proceed no further. The signal man on the bridge, under orders from the skipper, signaled to LST 523, advising her to take LST 27's place in the beach-bound formation. After a flurry of blinker signals, LST 523 went around LST 27's fantail and fell into her newly assigned position. The move into harm’s way had begun.

The waters were choppy, tossing the flat bottom landing ships about in a sickening dance of steel elephants. The troops aboard LST 523 were just getting over a bad case of seasickness on trip over from England. They were lining up in a makeshift chow line on the deck; some of them washing their mess kits while others wandered on the deck, scraping the food from aluminum containers. It would be the last meal for many of them.

LST 523 pulled abreast, on the starboard side of Coast Guard LST 27, when a tremendous explosion blew her in two, lifting both sections of the hull high into the air. One of the crewmen lining the starboard railing of LST 27 remarked, "It was like watching a movie in slow motion. I thought the pieces of the ship would never fall back into the water!" Less than a minute before, they had been waving to the guys on the LST 523.

In the early hours of June 6, LST 523 had lost one of her LCVPs in the first Normandy wave when the loaded landing craft hit a mine. All members of her crew were killed instantly along with all of the troops. Now, on her fourth trip to the beachheads in Normandy, death reaping a bountiful harvest again. This time, she would lose most of her crew and several hundred troops of the 300th Engineer Combat Battalion. LST 523 had become another grim statistic.

Bodies flew high into the air, landing in the water and making a huge splash not far from the starboard side of Coast Guard LST 27. Pieces of human flesh fell in the ever widening circle marking the watery grave of U.S. Navy LST 523. Small Coast Guard 83 footers moved quickly into the sea of the carnage and picked out the few survivors struggling to stay afloat in the cold water. LCVPs from anchored transports lowered their ramps to near water level in order to pull aboard those who were too weak to climb over the gunwales -- and there were many.

The Navy Commanding Officer of LST 523, H. H. Cross, reported the explosion in his Action Report: "At 1315, a terrific mine explosion broke the ship into two pieces just forward of the superstructure. The stern stopped dead in the water and immediately began to settle. The bow continued to make headway for approximately six hundred yards. The commanding officer was suspended from the halyards by his right leg and was unable to observe the actions of the crew."

Homer Garrett

I went down in there one time and got Vaughn [John C.] out of there. I told him to get out of there and up on KP. I said I needed somebody to help me. He didn't want to go up but I threatened him with his life. Vaughn was a very good friend of mine. He got up there. He was upstairs on KP when we were hit and he never got a scratch.

Tracy Sugarman

Outside the gooseberry, the waves began to pile higher and higher, crashing against the old ships in a mounting crescendo. The wind was howling through the rigging, and sheets of spray were flung as high as the masts. We sighted the LST [523] that was making its laborious way toward our beachhead. In the hollows between the crashing waves, the great bow doors of the ship would be almost lost to view, then rise again, water cascading across her decks.

rescue survivors of LST 523
Small boat fighting heavy seas to rescue survivors of LST 523, illustration by Tracy Sugarman

As LST 523 approached the gooseberry, she swung wide to port, hoping to make a run for the beach. It was then my boatswain spotted the hundreds of army troops on deck. They were in a long, ragged line stretching the length of the ship, waiting for chow. Now they were stumbling and falling on the heaving deck as torrents of water threatened to pitch them into the sea. "Jesus Christ! A chow line in this shit?" The boatswain handed me the binoculars just as we felt, and then heard, an enormous explosion. As I wiped the water from my glass, I suddenly could see the nightmare that was happening two hundred yards away.

Navy Crewman William French survives the explosion:

When it exploded we were in the crew's quarters and this man, I can't remember his name, but he was in the area when it exploded. It was dark and we found our way out in the dark. When I got to the top, we were looking at the bow and it was separated from us on the stern and it was sinking. I could feel something running down my back and I put my hand on my head and it was blood. I knew I must have hit the ceiling and cut my head. I didn't have a concussion or anything, I was just bleeding. It was very disorganized. The bow was just going away from us who were on the stern.

I just got in the water and the water was covered in diesel fuel and I got that stuff all over me. There were a bunch of small boats, LCVT's, and some cargo ships and troop ships and stuff like that. And they were picking up men just as fast as they went into the water. And they picked up the people who were hurt more seriously than I was first. They picked me up into a small ship and got me cleaned up and my head dressed. They brought me to another LST that took me to England. I got treatment there and my head redressed and got cleaned up. I got new clothes put on because I lost what I had on the ship. I think I got Army clothes. I worked in the hospital in the wards and then got assigned to another LST and shipped to another port and we sailed up and down the coast.

