History of the 300th Combat Engineers, 1943 to 1945
Remembering the Men of LST 523
Juke Burnham remembers men lost
We lost some of our men on that LST. It came across the Channel at Utah Beach and hit a mine in the water. She just blew up and everybody below the deck perished and most above the deck survived. A good friend of mine and the best friend I had in the war was on the deck. He was Homer Garrett. He told me later that he just had a feeling and he didn't need to be down below. He was up on deck and Harold Palmer was on the deck with him and of course the explosion put them all in the water. Palmer had on his Mae West [vest] but it was of no value because the shrapnel hit it and punched it full of holes. And he got a lot of it in him too. They had patrol boats picking up people out of the water and Garrett got picked up. But he never came back to the unit because he was wounded so bad that it took a long recuperation for him and he wasn't able to do anything. Many of them were hurt so badly that they were put in non-combat units - Quartermaster Corps or something like that. They would not be subject to combat again.
I was actually in England in the hospital and got separated from my unit. So I did not go over on that LST. I didn't join up with my unit until July. When I got back with my unit I didn't know a lot of them because they were replacements for the ones lost on the LST. Most of them were from the northern United States. They were good guys but we never did train together. The original unit was from four states: Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Louisiana. The replacements were from the northern states like Maine and New York and other states up there. They were a different type person. They had their values. It wasn't that bad and we all got along because you had to. Everybody was depending on everybody else.
Remembering Simon Maberryby his sister, Bessie Maberry Coonts
Private Simon Maberry of the 300th was killed in action on 19 June 1944. He was in the Second Echelon of the 300th aboard LST 523 heading to Utah Beach during the Normandy Invasion when the ship hit a German magnetic mine. He was only 19 years old. In a July 2009 telephone interview, his younger sister Bessie Maberry Coonts, described her brother Simon, how the family was notified of his death and how they later learned details of his death.
He was two years older than me, born on May 14, nineteen and twenty-four. He was a tall, blond-headed, blue-eyed guy. He was very, very friendly and almost always had a smile. He was a good-hearted person and if he had one apple, he would give half of it to his buddy. He loved to play the guitar and could play any song after he heard it a time or two without reading the music.
He was in England and in a letter I asked him what he would like to have for his birthday that was May 14. In his next letter he asked me to find him a good leather wallet. My father gave me some money and told me to go to town and buy the best wallet I could find. I went into Harrison, Arkansas to Moore Brother's Grocery and I found a nice wallet. Before the girl wrapped it up to mail it I decided to fill out the ID card that came with it. In the space that said: "In Case of Emergency" I wrote 'Please notify A. Maberry at Vendor, Arkansas.'
It wasn't much later that someone came to the house. Mother and I were canning green beans and I stayed in the kitchen while Mother went out. I heard someone speak to her saying, "Miss Maberry, got something for you and I hope it's something good." But I knew right away it was something bad because we had quit getting letters. I turned off the stove because you know you have to watch the pressure cooker. The men were Newton County Sheriff, Frank Cheatham and Newton County Judge, Will Young from the County Court House in Jasper, Arkansas.. I walked up close to Mother and the sheriff handed me the telegram to read. When I saw what it said, I said to the sheriff that "I couldn't read it to Mother so you read it to her." He took it and read that Simon was missing in action. He said we should have some hope because maybe he was a prisoner but it wasn't long before we got another telegram in August that said he had been killed in action during the invasion.
It was in October that we got a letter from a lady in Searcy County, the next county over from Newton County, saying that her son had helped bury Simon. When her son came home in the following year he asked his mother to let us know the story. My parents went down to see her and she told them that their son, C. C. O'Neal, was a sailor on a Navy ship in the English Channel after the Invasion and some of the men saw a soldier floating in the water. She said her son and a soldier from California volunteered to retrieve the body, wrapped him in a flag and buried him on Utah Beach. The soldier's dog tags were missing but they found a wallet with and ID card with "In Case of Emergency Notify A. Maberry at Vendor, Arkansas." Later, we got a letter that his body had been moved to the American Cemetery in LeHavre, France. Some of our neighbors went to France years later and took a picture of Simon's grave. If I hadn't filled out that ID card, we would never have known what happened. I thank God every day that I did that.
A few years ago I saw a notice in the Disabled American Veterans magazine that the 300th Engineers were having a reunion in Dallas, TX. There was a contact person, Frank Neuhauser. My husband said to call him right away. I called him and he said he didn't know Simon personally but he did tell me about the explosion. He put me in touch with Randy Hanes who was in Simon's Company C. He knew Simon and told me more about what happened. These men were so nice to us to help us know so much more about Simon.
Rembering Orville C. Galloway
Written by Doris Galloway Hutson, daughter of Orville Galloway, and published in the December 2007 American WWII Orphans Network Newsletter. Sgt. Galloway was lost in the sinking of LST 523 on 19 June 1944.
My father, Tech 5 Orville C. Galloway, served in Company B, 300th Engineer Combat Battalion from March 1943 until the time of his death on June 19, 1944. He was 24 years old when he lost his life in the English Channel in route to Normandy France. I was nine months old at the time. The only time we were together was at my birth when my father took leave to return to Arkansas for a few short days before being deployed to England in October of 1943.
The only memories I have of my father are those that my mother created in my mind with her stories and pictures of him. I always wondered about so many other details that even my mother was unable to provide me. What were my father's last days like while in England? Even though he was declared missing, was he really still alive somewhere in a POW camp and maybe someday would return home? I kept asking myself, "How did they know for sure that he was killed in action? His body was never recovered!"
We knew that he was on a ship in the English Channel and that the ship hit a mine. But we had also found that there were a few that survived from his ship. These questions have haunted me for many years as I am sure they did my mom. She never discussed these with me, only the good memories.
