Traffic Cop of Invasion – that's the Navy Beachmaster! The above artwork by Paul Rabut in Life magazine (1945) sold War Bonds for the Allied effort during World War II. The previous year, 23-year-old Beachmaster Joseph P. Vaghi led his C-8 platoon ashore the Easy Red sector of Omaha Beach at 7:35 AM on D-Day 6 June 1944. Moving men and equipment across invasion beaches and providing casualty evacuation was the mission of both the Royal Naval Commandos and the U.S. Naval Beach Battalions. After the war, the title changed but the mission remained the same for our U.S. Amphibious Forces. The central role of a Beachmaster Unit is to facilitate the landing and movement of troops, equipment and supplies across the beach and the evacuation of casualties and prisoners of war.
Half a century after the invasion, the widow of a D-Day veteran made an inquiry regarding the beach battalions and wrote of her late husband's naval service aboard the USS LST 56. "His name was Dustin 'Dusty' or 'Sparks' Matthews RT/1c - Radar Man for the '56' and six other ships during WWII. The LST 56 was a hospital ship, taking in the men and equipment, bringing back the prisoners and the wounded. When my husband was interviewed for our local paper years ago, he spoke of the '56' trying to go in and the Beachmaster warning them off - He said they just 'piddled around in circles' until he waved them in. My husband spent the entire war on the Channel and celebrated VE day on his birthday in London, England. I have been curious about the Beachmaster ever since - What was his rank? Someone said 'just above God!' Was he Navy? Army? Any information you might have of the 6th Beach Battalion on D-Day would be greatly appreciated."
At the outbreak of World War II, the United States did not have any amphibious forces other than Army engineers with rowboats that could be used to carry troops across small streams. It was an era when our nation used Ford half-ton trucks labeled "tank" and wooden guns for training; pontoons were paddled as war canoes to represent motor-driven landing craft. The U.S. Navy began experimenting with landing craft and submitted an order with New Orleans boat builder Andrew J. Higgins.
Two months after Pearl Harbor, the first sizable joint amphibious exercise entailing Army, Navy and Marine Forces was held at the Brooklyn Army Base in New York. The original type Higgins boats used in the exercise were shipped out of New Orleans but someone forgot to drain the water. When they arrived in New York during the early winter of 1941, a number of the engine blocks were frozen and damaged.
General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe, stated that when the United States began to strengthen its military establishment in 1939 in preparation for war, "it started from a position as close to zero as a great nation could conceivably allow itself to sink!"
Five years later, a mighty 5,000-ship armada made a 100-mile-Channel-crossing for the Allied permanent re-entry into Continental Europe. The massive D-Day assault force could fight its way inland but to stay there, it had to be supplied with food, artillery, tanks and medical support. Fifteen tons of ammunition and military hardware coming ashore would be needed on a yearly basis to support one GI fighting across Europe. The Navy Beachmaster directed men and equipment across the invasion beach and, in coordination with his medical officer, provided seaward evacuation of the casualties.
LCI(L) 88, carrying Beachmaster Joe Vaghi and his 6th Naval Beach Battalion C-8 platoon, was the initial LCI(L) to make a landing on Omaha Beach at 7:35 AM on D-Day.
War correspondent A.J. Liebling described the 6th Naval Beach Battalion as "sailors dressed like soldiers" in The New Yorker. Above is USCG film of platoon C-8 going ashore the "Easy Red" sector of Omaha Beach at "H+65 MIN." on D-Day. Beachmaster Vaghi, Comdr. Gene Carusi, Cox Ed Marriott, Amin Isbir (KIA) and Lewis "little boats" Strickland are approaching the beach. Not far behind are John Hanley, Eddie Gorski, Frank Hurley, Bob Walley, Harold Roderick, Ray Castor, John Shrode, Andy Chmiel, John Dietzman, George Abood, Bob Millican, Norman Paul, Al Silva, Howard Hampton, "little Dr. Davey" and the remainder of C-8 platoon. Note the corpsman holding a stretcher on the LCI(L) 88 port ramp.
On the Easy Red sector of Omaha Beach at noon on D-Day, "A most horrendous sight was that of bulldozers moving bodies to make roads off the beach," said Army D-Day veteran Stuart Hill of Hampton, Massachusetts. "A most heroic sight was that of the Beachmaster calmly walking along the beach issuing orders through a bullhorn. Navy destroyers were going full speed parallel to the beach only about 200 yards off-shore firing over our heads onto the bluffs beyond the beach."
In 1995, I made an inquiry regarding the 6th Naval Beach Battalion to learn more about my father, who died in 1948; Dr. Davey was Beachmaster Vaghi's medical officer on D-Day. The Naval Historical Center wrote, "Our records dealing with Naval Beach Battalion operations are sketchy and we do not hold reports for the 6th Naval Beach Battalion. However, I am attaching extracts from Lieutenant Commander Joseph P. Vaghi's D-Day, Easy Red Beach Normandy, which offers his personal account, as a member of that command, of the action at Omaha beach. The attached English version of an article [appropriately] entitled, The U.S. Naval Beach Battalions: The Forgotten Sailors of The Invasion Beaches, by Jonathan Gawne, was also offered to this archive by Mr. Vaghi. Your father's service with the U.S. Navy is noted with appreciation and I trust the information we have been able to provide will be helpful to your research."