William Allen, Navy Medic recalls his rescue from LST 523 (Excerpts from story by Dan Whittle in the Murfreesboro, Tennessee Post, August 18, 2013):

We were headed to Utah Beach when we hit a submerged German mine. The explosion pulverized everything. I was in shock like everyone else but clearly recall trying to decide whether I wanted to jump into the water. It was miracle after miracle. In the life raft was one of my prayer partners manning the oars. I remember him shouting to me not to jump but let him attempt to steer the raft closer to the hull of the ship. But the ship was sinking fast under my feet. I recall him shouting out that I couldn't swim in the turbulent seas. Miraculously, he was able to guide the rescue raft close enough and I backed up a few steps and ran and jumped as far as I could. I could not jump high or far enough to land in the raft but I got close enough to wrap one arm over the raft's edge and held on. I was pulled aboard by another sailor. It was Jack Hamlin who saved my life by steering that life raft close enough to take me on board. One man died there in the raft. That night we boarded a Liberty Ship and headed back to England. Miraculously, all four of the guys in our little prayer group were among the survivors.

Wendell Plastridge, 3rd Class Petty Officer, US Navy, witnessed the sinking of LST 523:

Wendell PlastridgeWe had remained in the English Channel off the coast of France with very little food and supplies. A couple of weeks after the invasion we encountered one of the worst storms in the English Channel in more than 40 years. The waves were 20 to 30 feet high. One of our own boats, LST 523, hit a mine and broke in half causing a terrible explosion. The LST was loaded with troops maybe as many as 800 men and jeeps and tanks. My landing craft was about 100 yards away from LST 523. When we first heard the explosion the LST was blown in half and the stern was sunk immediately and went down to the bottom. The bow was stuck up in the air and floating and there were men on the deck. I pulled my boat alongside of the bow and put the two engines in reverse. When we were all along side of the LST we could hear men hollering. They must have been trapped below deck and they couldn't get out. They just wanted to get out but they must've gone down with the ship.

James W. Kennedy, Jr.

The Channel crossing was crowded and rough due to a severe squall. As we approached land, we hit a mine. I was wounded with a six inch head wound and my knee was injured so I was unable to stand. The head wound put so much blood in my eyes that I could not see to climb the ladder to the deck. Chief said, "Kennedy's hit, let's get him out!" He pushed me up the ladder, placed me into a seat and someone lowered me into a small boat. While I was in the small boat, I heard someone shout, "Don't jump, don't jump!" I must have passed out because I didn't hear or see anything else until I was on a cot stretcher stacked above a jeep and remember nothing of the boat ride to the hospital in England.

Homer Garrett

  When that mine hit us, it blew that thing half in two. And it parted two ways. I knew the water was coming up. That voice kept telling me, "You're all right. Take your time and don't get excited, get on that rail." I held that rail with both hands. When we got hit, I went straight up. I didn't know anything. I guess it must have knocked me unconscious. The water came up over us and a lot of us came to. That water was the coldest, blowing, high tide and it was rough as it could be. I was on the part that was sinking.

I didn't know what was on the other end. I just knew the water was coming in. The voice said, "Take your time." It sounds a little ridiculous about the voice but it absolutely happened and if I ever hear it again, I will heed it.

Roy Welchel

We left England and went to the beaches at Normandy for the invasion in June of '44. The name of the ship we were on was LST 523. It was blown up by a mine in the water just before we were going to land on the beach. The ship was blown in half and was sinking fast. We were told to get off the ship so I jumped off the ship and I think I landed on a man in the water. I was swimming and there was all kinds of debris, duffle bags were floating but I could not hold onto them. There were no floating devices that would keep me on top of the water. The water was very cold.

A life boat came by with three sailors in it and they threw me a rope. My hands were so cold that I couldn't hold on. I told them to put a loop in the rope and throw it back to me. They did and I caught it and was able to get the loop around me. They pulled me into the life boat and then I passed out. When I got to the beach they took me to a tent hospital. The first thing the Sergeant asked me, "Do you want a cup of hot coffee?" I said, "If it is all the same could I have some of that scotch whiskey?" They put that powder-like stuff in my wounds and dressed them. I was hit with shrapnel in the right side of my neck and back. I was in the hospital two or three days and returned to my unit as a truck driver.

rescue survivors of LST 523
The rescue of survivors of LST 523, illustrated by Tracy Sugarman on June 25, 1944
Tracy Sugarman

The LST had hit a magnetic mine and was simply eviscerated. The center of the ship was blown away, and the crashing seas were racing between the remains of the bow and the stern of the sinking ship. Her small boats had been blown from their davits and dangled from the wreckage on their useless lift lines. Some dazed men still clung to the wreck, but most had been hurled into the furious Channel. Their screams and shouts were almost lost in the rising wind as we all raced to our boats to attempt a rescue. As we cleared the gooseberry, the full power of the storm caught our open boats. Our bows would be hurled up on a wave and then come crashing down, filling our small deck and making our footing treacherous.