I was hoping to gain some type of closure on my first trip to Normandy where we had always thought we would be able to find a memorial of my father. When we arrived at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial we went to the administration building to ask where the memorial was located. We discovered that my father and his platoon of missing soldiers was not memorialized in Normandy at all. They had actually not landed in France but were killed in the English Channel and therefore were memorialized on the Wall of the Missing at the Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial in England, close to where they had been stationed.
After I finally found where my father's memorial was placed, I have made two visits to the Cambridge Cemetery but that was not enough to bring closure to the things I had questioned over the years.
Later, one of my fellow workers, who had heard me speak of my father and his death, gave me information on the AWON (American WWII Orphans Network) web site. He thought this would be something I would find interesting and could get me started on a path to learn more about my father.
At first I only visited the AWON web site and read some of the stories that others had written about their fathers. But the more I read, the more I realized that many more are out there who felt exactly like I did and who had grown up experiencing the same feelings about their father as I had.
Finally, I decided this is where I needed to be, to share and listen to others who have so much in common with me. I joined AWON in 2002 and it has been a true blessing to me ever since. I have met some wonderful siblings, and by posting my father's tribute on the website, I was contacted by a soldier who served with my father and was actually on the same ship.
Tech 5 Lester Aumann’s neighbor read my story and I knew that Mr. Aumann served in the same platoon. When he brought the story to his attention, he was amazed because he knew my father well. They served together and were both on the LST 523 landing ship when it sank.
I have talked to Mr. Aumann by phone several times and he also sent me a detailed letter of that last day before the ship hit the mine. He explained that the reason he and six other soldiers were the only survivors was because they were on the top deck and my father was on the lower deck where most everyone perished. Also, he sent me a picture of their platoon just before they boarded their ship and even noted the survivors. Mr. Aumann and one other soldier were the only survivors still living at the time we talked.
I have not heard from Mr. Aumann now for almost two years and have been unable to contact him. I assume he is either in ill health or maybe has passed away. I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to visit him for a short period of time and to learn so many things about my father. My only regret is that my mother was not still alive at the time Mr. Aumann contacted me and had the opportunity to talk with him as well.
Thanks to our AWON for helping me find closure to so many questions I had through my lifetime.
Letter from Lester Aumann to the daughter of Orville Galloway, New Year's 2005
Happy New Year 2005. Received your Christmas card last week. Thanks for remembering. Sorry that I didn't reply sooner.
Wife Evelyn has been in and out of the hospital five times in the last two weeks. Had a heart pacemaker placed in chest. I had a heart valve repair a year ago but now am okay at 83 years old.
Had this picture made months ago. (Group photo of company B 3rd Platoon in England) I am just not as fast as I was when 21. Your father is the first from the left third row down from top. There are four Mexican boys next to him. I think we had at least a dozen Mexican boys in our platoon. Joe Leyva was a Mexican boy second on right on the top row and a very good friend also on ship that sank and he came up missing. That is me on the top row 13 from the left, with a G5 rating same as your father. This picture was taken in England in winter of 1944 (the third platoon).
I think your father is buried in Cambridge England Cemetery. So I wonder whether he was wounded and sent back to England and may have died there in a hospital. Don't know. Most are buried in American cemetery in Normandy France. A few at the Henri Chapel Cemetery Belgium.
I have not been to the 300th engineer's reunion for several years now so I don't know who all is left or attends. The last time I went I was the only one from the third platoon of Company B.
Hope this finds you in good spirits. Maybe we can keep in touch.
Yours, Lester Aumann
Don Richter tells about some of his buddies who were aboard LST 523
Don Richter, Company B of the 300th, was ready to load on to LST 523 for the second wave of the 300th to land on Utah Beach when he was called back. He later said, "I had loaded all of 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 18 June 1944."
Don Richter recently recalled his memories of some of his buddies.
Hester Hawkins Tech 4 of Company B, was slightly wounded in the sinking and soon returned to my third squad, third platoon of Company B. He was with me there on till the end of the war.
Pvt. Roy Welchel was reported to have been in very bad condition from the explosion requiring artificial respiration. He did recover and returned to Company B. He was third squad truck driver with us all the way to Schroding and to the end of the war.
Jerry Urbis of Company B, was a large man who was seriously injured from the explosion. Cots Shannon, Pfc. with Company B, was a very large and extremely strong man. He was able to pull Jerry from the hold to safety. Jerry was so seriously injured that he was returned to Penelope, Texas only ten miles from my home in Leroy Texas with a medical discharge. I then wrote a letter to my folks telling them as much as I could with the thought that Jerry might be returning home soon. My family did go to the Urbis farm and talked with Jerry about his experience being saved from the sinking ship and that I was not on LST 523 when it sunk from the explosion. He died quite young, likely from the effects of his serious injuries.
Cots Shannon, who saved Jerry Urbis, had no serious injuries. He was a very cheerful man and served so well with his great physical strength and fine positive attitude. It was always a pleasure to work with him and his strength so long as you weren't not yoked with him carrying Bailey Bridge components as the down side, my side because I was shorter, bore most of the weight.
Lt. Orville Lutz was killed on LST 523. I greatly admired him for his leadership and his musical talent. He was a fine man who really cared for his men. Lt. Lutz had been a drummer in the Phil Harris Orchestra in Hollywood and was a regular on the Bing Crosby weekly radio show. He would show off his drumming skills using anything at hand to beat out a rhythm. I remember well being on KP on Christmas Day in Devises, England when Lt. Lutz spent most of the day in the kitchen entertaining us with the pots and pans and keeping our spirits up. I really admired that man and grieved his death.
I remember Rafael Garza very well. Rafael must have been in my squad and was certainly was in third platoon of Company B as he was lost on LST 523 along with my close friend Joe Leyva. Rafael was going to teach me Spanish but all that I still remember is "Galvan ah la Gavalanaridia" which means "Buzzards from the Buzzard Roost." He got out of a lot of trouble and work by telling superiors, "No speeke English." I also recall him being in the same pyramidal tent with me at Tent City, England, when one night he came back from the day of KP duty with a plate piled high with cold pancakes which he called "Cold Cakes." Rafael was a funny little guy and it was a pleasure to be around him. He, along with several others, would wail their Mexican songs out on the Oregon High Desert and the coyotes would howl in reply from a nearby rocky ridge.