Trying to reach over the gunnels to grab the desperate hands was nearly impossible in the churning water. On every side frightened and bloody faces would simply slide from sight.

Clovis Brown
by son Gary Brown

Clovis BrownDaddy [Clovis Brown] had finished eating on the upper deck of the ship. He told me he went downstairs in the hold of the ship and got in his bunk. He described the bunks as being on the outer wall of the ship and their jeeps, trucks and other equipment were in the center of the hold of the ship. He remembered having a middle bunk and there were soldiers in the bunk above and below him.

He was laying there when he heard a loud noise and felt himself going up. He hit his head on the bunk above him and was knocked unconscious. It was due to this impact that he was partially deaf in one ear for the rest of his life. When he came to, he looked around and did not see another live person. The men in the bunks above and below him were both dead. He said that he tried to arouse the man in the bunk below him (he looked like he was just sleeping) but he was dead.

rescue survivors of LST 523
At this point, he began climbing over the equipment in the hold and made his way to the open end of the ship where it had blown apart from the mine explosion. All he was wearing was a shirt and he had lost his life jacket. When the ship broke in two, the back part where he was standing had remained afloat but the front part sank fairly rapidly. His only chance of escape was to jump into the cold water of the English Channel and he was really glad that he had learned to swim as a boy.

Forest Wood
by daughter Marie Wood Doud

Forest WoodMy dad [Forest Wood] was on LST 523 and told his hair-raising story many times during his last few years. That experience seemed to be one of the most vivid memories he held onto. He recalled flying into the air and coming back down to land on a piece of the LST's deck, which was still floating. The landing broke a hip and three ribs which punctured a lung.


Rayburn Kennedy
as told to writer Tom Chaney

Rayburn KennedyI was fighting sea sickness on the LST when we went across the English Channel. When we hit the mine I was on the half of the LST that stayed afloat. I scrambled out looking for the least painful way off. Two of the sailors made up my mind for me when they tossed me in the water.

rescue survivors of LST 523
Following the explosion, many small military crafts responded and picked up survivors, transporting them to larger U. S. ships off Utah Beach including USS Bayfield and USS Atlas. The rescue conditions could not have been worse. In addition to the continued potential of enemy fire by air, the weather conditions continued to be severe from the worst storm in decades on the coast of Normandy. The rescue continued for hours as injured men tried to survive in bitter cold water.

Lester Aumann

Lester Aumann

rescue survivors of LST 523
Lt. Lutz, Sgt. Woods, Sgt. Patterson, Orville Galloway and many others who were on LST 523 with me when we hit the ocean are very real in my mind. I was one of the few survivors. My truck was parked in the center of the ship on the top deck. The mine blew the ship completely in two. I had just gone to the bow of the ship and laid down on a cot hanging on the side of the stair landing. I had just laid there for a few minutes when I felt the vibration of the engines starting to move the ship. Minutes later there was an explosion and the lights went out. The door had blown open in the explosion so I could see.

Tracy Sugarman

In a momentary lull, we were able to pull one wounded GI into our boat. A deep gash cut across his drenched uniform, and blood was oozing from his open abdomen. For the first time I tore open one of the packets of sulfa and treated the wound. "We've got to get him out to one of the command ships," I told the coxswain. We covered the shuddering soldier with our soaked jackets and finally delivered him, barely conscious, to the medical help he needed.

By the time we returned to the site of the explosion, all signs of life from the sunken ship had disappeared. Only the tip of the bow was still silhouetted against the lowering skies. But the face of our wounded soldier, so frightened, so pale, kept intruding. I saw his dog tag again, dulled pewter, dangling against his open wound. Kid from New York. Name was Farley. I wonder if he made it.

[Thanks to these heroic efforts, Sgt. Charles Farley recovered from his injuries and later assumed command of Headquarters & Service Company of the 300th .]

John Durant tells about the sinking of LST 523:

Charlie Farley and I were on LST 523. Charlie was below in the toilet and I was on the upper deck when there was this tremendous explosion. Charlie was thrown out and road the toilet up and right down into the water. I was trapped underneath a big camouflage net. The ship was taking on water and it was so heavy on me and I thought I was drowning. For some reason and with a lot of determination, I was able to cut off the net with something that they had given us. I got my head through it and finally I could breathe. Somehow, I got out and was in the water when the first person I could see was Charlie Farley. He had lost the toilet but we found some timbers that were part of the cargo on the ship. We hung onto those timbers, for how long I don't really remember, I guess maybe an hour or so.