Clarence M. Merriott, KIA 19 June 1944
Harris Granville Jewell, KIA 19 June 1944
LST 523 Official Records
Important information of what happened on LST 523 off Utah Beach on 19 June 1944 has been located by Mary Benz. Her uncle was M/Sgt. Edward J. Sullivan, a member of the 207th Engineer Combat Battalion. He along with others of the 207th and 300th as well as the Navy crew and medics were on LST 523 when it left England on 18 June 1944. M/Sgt. Sullivan was killed in the sinking of LST 523 and his remains never recovered. In her research about her uncle, Mary obtained copies of five U.S. Army reports of the sinking of LST 523. Mary's research has added significantly to the official records of the sinking of LST 523 and the conditions and circumstances on that fateful day of 19 June 1944.
The reports are as follows:
- Report of the American Graves Registration Command, European Area
- Affidavit of T/5 Andy Grinnik, Co. C, 300th Engr. Co Bn, 30 November 1944
- Extracted from AG File 569.14 "Sinkings," 25 December 1944
- Extracted from AG File 569.14 "Sinkings," 21 November 1944
- American Graves Registration Command, European Zone, 21 November 1947
Summary report of the sinking of LST 523(This record has not been edited for grammar, punctuation or spelling)
EXTRACTED FROM: AG 569.14 "SINKINGS"
Basic: Ltr, Secret, WD, TAGO, Washington, File AGPC-S Alexander, Clifford C, 38399159 (6 Nov 44) Subj: Determination of Status
AGBC 704 7th Ind. JWB/hw
HQ 207th ENGR. C. BN, U.S. Army, 25 Dec 44.
TO: Comanding General, First U.S. Army APO 230
- In compliance with 6th Indorsement, the attached statements are submitted.
- Consideration of sworn testimony resulted in the following conclusions:
- That the description of the explosion and incidents thereafter as reported by the 300th Eng C Bn. is essentially correct in all details.
- That the galley was located on the tank deck, that the mess hall was located directly over the galley on the Half deck, and that the officers' quarters were on the top deck, over the mess hall area.
- That the force of the explosion was generally upwards through the ship causing a shearing action along a bulkhead across the forward section of the kitchen mess hall, and officers' quarters. Further that all personnel within these sections were thrown into the water through openings caused by the blast, or were killed outright or were rendered unconscious by the blast.
- That the ship broke across this bulkhead and the forepart of the after section sank almost immediately; that such helpless personnel as remained within the galley, mess hall, and officers' quarters were drowned in the wreckage.
- That all personnel of this battalion, now listed, as MIA, were known to have been in the galley; mess hall or officers quarters at the time of the explosion with the exception of three individuals, Tec/5 Michael J. Beltrami, Pfc David V. Mc Cubbin and Pvt. Daniel B. Weaver. Neither the location of these men immediately prior to the explosion nor their fate is known.
- BC Reports changing the status of the following man from MIA to KIA will be promptly submitted through regular channels.
PvtElmer L. REITZ
Edward J. SULLIVAN
John P. MARTALUS
Richard E. COWAN
Charles A. INNARING
Donald G. MOWERY0-110210
- It is requested that Tec/5 Michael J. Beltrami, 33458812, Pfc David V. McCUBBIN, 35695346 and Pvt Daniel B. Weaver, 311381405, continue to be listed MIA until such time as the records of military and naval hospitals both in Normandy and England are checked. Information regarding the location of these three men immediately before the explosion or at any time theeafter is entirely lacking and it is believed that they may be alive.
Army records of men of the 207th killed on LST 523(This record has not been edited for grammar, punctuation or spelling)
AMERICAN GRAVES REGISTRATION COMMAND
APO 58 U S ARMY
RRE 293.9 (IB)
SUBJECT: Non-Recoverable Remains
TO: Non-Recoverable Board AGRC
- It is recommended that the board take action on the following case:
36 034 857
33 458 812
35 601 979
35 473 897
33 144 570
35 091 288
35 695 346
34 686 225
35 625 946
35 091 458ORGANIZATION:
DATE OF DEATH:
PLACE OF DEATH:207 Combat Engr Bn
19 June 1944
English Channel 1½ miles of Omaha [sic] Beach, Normandy, Franch
SYNOPSIS OF CASE: The above were on board LST 523 which on 18 June 1944 sailed from Portsmouth, England to a beachhead in Normandy. On 19 June 1944 while approaching the French coast about 1½ miles off Omaha [sic] Beach an underwater explosion occurred. The ship broke in two and sank within a few minutes. 74 officers and enlisted men from the 300th engineers and Capt. William E. Mc Cain, 0-480526, medical officer were killed in the same incident. Their case was reviewed by the board of officers this headquarters and submitted as "non-recoverable" to the office of the quartermaster General by transmittal letter #2877 dated 25 June 1948. The large loss of life was due to the fact that the explosion occurred during mess time. A number of men were in the mess line, which was the concentrated point of the explosion. Most of the men were killed instantly. The names of subject 11 men were not submitted at the same time as those of the 300th Engineers because unknown X-143 (Ste Mere Eglise #2) was believed to be a member of the 207th Engineers. A list was found in this deceased trousers pocket marked "Secret Embarkement Order and Roster" of Hq and Hq Service company 207th Engineers "C" Battalion. The names of some of subject man were inscribed on this list. In view of the fact that the remains of this unknown consist of the lower part of a human body, identification was impossible and the unknown has been that declared "unidentifiable." All unknowns listed in field report have been either identified or declared "unidentifiable" by this headquarters. OQMG Forms 371 for Sullivan and Thompson give unit as 1110 Engineer Combat Group all of yours 207th Engineers.