Rayburn Kennedy
as told to writer Tom Chaney

I don't remember how long I swam around with four other of our men until we got picked up by a small boat and they took us to a hospital ship where we were hauled up like fish. They cut off all our clothes and examined us. The ones that were banged up pretty bad they sent back to England. I stayed on the ship with two cuts in my head and piece of steel in my wrist.

Harold Didier
by son Charles Didier

Harold DidierHe [Harold Didier] landed on Normandy; in fact he more like drifted onto the beach, as his landing craft took a direct hit. He was one of only a few who survived. He suffered many serious wounds, including having his face slit down the middle by shrapnel (he wore that obvious scar for the rest of his life). His shoulder was torn open and his rib cage torn from his spine. Dad laid in the water and almost drowned but during his ordeal, he did a number of heroic things that included saving a couple of lives.

He was sent back to England and almost given up for dead. He spent a few months there and it wasn't until several weeks after D-Day that his parents found out he was still alive. From there he was shipped to a convalescence home in Colorado Springs, where he spent several more months.

He was so severely hurt from his one day of battle, that he was offered a full disability. He was also a nervous wreck. But he was always a proud man and wouldn't take welfare from anyone! After he came back from his rehabilitation, if a car backfired, he dove for cover. The few times Dad spoke about his one day war, all he would say was that he "lost all his boys on that beach."

Homer Garrett

  I got my pelvis bone broke in two places, cracked right ankle, two ribs cracked, jaw broke, every tooth was broke. I was in pretty bad shape. I don't know how I ever survived all that. A little boat picked me up and he looked at me and put me right up in the front and laid me down. They had a plastic rain coat folded up and they put my head on it and the whole back of my head, skin and hair just came up. And there was a puddle of blood where I was laying and I said, "What's the use?" and passed out. The next thing I knew was they were putting me in a basket and they were lifting me out and on to a destroyer. I got a lot of attention on that destroyer. They were so nice to me. I thought I was the luckiest man in the world. I was in and out of the hospital for ten months in England and the States.

[Homer Garrett never returned to the 300th because of the severity of his injuries. He learned years later that the destroyer that picked him up was the USS Rodman.]

Lester Aumann

I quickly ran up and saw the ship in two pieces. I did have my life belt with me. I squeezed the two levers to inflate the belt and jumped overboard into the water about 20 feet below. I hung onto a life preserver that had blown loose but as more guys jumped over with no life belts, they hung onto me and pulled me under. I swam away from the sinking ship. I do remember a guy hanging on a rope on the side of the ship. At one of our reunions I was talking to H. Smith and found out it was him. He said he couldn't swim and was afraid of the water.

While in the water for a time, a small rescue boat came to pick up survivors. One man had no life belt and said he had a broken arm and leg. He asked if he could go first. It was quite a struggle to get him on the rescue boat. I swam to an empty gas can floating by and hung on to it, not trusting my life belt until I got picked up and taken to the USS Bayfield, used as a hospital ship. On the Bayfield, they cut off all my clothes to check for injuries. Here I am without any clothes so one sailor gave me a pair of used pants and another a used navy shirt. After several days they took us to the beach where a truck picked us up and we joined the rest of the company.

Affidavit of Andy Grinnik 30 November 1944

Before me, the undersigned, authorized by law to administer all in cases of this character, personally appeared one T/5 Andy Grinnik, 33674981, Company C 300th Engineer Combat Battalion, who being duly sworn deposes and says:

Andy Grinnik"On 19 June 1944 part of the 207th and 300th engineers were on board LST 523 going from England to France. When the ship was about ½ to 1 mile off the coast of France there was a big explosion. The ship broke in two and the pieces sailed apart.

The water was really rough and cold. It was real windy, the air was pretty cool.

At the time of the explosion I was asleep in a bunk on the right side near the front part of the tank deck. I flew into the air, came down on the floor and all the beds came down on top of me. I picked up a belt and was about to put it on when T/5 Robert A. Falk came along and said it was his, so I gave it to him because it was no time to argue. I tried to find a way out of the ship, finally climbing through a hold in the deck by climbing onto the cab of a truck. There was a man from the 207th in the cab of the truck all nervous and crying so I told him to come out on the deck. Pvt. Vancil N. Brown went out through the hole before me and told me to follow

On the deck I saw Pvt. Cruz S. Perez, Co. C, who was all banged up and bleeding from the head. A couple of men gave him first aid on deck. Pfc. David R. Ojeda asked me to blow up his belt so I did. I stayed on the deck about 10 minutes trying to find a belt but some men, I believe they were sailors, told us to get off so I went down a rope on the left side.