Reference is made to old OQMG Forms 371 (eleven men); report of investigation, 5 December 44; Extract from AG 56 9.14 "Sinkings"; Affidavit; Letter Second Zone, 21 Nov. 47.
- All attach supporting documents are copied from records in file headquarters American Graves Registration Command.
- Every effort has been made to correlate this case with records in this headquarters pertaining to unknown deceased interred in U.S. Military Cemeteries and reported isolated burials. The results are negative.
- It is recommended that the remains, based upon the above information and research, be declared non-recoverable.
John N Neff
Austin Darrow Vardaman, KIA 19 June 1944
Pvt. Austin Darrow Vardaman was killed in the sinking of LST 523. One of his friends Sgt. Dale Williams, from a nearby town, trained with him at Camp White. What follows are letters from the mother of Pvt. Vardaman to the family of Sgt. Williams in 1945. These letters were kept by Dale Williams and his family and provided by his son Keenan Williams for publication on the web site.
Jan. 11, 1945
To the family of Dale Williams, Hope, Ark.
I am sure you will be surprised to hear from me but I am the mother of private Austen D. Vardaman. Dale went back to Camp White with my son when they were home on furlough a year ago in July.
I received a message that my son was missing in action and then in three months saying he was killed and then the other day got one saying his ship sank in enroute from England to France. On the Yank Magazine on August 6 my son's picture was on the front page feeding a crew and I was under the impression that he was already in France so I wrote to several of the boys in his comp and was informed they couldn't tell me anything but I do know some of the boys write about their buddies being killed or wounded. I thought maybe you could write to Dale and he might tell you something definite and you could let me know. If you can give me any information I certainly will appreciate it and anything I can do for you I will be glad to.
I went to Camp White a year ago in November just before my son was shipped out. He said he couldn't tell me what division or Army he was with. That said I guess they do that at the P.O.E. I wish everything good for Dale.
Your friend Mrs. G. K. Vardaman
My husband was buried October 1 and on October 4 I received word my son was killed.
Jan. 19, 1945
Dear Mrs. Williams:
Many thanks for answering my letter so promptly. As you know I am so worried I hardly know what to do.
It has been seven months today since my son was missing or killed or whatever happened to him. He was my baby and did he hate it because MaryEmaline was older. He always called her little sister because she was so little and he was so big.
My husband was buried October 1 and he was so worried because we couldn't hear from Darrow as we called him instead of Austin. Then October 4 we received word that he had been killed and it has just about killed me.
When Darrow left he said, "Mother, there are a lot of us going and a lot not coming back, a lot of them say they are but don't you worry a bit for I will be coming back." He was always of such a happy disposition and always was joking. I had a letter from one of the boys in Darrow's crowd and he said he had a Jap flag and was sending it to his daddy. This boy was wounded in November. He said he caught a piece of steel in his ear because he just didn't duck quickly enough.
I was so sorry Darrow didn't stay in H&S for he said he liked the boys in that company better.
MaryEmaline and I went to Oregon in November just a few days before he was shipped out. We met several of the wives of the boys. I just hope that I can hear something good about him but I'm afraid not.
Wish I could hear from Darrow. We have a farm that was to be his and I don't know what we will do. MaryEmaline and I are living at the home place it is just 80 acres on a hill. The other place is really a farm of 1260 acres. That is where Darrow was home and his daddy had a place of 1100 acres and they had another place 1115 acres they farmed that they had rented. When Darrow left my husband gave up the place they farmed and then this year MaryEmaline and I gave up the other place we had rented so we have the place that was bought for Darrow and have to give it yet. We had meant to leave it all over to Darrow as my husband's health was so bad in fact when Darrow left for the Army we didn't think his daddy would ever be out of bed.
I'm sure he told your husband about his five boys. He really had a nice bunch. You should see all the ribbons he won with them taking them to the fair. He even took them to the Mid-South Fair and to Little Rock. He had stationery made with the picture of his cattle and hogs on it. Guess I had better stop as I have raved enough and you may not be interested in all this.
If there is ever anything I can do for you please let me know. If anything should happen that Darrow doesn't come back and your husband does you all come to see us. We will be so glad to have you.
Your Friend Mrs. Vardaman
Mar. 22. 1945
Dear Mrs. Williams:
Thanks a million for what you have done for me. It may seem I don't appreciate it as I am so long writing but I do.
This month is a bad month for me. The 10th was Darrow's birthday and I thought if I went to see my sister in Pine Bluff maybe I wouldn't think of it so much but of all places to go was there because he was born there and as we went uptown passed right by the hospital where he was born and for dinner she had chocolate pie which was Darrow's favorite. I also have a nephew there who has the same birthday and his wife was having a party for him. His nephew is here today and goes for his physical tomorrow. Two years ago on Darrow's birthday he landed at Camp White. One of the boys Darrow ran around with is back in San Francisco. I had a card from him. He was wounded in Leyte but had been back in combat. They sent him back on account of his asthma. Darrow will be the only one in that bunch that won't come back. Anyway, I sure did enjoy Darrow he had such a good disposition and all was smiling and joking he was so very thoughtful to me.
I don't mean to write a blue letter but sometimes I just don't see how I can stand it. I get so homesick for Darrow. He'd never was one to stay away from home. I am enclosing some of Darrow's letterheads and they are pictures of his cattle and hogs. He took the pictures and his daddy gave him the stationery for Christmas.
In Darrow's billfold I got back was a picture of him and someone else. I wondered if it could have been your husband. It was a good picture of Darrow. I must stop and get busy. We are having a Sunday school party here tomorrow night. I really don't care about anything anymore but I have to go on for my daughter. We got the message about Darrow being buried at sea and it just about killed me too. I know that the devil is staying awake nights wondering what to do with Hitler. Darrow spoke a lot about Ed and Buck. Do you know them? I met their wives when we went to Camp White.