In the water I got onto a small raft and helped a couple of men get onto it. We cut the rope that tied it to the ship and tried to move it with our hands. After about 10 or 15 minutes when we had gone about 50 yards a small boat came by us so I jumped off the raft and pulled myself onto the boat. Sgt. Jonah B. Taylor, Co. C was one of the men I helped onto the raft and later into the boat. Pvt. Roy Welchel, Co. B was in the water. I threw him a line from the little boat and pulled him on board. He was in pretty bad shape so I put him on a cot and gave him artificial respiration till he came through. Sgt. Jonah B. Taylor and I pulled Pvt. Edward A. Gibbs of H & S Company into the boat and then a sailor who was in bad shape. We gave him first aid as best we could with the stuff we had. I told the man at the wheel to get us over to one of the big ships so we did, but they would not give us a rope, they just backed away from the rail. I don't know what ship it was, but think it was another LST. Anyway we went in to shore where they took the injured man away some place. The rest of us went into a little boat on shore and got out of our clothes and got into bed for about an hour. Then a jeep took us to a hospital. We stayed there about three days, then the four sailors and we four went to the 90th and 92nd Replacement and threw on some clothes. The sailors went away after a while and we were picked up by Captain Nash and taken back to the company.

/s/ Andy Grinnik
/t/ Andy Grinnik 33 674 981
T/5, Co. C, 300th Eng. C. Bn

Sworn to and subscribed before me this 30 day of November 1944

/s/ Robert J. Jagow
/t/ Robert J. Jagow
Major, CE
Summary Court

Rayburn Kennedy
as told to writer Tom Chaney

The next day they examined me again. The Navy doctor said, "What's wrong with you?" I said, "Ain't a damn thing. But you see that land [Utah Beach] right yonder? By God, I want on it." He said, "Get in this line." And I finally hit the beach.

We [300th ] were scattered all around but we found our units. We were issued rifles, uniforms and gear. That first night I dug my first hole [foxhole] in France. I laid a short way from the beach and wondered if the shells screaming overhead were German or American. The next day we were loaded onto trucks and began to move through the hedgerows.

Clovis Brown
by son Gary Brown

Soon after jumping into the water, he spotted another man that was hurt pretty bad. Daddy said he helped this man on to a piece of timber that was floating near them and then pulled himself up too. They were not in the water long when two sailors in a small boat found them and picked them up. Because the water was so choppy, they had difficulty getting in the small boat. It was especially difficult for the injured man but they both finally made it. They were taken to LST 288. The next day, June 20, 1944, Daddy walked off the ramp of LST 288 and on to Omaha Beach. He never even got his feet wet. He was later reunited with the rest of the 300th near Utah Beach.

Wendell Plastridge, US Navy, rescued men from LST 523:

We started taking off the men and we had to take them one or two at a time because of the heavy seas. Many of them were severely injured. There was one guy he had a split in his leg and it was wide open and you could see the bone in his leg. And there was another guy and he was pretty near dead. He had his eyeball hanging down on his cheek. And by the time we probably got 10 guys off there was this rope ladder up to the top of the ship and this ladder got caught in the screws of our boat. The right hand screw was the one that got caught and it was next to the boat. So we shut that motor off and we were now tied to the ship. We knew the ship was sinking and we didn't know if we were going to go down with the boat because we were tied to it. There were still the big waves so we went up and down every few seconds. There was one guy up on the ship and he was in pretty good shape but the big boat was sinking. So when our boat went down it put a strain on the ladder which was about 14 feet long and 14 feet wide. We had to cut it off. It took us about an hour and a half to cut it off. Every time our boat would go down we would whack one of the ropes and sometimes you couldn't get all the rope. And so we got the ladder off and the last of the men off that we could and I started the other motor up and headed to the beach. We had 21 survivors in our boat and we were able to get them to a hospital quarters on another LST. This was the scariest times I was ever in in the whole war.

Forest Wood
by daughter Marie Wood Doud

Being wounded, and not being a swimmer, he frantically searched the sea for something to keep him afloat. A large wooden box floated by, he grabbed the box and somehow hoisted his body onto the box. He floated in the freezing water for over an hour when he saw several of his fellow-soldiers' bodies floating by. He almost gave up the possibility of being rescued when out of the fog (as he described it) came a person in a small boat with a rope which he fastened into a lasso and threw to my dad. In western cattle-roping fashion, he was hauled into the boat. He does not remember what happened next until he found himself in a hospital in Birmingham, England. Following his recuperation of approximately seven months, my dad was sent to eastern France.