I hope this war will soon end and not bring sorrow to anyone anymore. Hope to meet you and your husband some time and chat. He will soon be home with you soon safe and sound. Thanks again for what you have done for me.
The words of Lt. George Edgar of the 989th Engineer Treadway Bridge Company as recorded by his grandson David A. Armstrong:
My platoon sergeant, Ray Herman, had been with Lt. [Arnold] Maeker as part of the 989th's first wave, and I'd been happy to see him two days before. But somehow, he'd forgotten to give me a telegram I'd received at Kingwood Common the day after I'd been temporarily re-assigned. I was surprised as hell when he pulled a telegram from his pocket. "Sorry, lieutenant," he told me, "I completely forgot this. It came for you just after you headed over." Then he waited while I opened the wrinkled envelope and read: CONGRATULATIONS DAUGHTER BORN BOTH FINE LOVE CLARA JOHN. The telegram had proved it, but it still took a bit of time for the news to sink in that I now had a daughter.
If the big subjects of birth and death were on my mind in a Normandy foxhole as I read the telegram that changed my life, they were brought to bear all the more dramatically when word reached us at the bridge site late in the afternoon that troop ship LST 523 carrying the second wave of the 300th Combat Engineers - with whom we often worked side by side by because we were both attached to the 1110th - had struck an underwater mine off the Normandy coast near Utah Beach and 169 officers and enlisted men were missing and presumed dead. It was hard to imagine losing that many men in a single horrific moment, and somehow the news made me all the more determined to do my own small part to ensure that my little daughter would grow up in a world in which war was over and done with. We were just a couple of days into the thick of the war, and already we could tell that we would be working like dogs in the weeks and months to come to do our part in ridding Europe of the Nazi scourge.
Specifications of LST 523
Displacement: light 1,780 tons, loaded 3,640 tons; Length: 328 feet, beam 50 feet; Draft: loaded, bow 8 feet, two inches, stern 14 feet, 1 inch; Speed: 12 knots; Capacity: Usually carried 8-10 officers and 100-115 enlisted men; Armor: One - 3"/50 gun mount, eight - 40mm guns, twelve - 20mm guns, two - .50 cal. machine guns and four - .30 cal. machine guns; Propulsion: Two General Motors Diesel engines with two shafts and twin rudder.
Location of LST 523
British divers later identified the exact location of the destroyed LST 523 as Latitude: 49 28 42.0 N; Longitude: 000 57 55.0 W at a depth of 21 meters. The divers reported several Sherman tanks within the ship with the stern mostly intact. The bow was badly damaged. They also reported several small tanks in the hold.
Nickie Holland, niece of Eugene J. Warriner, Cpl, Co. B, lost on LST 523:
When the family got word that Uncle Gene was MIA, my Uncle Don, his brother, immediately enlisted to go over and look for him. He was unsuccessful. When he returned, Gene's wife who he had met and married while stationed in England, came to the States to visit the family. That's when Uncle Don met her and later married her. They remained married until she passed on in 2007. I find that a beautiful love story.
The following letter was written Commanding Officer Col. Riel Crandall on 14 May 1946 to Silas B. Wright, Sr., the father of Pfc. Allan C. Wright who was killed in action on 19 June 1944 aboard LST 523:
Dear Mr. Wright;
Major Gates forwarded your letter to me here in Washington, D. C. in hopes that I will be able to supply the information you desire. I was the Commanding Officer of the 300th Engineer Combat Battalion during the war. I have checked those few records available here in Washington and will add from my memory to complete the picture as best I can.
Both battalions moved from England to Normandy in France shortly after D-Day (6 June 1944) in three waves. Your son Allan, with the platoon of Company “B” of which he was a member, moved with the second wave. They were transported from England on an LST (Landing Ship Tank) and arrived off Utah beach early in the morning of 19 June; and dropped anchor about four or 5 miles offshore. At approximately 1 PM the LST lifted its anchor and started to move toward the beach. At that time it was presumably hit by a mine. At least there was a terrific explosion that broke the ship in half, both pieces sinking in about 1 min. Many of the men on board were killed by the explosion. Many small craft immediately undertook rescue work and, despite that choppy and stormy water accomplished miracles. However, none of the survivors remembered seeing your son after the time of the explosion. No trace of him was found until his remains were located and positively identified.
Allan was a good soldier on his way to do his part in the final efforts against Germany. It is indeed unfortunate that so many men as well trained as Alan was had to parish on that ship. I and other officers of the Battalion miss those men sorely.
I wish to extend my sincerest condolences to you and your family in the loss of your son. In him I lost an excellent soldier and comrade. His son can always be proud of his father as a man and a soldier.
If I can ever be of further service to you, do not hesitate to write me. I am a member of the regular army so that a letter addressed to me in care of the Adjutant Gen., War Department, Washington, DC will always reach me.
Yours very sincerely,
Riel S. Crandall
Lt. Colonel, CE
The following letter was Mr. Wright’s reply to Col. Crandall written 18 May 1946:
Dear Colonel Crandall:
Please accept my profound thanks for yours of the 14th regarding Allan C. Wright. It is a great relief to know that his death was probably instantaneous without prolonged suffering.
However, I am sure he was greatly disappointed to have to meet death in this way. He was here on a short leave on his way to P.O.E. and we talked seriously about his idea that he would never return. His wish was that when his time came he could feel that he would carry along a few goddamn Germans or Japs with him.
His idea was to fight the enemy away from here and he had a strain of fearless fighting from his fighting ancestors. He did not wait for the draft. He tried the Marines but his advanced age caused his rejection. When the Army finally took him he selected combat engineers to see action. It was hard for him to stand the training but he had the guts.
In his teens he wanted military training and I was able to give him two years at Riverside Military Academy in Gainesville, Georgia.
When Pearl Harbor came, we talked over his plans and he refused to consider using previous training and trying to get through some officer training camp. He refused the offer of help from influential political friends looking to some kind of commission.