Floy Elmore
describes what her husband, Clifton Elmore, told her about the explosion of LST 523

They [Clifton Elmore and Clovis Brown] were on the ship [LST 523] together. When it went down, Cliff was on the bottom floor. They called "Elmore, get out of there." So they came up and then climbed down the walls of the ship on ropes and they hit the water. He told me he thought the life boat over there would never get there to him but it got there sooner than he thought it would, just like it flew over there to him. They put him on the ship then and carried him to shore. They saved him.

When the ship went down, I think there were a thousand something on the ship. He said it was awful. When it went down, Joe Dillard Oliver was on the bottom floor under a truck working on the truck. Of course he never knew what happened. He was at the middle of the ship where the mine hit it. He had no chance to get out. They all had a rough go of it.

Note: Clifton Elmore and Clovis Brown and survived the explosion of LST 523. They were together during the entire war and each married after the war. As told by Floy Elmore, "We visited each other three or four times a year for fifty three years, just like family. They (Clifton and Clovis) died within nine months of each other."

Tony Leone describes how Navy seaman Cal Lien survived:

Cal Lien him was one of those fortunate crew members of LST 523 spared by the quirk of fate. He floated in his Mae West awaiting rescue by the many small boats circling the area. He splashed through the water toward a life raft but was unable to climb aboard as it was overcrowded with the troops of the 300th and a few crewmen. None of those aboard the raft wore lifejackets. Disappointed, he treaded water then moved away, allowing himself to float, rising and falling with the high waves off the Anchorage. Black storm clouds scudded overhead. The cold water had already numbed his limbs. He began to shiver. A lifeboat from the Liberty Ship Tyler Page picked up six or seven survivors about to go under.

Finally, a small boat pulled up alongside of the weakened Cal Lien but he was unable to reach out to climb aboard. After several feeble attempts, the coxswain of the LCVP lowered the ramp enough to permit him to crawl onboard with assistance. Aboard the LCVP were three soldiers from the 300th Engineer Combat Battalion. Cal was the only sailor brought aboard the LCVP. The four sat there, soaked to the skin, still shaking with the trauma of the moment. Seaman First Class Cal Lien looked about and saw nothing but the greatness of the day. He was alive and in his imagination, he saw the sun beginning to poke through the gray, scudding clouds overhead.

Cal was placed aboard an England bound destroyer, bound for a survivors camp. From there, he was reassigned to LST 532, as the sole survivor of the crew of LST 523 assigned to that ship. He lived to see the end of World War II. Most of his ship mates died at Utah beach in Normandy.

Navy Medics recall the explosion conditions after the explosion:

That ship went down so fast that nobody had any time. When the ship blew up the doctor assigned to our unit crashed down on to that steel deck. His life jacket wouldn't blow up, fill up, so he thought he was going to drown like a rat. He traded his non-working life belt for a Mae West on a dead Army man. He said when he took it, "You really don't need it but I sure do." So that's how he survived. You know we didn't have life belts on because there never was a Condition Red. I had on a fur-lined jacket because it was so cold. I guess that's what saved me.

Most of those who survived were topside. I was topside and talking with a couple of the Army guys and one of them said, "This is our vehicle right here. Why don't you come in and sit down." So we did. I was in the middle and we got hit and that debris came down and it sort of protected us in cave like and once it stopped falling we got out. I never saw the Army men after that and I don't know whether they survived or not. You never know who might have.

The first stop I made after the explosion was a life raft and from there I was picked up by a LCVP, a Higgins boat, small boat 15 to 20 feet long, maybe 10 to 12 feet wide. That was what picked me up first and we tried to get in to the beach Jack - myself and the four we pulled out of the water, Army personnel. There was no way the coxswain could get in. He did a tremendous job keeping us from getting drowned. After several attempts to get in he said, "There's just no way I can get in with these swells." So he then pulled up alongside this liberty ship and the skipper says, "I'll take all the survivors you can bring me. We stayed there for three or four days, maybe a week. And, one day they got a message asking whether they got any survivors and the skipper got our names, serial numbers and radioed back. They came back with the message that they would pick us up. Another small boat carried us to another LST, don't remember the number. Your main instinct is to survive and sometimes you don't remember all the details.