So do you blame me for wanting to know all I can about his efforts and end.
It is a paradox that at the time of his death I was working in the Charleston Naval Yard helping build (pipefitter layout man) L. S.M. and Ts. Stayed there till after VE-Day. And Allan never knew this. My letter to him from Charleston never reach him.
Please pardon this transgression on your time but my thoughts wandered from my real object in writing you.
Again accept my thanks for your letter.
Silas B. Wright
The following letter was written by Cpl. J.E. Tarwater on November 16, 1944 from the military hospital in El Paso, Texas to J. W. Foraker, Sr. the father of Cpl. Joe W. Foraker, Jr. who was killed in action on 19 June 1944 aboard LST 523:
Mr. J. W. Foraker
Dear M. Foraker
Will try in some way, to answer your letter, I received yesterday.
I tried to get in touch with you on the fifth of last month, while I was in D [Dallas] but I couldn't seem to get anyone to answer the phone. So I didn't figure there would be any need coming out to your home.
As you know, I have been with Joe from the time he entered the Army, until we crossed the Channel going to France.
We left England on June 18, and sighted France next morning at about 10:00. There were several ships on the beach, so we had to wait until about one o'clock in the afternoon before we could get on the beach.
Everyone knew there was going to be some hard fighting ahead, so the most of the men were below deck, sleeping.
At 1:05, we pulled in our anchor and the motors woke up most of the boys and I got up and started to the top side.
When all of the sudden we hit a water mine. Most of our trucks were loaded with high explosives, which all went off. The ship was out of sight in less than 10 min., and over 80% of the 600 boys that were on it, didn't get off.
I didn't see Joe but I did see all the survivors and he wasn't with them.
Mr. Foraker you will never know how I felt. There was only 61 out of “A” Company on the ship. Boys that I had lived with and they all seem like brothers to me and only seven of us were left.
I realize what a shock it was to you and to his wife, and to think he will never get to see his baby.
We went a long way together and I will always remember Joe as one of the finest men I ever met. He died, so that his son would have a better world to live in and little by little his dreams are coming true. Well Mr. Foraker, I think I have told you, about all there is to know.
I expect to be back in the fight again in a short time. I am getting out of the hospital in a few weeks.
I will close for this time but don't forget me, and write when you can. I hope your leg is well and you are up and around again soon.
All my Sympathy
Cpl. J.E. Tarwater
Robert Alvardo remembers his father, Joe Leyva and new friends
My father Joe Leyva was killed in the sinking of LST 523. When I was very young, I would have uncles who would come and visit me and I would ask my mother who they were and she said, "They are your father's brothers. He went to war and he's missing in action." I would say, "Maybe he was injured and some day he would come back home." I always thought he would be coming home, but he never came in those many years I waited. I watched the war movies thinking maybe I would see him in the movies. To me the movies were real. But, later I moved on.
Much later, I found out that my father's mother was kind of ill and they didn't want to tell her my father was missing in action in the war. They sent all of his belongings to San Antonio and the family hid them in a closet. My grandmother was one day looking through the closet and found out my father had got killed because all his belongings were sent home. So, she gave up and a few months later passed away because of her sadness.
I am happy to be here because of Don (Richter) and the WWII Museum website. I put my father's serial number and name in the WWII museum when it opened and two months later I opened back up the website and there was Don Richter, my father's best friend. He called me about nine o'clock at night and he wanted to know if Joe Leyva had a son and I said yes and we couldn't hang up the phone. He said "I want to meet you" and he invited me to the reunion in 2004. I have been coming for four years now. I want to hear the war stories and they are so real. I never would have found out the suffering they went through and my father went through except from these men. But, I am a very happy man and I am close to the good Lord and I'll see my dad one of these days.
German mines were deployed at various locations on the coast of France on the night of June 6 to keep them from falling into the hands of the Allies. On D-Day and in two weeks following, hundreds of landing crafts made it to shore at Utah Beach without hitting a mine. So how was it that nearly two weeks later, an LST carrying the Second Echelon of the 300th hit a mine? LST 523 was attempting to land at Utah Beach in the worst storm in memory in the English Channel. Did recently deployed German acoustic-magnetic mines get pushed by the storm from other locations to off Utah Beach? Was it one of these mines that destroyed LST 523? Was the fate of the men lost or wounded on that night more about weather than war?
Tracy Sugarman wrote to his wife in July off the coast of Nornamady:
I worked on and off all day on a detailed sketch which will be part of an illustration I'm going to make. It's of something that took place here shortly after D-Day, and it's been on my mind ever since. It's not at all the kind of work I'll probably ever do again, but I want to get the whole thing out of my system.
I made that drawing a few days after LST 523 went down. Sixty years later I got a telephone call from someone who saw the drawing. I don't remember his name. He asked if I had made the drawing. I said, yes, it was me. He said. "You know those two men climbing down that cargo net, that was me and my buddy." It was good to know he survived.
[The illustration completed on June 25, 1944 is of the aftermath of the LST explosion. The illustration is reproduced earlier in this account.]
The following newspaper story by Tom Chaney was published June 6, 1944. The story details the experiences of Rayburn Kennedy in Normandy and beyond:
Pfc. Rayburn Kennedy was in his bunk fighting seasickness when he found himself a lot closer to the English Channel that he was ready to be. Kennedy's unit, the 300th Combat Engineer Battalion, came to the Normandy Coast off France after D-Day on June 17, he said. The combat engineer’s task was to rebuild and check out damaged bridges to see if they were safe for men and equipment.
While still ½ mile from the beach, his LST (landing ship tank) was blown in two by a magnetic mine, less than 50 feet from where he was lying. Half the ship sank immediately. The half Kennedy was in stayed afloat. He scrambled while the hull bobbed about in the water, looking for the least painful way to get off the wreck. Two sailors made up his mind for him up when they tossed him in the cold saltwater.