Tony Leone

Charles OliveOn board LST 523 at the time of the explosion was Charlie " Buddy" Olive, Corporal, in Company B, 3rd Platoon, 300th Combat Engineers Battalion. Buddy was a lucky man because had he been below deck, he would have perished with the others. That's what they call fate, I guess. Charlie got off the stricken vessel somehow but he was seriously wounded, a gash running from his back to part of his head. The huge waves picked him and others up, carrying them towards the landing beaches in Normandy where shore medical units treated the injured men. At least 90 men in the army unit died along with many of the LST 523's crew. It was one big day in hell.

Many years later, I was contacted by Charlie's son-in-law. I had forgotten about LST 523 and I didn't know Charlie. With a lot of help from Mike Koch, Charlie's son-in-law, I was able to recall the events of that horrible day. I was eighteen years old at the time and had just started to shave. We kept memories of Charlie alive.

I later learned that a Cuban tanker picked up a few survivors but none of them spoke English. Jack Hamblin and Don Thrope were the last two of the Navy crew off the bow section. Roy Faulk and the skipper were the only Navy survivors from the stern section as far as I know.

Don Richter

  As my squad went across to France on June 19, I was at Group HQ at the "Green House" to answer the phone. Everyone was gone and we were to give a message that would seem that everyone was still in England. It was on June 19 or 20 that we received a disturbing notice that the Second Echelon had been on an LST [523] that had sunk off the Normandy coast and many of the men were lost. I was in shock over the likely loss of some of my buddies. Turned out that several were killed while more were wounded and only a few reached the beach unharmed.

At last, on June 27, we finally left England as part of the Third Echelon moving out to go across the Channel landing on the Normandy beachhead without incident. I helped in preparing casualty lists as information came in regarding the LST sinking. I performed the sad task of doing the extensive casualty reports on those lost... KIA, WIA and MIA. That's when I mourned the loss of men like Orville Galloway and especially my very best buddy Joe Leyva who, in Camp White, took care of my needs, including replacing my bed roll when it was stolen by "requisitioning" bedding from other tents. I remember my beloved tent buddy, Joe, without whom I would not have survived Army life. He took this very young Texas kid and helped him grow into a man in a very short time. What a loss. I thought about Marvin Livingston who had taken my place on LST 523 and later learned he survived without a scratch along with Hester Hawkins.

John Durant tells about his rescue:

The Navy Sea Bees with their small little crafts were taking a number of the GIs out of the water including Charlie and me. I remember going to, I think, the USS Atlas. I think it was a hospital ship. I don't know how long we stayed on the ship but after several days they released Charlie at me. I lost my teeth and broke my jaw which they set and I also had some shrapnel. They took us back onto the Normandy Beach. I remember great numbers of young men on the beach. Most of us were walking. I thought we were going straight up to St Lo. I remember listening to see if I heard anyone I knew. I believe we got back to our unit in a few days.

Forest Wood
by daughter Marie Wood Down

Dad was 29 years old on June 19, 1944. He likely spent his birthday in the hospital in Birmingham, England being treated for his serious injuries from the explosion. In his seven months recovering in England in four hospitals, his greatest hurdle was recovering from infection in his lung which was pierced by broken ribs. He did not return to the 300th but returned to duty in France in a motor pool because he had difficulty walking with one leg now shorter than the other and had difficulty breathing due to an incapacitated lung. He drove trucks and jeeps transporting ammunition and sometimes officers to various locations. He was discharged from the 122nd Ordnance Arm. Co.

Homer Garrett

  The worst thing that ever happened to me in my life was when I got injured on the 19th of June. It was on the 12th of July that they tried to set some bones. They drilled holes in my leg and put in a pin that stuck out two or three inches on each side. They didn't put me to sleep or nothing. They said they'd like to but had run out of anesthetic. The nurse was washing my face with ice water and they just drilled that hole. It was a torturous thing if ever there was one. You can't believe how that felt. Even though I got wounded, I would do it again. I might not want to but I would do it. If I was called out to go I would want the same bunch I went with. The real heroes of the war were the boys that didn't come back. I lost more than half of my squad. Some from Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas and Oklahoma. We didn't go by where they were from. They were first class people - really good guys.

James W. Kennedy, Jr.

I was in the hospital approximately 10 days before being discharged with many packages of Sulfa (sulfanilamide) to continue redressing my head wound. I was placed on a tug boat with another soldier and the tug captain. The boat was loaded with blankets piled high. It made the ride more comfortable. It was a 10-hour crossing to France. Upon arrival in France, I reported to a Replacement Depot and was told I would be assigned to the Infantry where needed. I wanted to go back to my engineer unit. On the second day there, I watched vehicles passing on the road and saw a 300th Engineer truck go by. I stayed there beside the road all day and late that evening when they came back I flagged them down and went with them to C Company. The First Sergeant and the Captain seemed to want me in their Company. I was considered AWOL so they worked with Major Crandall to clear me of AWOL since they were undermanned. I was assigned to various jobs until we arrived in Belgium. Once in Belgium, Major Crandall finally cleared me of the AWOL charges. I next went to Spa, Belgium where I was cross-trained as a radio operator. I remained in C Company until the end of the war.

Tracy Sugarman
August 17 he wrote to his wife

Young men dying seems to me, somehow, the greatest tragedy. The acceptance of death had been something new to me. And I know that death serves only to accentuate the love of living we both share so dearly. The bridge between is so complete, so final that you finally stop thinking of its terrible proximity and cling rather to pulsating life.

Of the 195 enlisted men and six officers on LST 523, more than ninety of the 300th lost their lives that fateful day and more than another 90 were either wounded or missing in action. By June 30, only 40 survivors had returned to duty. Many wounded never returned to action due to the severity of their injuries. Others were never accounted for. Of the 145 Navy seamen on LST 523, 117 lost their lives.

The following telegram and letter were addressed to Mrs.Teresa Marie Green, the wife of Charles Putnam Green, Yeoman Second Class, United States Navy Reserve. Their son, Charlie Thompson, provided this account.

One month before I was born, a Western Union telegram arrived dated 20 July 1944. It was from Vice Admiral Randall Jacobs, Chief of Naval personnel. It stated:

"The navy department deeply regrets to inform you that your husband Charles Putman Green Yeoman Second Class USNR is missing following action 19 June 1944 in the performance of his duty and in the service of his country the department appreciates your great anxiety but details not now available and delay in receipt thereof must necessarily be expected to prevent possible aid to our enemies please do not divulge the name of his ship or station."

The final trip of LST 523 to Normandy was described, in part, in a letter my mother received from James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy, dated 28 June 1945. It stated:

"Your husband, Charles Putnam Green, Yeoman Second Class, is in the status of missing in action since 19 June 1944 as a result of the Allied invasion and occupation of the beaches and coastal area of Normandy, France. Weather conditions complicated the movement of the convoys from the assembly ports and the initial assaults were made in rough seas. The temperature of the water in and surrounding the assault areas was from 52 degrees and 54 degrees Fahrenheit, and an easterly current made it difficult for the smaller craft to hold position in the mine swept channels. Enemy air opposition to the landings and subsequent operations was confined mostly to sewing mines in the mine swept fields and channels and enemy shore fire was intense and accurate. Your husband was serving on board the USS LST-523 when that vessel, acting as a part of the shuttle force after the initial landing, struck a mine and sank shortly thereafter. Survivors were rescued by a nearby ship. Your husband could not be accounted for among the survivors.

In view of the length of time that has elapsed without any indication that your husband survived, I am reluctantly forced to the conclusion that he is deceased. I extend my deepest sympathy to you in your sorrow. It is hoped that you may find comfort in the knowledge that your husband gave his life for his country."


WAR DEPARTMENT

THE ADJUTANT GENERAL'S OFFICE

Washington, D. C.

17 July 1946

Dear Mrs. Caldwell:

I am writing to you concerning your husband, the late Staff Sergeant Dewey J. Caldwell, who has been reported killed in action on 19 June 1944, in the English Channel.

Your desire to obtain all known facts relative to the circumstances surrounding your husband's death is fully realized. Information now available in the War Department discloses that Sergeant Caldwell was a member of the 300th Engineer Combat Battalion which boarded the LST 523 on 18 June 1944, shortly after noon at Portsmouth, England, and proceeded during the night of 18-19 June 1944, to Utah Beach, north of Carentan, France.

The ship arrived off the beach and dropped anchor apparently to await the tide in order to beach properly. Shortly after the anchor was weighed and the vessel started toward the beach a tremendous explosion occurred breaking the ship in two somewhat aft of the center. Available data indicates that a large part of the personnel on board the vessel were in the mess line, in the mess hall or in the mess kit washing line all of which were concentrated near the point of the explosion. Apparently most of the individuals in this area were killed instantly or so severely shocked that they were unable to escape the incoming water.

The explosion was apparently caused by some type of underwater mine. The ship was abandoned in the most disorderly manner. Survivors were rescued by small craft which appeared on the scene shortly after the explosion and kept up the search for survivors in the water for at least an hour, probably much longer. The rescue craft encountered considerable difficulty in approaching persons in the water as the result of wind and waves. The area surrounding the ship was well searched so that it would not have been possible for any survivor to have been overlooked. Information regarding the actual circumstances attending your husband's death other than that given above is not available.

You, and the other members of the family, have my sympathy in your bereavement.

Sincerely,

EDWARD F. WITSELL
Major General