Kennedy said he doesn't remember how long he and four other men swam around until the crew of a boat picked them up and took them to a nearby hospital ship with the exhausted men and were hauled up like fish, he said. "They cut all our clothes off of us and maybe doctors examined us," Kennedy said. "The ones that were banged up pretty bad, they sent them back to England." Kennedy, who stayed on the hospital ship, had two cuts in the top of his head and a piece of steel stuck in his wrist.
"The next day as they was examining us again, this Navy Dr. says, “Soldier what's wrong with you?" Kennedy said, "I said, not a damn thing. When you see that land right yonder? My God I want to be on it. He said, get in this line here." Kennedy finally hit the beach. He recalled seeing the bodies of several French girls who had been with the Germans (collaborators, Kennedy assumed). He had more of the Navy, magnetic mines in the English Channel that he wanted.
Most of the men of the 300th had been scattered, wounded in the landing or sent back to England as casualties. He and the remaining men were reissued rifles, uniforms and personal gear and he said of the thousands of tons of supplies the Allies unloaded on the Normandy beaches, one vital piece of equipment was missing, cigarettes. Without the comfort of a Lucky Strike or an Old Gold, Kennedy went to work on the European continent.
"That night I dug my first hole in France," he said. He lay in his burrow a short way from the beach that night and tried to figure out whether the artillery rounds screaming overhead were American or German. A day or two later (he is not sure how long "you don't count dates, you count sunup to sundown.") they were loaded onto trucks and began to move through the hedgerows.
What was left of his unit became involved in the "scrapping" as it moved further inland on the Normandy coast, he said. Loaded on trucks crammed with bridging equipment, supplies and tools, Kennedy's unit began moving through the Normandy countryside. "We looked like a bunch of Gypsies," he said.
Although their mission was to build while the armies around them were involved in an orgy of distraction, the engineers were not exempt from being shot at. Kennedy recalls the day he and two other engineers were working on a bridge. They had taken off their rifles because it was difficult to work with them strapped across their backs, he said. When the guns opened up on them, they scattered, leaving rifles behind. Kennedy crawled into the basement of a nearby house. As he crouched in the room waiting for the shelling to stop, he heard a clicking noise upstairs, he said. Armed with a pickax and a bayonet, he prepared to defend himself. As noise got closer, he exhaled as a French girl appeared carrying a glass of wine for the “Amis.”
The 300th took part in Battle of the Bulge in the action in taking the first bridgehead over the Rhine River at Remagen. And Kennedy ended the war with two purple hearts.
Development of the LST
Even before the United States entered the war, the Allies knew they would need a large, ocean-going ship capable of shore-to-shore delivery of tanks and other vehicles in the assault in Europe. The U.S. and British Naval forces collaborated on the design and construction of such a ship. By January 1942, the first scale model of the LST was built and undergoing tests at the Model Basin in Washington, DC. The first design of the LST had the vessel at 280 feet in length but by January 1942 the Bureau of Ships increased the length to 300 feet. The final design called for the length to be 328 feet in length with a 50 foot beam. The LSTs were to be built with a capacity of 2100 tons of tanks and other army vehicles. The bow dropped down to provide a ramp to unload the tanks and vehicles. The opening was 14 feet high to accommodate various Allied vehicles. During World War II, 1051 LSTs were built including 670 at five inland shipyards. LST 523 was built at Jeffersonville boat and machine Company at Jeffersonville, Indiana where 95 LSTs were built. The need for LSTs became urgent by 1942 and Congress authorized the construction of LSTs and other military ships. Most shipbuilding capacity in the U.S. was on the east and west coast shipyards building deep-draft ships so new construction facilities were established along inland waterways. Of the 1,051 LSTs built during the war, 670 were built at five major inland yards. By mid-1943, construction time of LSTs had been reduced to four months and by the end of the war to two months. A few LSTs were also built in England and Canada. The LST was a versatile and dependable ship. The LST participated in the invasions of Sicily, Italy, Normandy and southern France in the European Theater and were essential in the campaigns in the Pacific which resulted in the liberation of the Philippines and the capture of Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
The authors are indebted to the following who helped detail this story:
Robert Alvarado is the son of Joe Leyva, a Tec 5 in Co. B, who was killed on LST 523.
Lester Aumann was a TEC 5 of Company B of the 300th. He was wounded in the LST 523 explosion and later recorded his personal recollections.
Gary Brown is the son of Clovis Brown, a PFC of Company A. Gary provided, in his own words, the experience of his father aboard LST 523 who received minor injuries and returned to the 300th the next day.
Bessie Coonts is the sister of Simon Maberry a private in Co. C who was killed on LST 523.
Charles Didier is the son of Harold Didier, a Staff Sergeant in Headquarters and Services of the 300th who was seriously wounded on LST 523. Charles tells of his father's ordeal both in the explosion and after the war.
Marie Wood Doud is the daughter of Forest Wood, a TEC 5, Company A, who was seriously wounded. Marie has provided her own words recalling what her Dad told the family about the explosion and his rescue.
Homer Garrett was a Supply Sergeant of Company A of the 300th. He was seriously wounded aboard LST 523 and never returned to the 300th. At the 2008 Dallas reunion of the 300th, he provided a one-hour recorded interview, some of which is included here.
James W. Kennedy, Jr. was a Tec 5 in H & S Co. who was wounded. He returned to duty several days later and joined Co. C where he remained to the end of the war.
Rayburn Kennedy was a Corporal with Company B of the 300th. He was wounded in the LST explosion but returned to duty with the 300th until his transfer to another unit in Feburary, 1945. He told the story of his experience to a reporter many years later.
Tony Leone was on duty with the U.S. Coast Guard on the Normandy coast on June 19 when he witnessed the explosion of LST 523 and participated in the rescue. An author of many books related to military history, he allowed the authors to use his own words of what he witnessed that day.
Wendell Plastridge, 3rd Class Petty Officer, U. S. Navy witnessed the sinking of LST 523 and helped rescue many survivors.
Don Richter was a Corporal and clerk of Company B of the 300th. He has contributed extensively to the research by the authors into the 300th with his careful record keeping and accurate memory of his war experiences. He related how fate saved his life and his feelings for the men lost on that day.
Tracy Sugarman, a young Navy man in WWII, an accomplished illustrator and author, witnessed the explosion of LST 523 and participated in the rescue. He permitted the authors to quote from his book, My War, published in 2000. Some of his illustrations sketched at the time are reproduced here with his permission.
This account is dedicated to the brave men of the Second Echelon of the 300th Engineer Combat Battalion at Normandy, those who came to the rescue of LST 523, and especially those men lost or wounded on June 19, 1944.
|Men of the 300th Killed in Action on LST 523 on June 19, 1944|
|Akin, Dennis M.||PVT||A||AR|
|Alexander, Clifford C.||TEC 5||OK|
|Anglin, Lenoy R.||PFC||A||TX|
|Baker, William F.||PVT||H&S||OK|
|Barraza, Bernardo M.||PFC||C||TX|
|Barron, Harry E.||CAPT||ME|
|Basney, Donald C.||1LT||C||PA|
|Bedwell, Troylee M.||PVT||A|
|Blankenship, Dwight L.||PVT||C||AR|
|Bumpass, James W.||PVT||B||TX|
|Caldwell, Dewey J. S.||SGT||B||AR|
|Calhoun, John H.||PVT||B||MD|
|Cantu, Andrew P.||PVT||A||TX|
|Cantrell, Charles M,||PFC||B|
|Courtney, John D.||PVT||A||TX|
|Crout, Horace D. Jr.||PVT||B||NY|
|Di Iorio, John D.||CPL||C||TX|
|Drozd, Leo M.||PVT||B||TX|
|Durbin, William R.||TEC 5||H&S||OK|
|Eastteam, William||TEC 5||B||OK|
|Embleau, Phillip W.||PVT||A||MO|
|Flick, Thomas W.||PFC||C||PA|
|Flores, Alfonso R.||PFC||B||TX|
|Foraker, Joseph W. Jr.||CPL||A||TX|
|Galloway, George R.||SGT||AR|
|Galloway, Orville C.||TEC 5||B||AR|
|Garza, Rafael G.||PVT||B||TX|
|Gill, Manuel H.||PVT||A||TX|
|Gray, Marvin A.||TEC 5||B||NY|
|Haller, Charles M.||1LT||BN||OH|
|Hancock, Harold W.||SGT||C||TX|
|Hankins, Douglas G.||CPL||B||TX|
|Haught, Olaf R.||PVT||C||AR|
|Hendrixson, Luther T.||PFC||A||AR|
|Hobgood, Roy M.||PVT||B||AR|
|Howard, Orlan D.||PVT||C|
|Hunter, Emmett E.||PVT||A||OK|
|Hurst, Cecil||TEC 5||H&S||AR|
|Hutchison, Eugene W.||PFC||C||OK|
|Jewell, Harris G.||PFC||B||AR|
|Kalbas, Willie H.||PVT||C||TX|
|Kerr, William C.||PFC||H&S||NY|
|Ketchum, Wilmor M.||PFC||C||AR|
|Kincade, James H.||PFC||A||PA|
|King, George C.||PFC||A||AL|
|King, Howard T.||TEC 4||TX|
|Kratz, John M.||TEC 5||H&S||TX|
|Lacy, Ulion V.||PFC||B||TX|
|Lassen, James H.||SGT||C||TX|
|Leyva, Joe R.||TEC 5||B||MI|
|Lochridge, Vinas L.||PVT||B||TX|
|Long, Wayne L.||PFC||B||TX|
|Lutz, Orville H.||1LT||B||IL|
|McAnally, Charlie L.||PVT||B||TX|
|Merriott, Clarence M.||PFC||OK|
|Mooty, Hudis M.||TEC 4||C||AR|
|Motl, William L.||PFC||C||TX|
|Moseley, Elmer L.||CPL||A||AR|
|Noes, Benjamin J.||PVT||A||OH|
|Nolen, Cecil D.||PVT||B||GA|
|Nordin, John A, Jr.||TEC 4||A|
|Oliver, Joe D.||PVT||A||TX|
|Padia, Joe J.||PFC||C||TX|
|Patterson, Richard L.||S/ SGT||B||IA|
|Reynolds, Earl B.||PFC||TX|
|Richardson, Jeff B.||PFC||H&S||LA|
|Robinson, David P.||PVT||B||OH|
|Rohrman, Henry B.||PVT||A||RI|
|Saucedo, Prisiliano M.||PVT||C|
|Schulz, Louis E.||PVT||TX|
|Shappell, Leonard L.||PFC||C||NJ|
|Shears, William E.||PVT||B||FL|
|Shuler, Carl D.||PVT||A||WA|
|Striplin, Wallie E.||PFC||A||OK|
|Sutherland, Dewey L.||PVT||H&S||GA|
|Toepper, Junior R.||PFC||C||TX|
|Tolbert, Joseph A.||PVT||C||TX|
|Vardaman, Austin D.||PVT||A||AR|
|Warriner, Eugene J.||CPL||B||TX|
|Weeks, Roy M.||PFC||A||TX|
|Whitfield, Omagene C.||TEC 5||C||OK|
|Williams, George W.||PVT||A||AL|
|Woods, Joseph G.||SGT||B||AR|
|Young, Foster C.||CPL||C||AR|
The above information was obtained from military records
|U. S. Navy crew members lost on LST 523|
|List supplied by Calvin M. Lien WIA 19 June 1944
Total number of crew members lost……………………………………..117
Approx. crew count before explosion……………………………………145
*Determined after list created to have survived
|Last Name||First Name||MI||Rank|