At the outset, permit me to define what a BEACHMASTER was and what his duties were. A Beachmaster is much like a traffic cop at a very busy intersection. All sorts of activities were taking place all around you and it was your responsibility to establish and maintain order. The Beachmaster controlled all traffic coming onto the beach – men and material – and arranging for all movement from the shore to ships at sea. It was the Beachmaster's responsibility to establish radio communication between the beach and the ships at sea. We were responsible for rendering medical aid to injured personnel until they could be evacuated to the ships offshore. In addition, we provided hydrographic assistance to incoming landing crafts – instructing them where to land, placing markers, and such. We had a boat repair section which provided temporary repair to disabled landing craft.
The Beachmaster for each sector of the various beaches, of which Easy Red was one sector, was responsible for all activities between the low tide mark and the high tide mark. The rise and fall of the tide amounted to some 18-20 feet twice a day in the English Channel. Our 6th Beach Battalion was responsible for most of Omaha Beach.
I was the Beachmaster of Easy Red Sector on Omaha Beach, Normandy. I was a Platoon Commander of Platoon C-8 which was one of nine Platoons in the 6th Naval Beach Battalion. The Battalion was composed of three Companies: A, B & C, with each Company having three platoons – my Platoon was one of the three in C Company. The landing craft that my Platoon was assigned to for the crossing of the English Channel was a Landing Craft Infantry (large) or LCI 88.
A secret report by Lt. H.K Rigg, the Skipper of LCI (L) 88 (our LCI) to the Commander in Chief, United States Fleet of 12 July 1944 contains this statement: "This vessel beached on schedule at 0735B, 6 June, the first LCI(L) on Easy Red Beach." Platoon C-8 of the 6th Battalion arrived in France at 7:35 AM, British Double Time on June 6, 1944, one hour and five minutes after H-Hour.
My platoon, along with the Commander of the 6th Beach Battalion, Commander Eugene Carusi, USN, some Army personnel, and A.J. Leibling, a writer for the New Yorker magazine, were aboard the LCI 88 when it beached on Easy Red, some 1000/1500 yards from the dune line of the beach. Our ship kissed the sands of Normandy when the tide was at its lowest. As noted above, the tide would rise and fall some 18-20 feet twice a day, thus the greatest distance to the dune line was at low tide.
I was the first person to leave the LCI after beaching. The craft had ramps on each side of the bow for purposes of discharging the passengers. Shortly after leaving the craft, the right ramp was blown away by an enemy shell, causing several casualties both on the craft and in the water.
D-Day, needless to say, was a day of memorable events. I shall attempt to recount a few that were extraordinary. These events occurred along that sector of the beach known as Easy Red Beach which was assigned to our platoon.
The beach was cluttered with thousands of beach obstacles placed there by the Germans to thwart an invasion attempt by the Allies. A Navy Underwater Demolition Team (UDT) had landed prior to our arrival and was successful in clearing away some of the obstructions, so as to permit movement into the beach by various landing crafts assigned to this and other beaches.
My first awareness that what we were doing was for real was when an 88mm shell hit our LCI(L) and machine gun fire surrounded us. The Germans were in their pillboxes and bunkers high above the beach on the bluff and had an unobstructed view of what we were doing.
The atmosphere was depressing. The top of the bluff behind the beach was barely visible; the sound of screeching 12 and 14-inch shells from the warships, the USS Texas and the USS Arkansas, offshore were new sounds never heard by us before; the stench of expended gunpowder filled the air and rocket launchers mounted on landing craft moved in close to the shore and were spewing forth hundreds of rounds at a time onto the German defenses. The sea was rough. Purple smoke emanated from the base of the beach obstacles as the UDT prepared to detonate another explosive in the effort to clear a path through the obstacles to the dune line – this was the state of affairs as the Platoon made its way to the dune line oh, so many yards away.
Using the obstacles as shelter, we moved forward over the tidal flat under full exposure to machine-gun fire as we finally reached the dune line. All C-8s made the long trek including Commander Carusi. God was with us!
Having reached the high water mark, we set about organizing ourselves and planning the next move as we had done so many times during our training period. The principal difference was that we were pinned down with real machine gun fire with very little movement to the right or the left of our position and absolutely NO movement forward.
Because the UDT had opened gaps through the underwater obstacles into Easy Red, most of the personnel and vehicles came ashore on my beach with the result that we were very crowded and became "sitting ducks" for the enemy fire.
I believe the most dramatic event I experienced that morning on Easy Red was when an Army officer came to me and asked that I, as the Beachmaster, pass the word over my powered microphone that the soldiers were to "move forward." As a consequence of this request by the Officer, I gave the order after which an Army Sergeant pushed a "bangalore" torpedo through the barbed wire at the top of the dune, exploded it, which then opened a gap in the mass of barbed wire. He then turned to his men and said "follow me." The men rushed through the gap onto the flat plateau behind the dune line to the base of the bluff, a distance of some 50 yards or so through heavily mined areas where many lost their lives or were seriously wounded. The Sergeant said, "Follow me." He did not order his men forward, but actually went in front himself, which is the sign of a leader.
Once this heroic act of the sergeant was accomplished, the Army began its offense against the Germans as the GI's began to attack the Germans' strong points and began to fan out for their movement into the countryside of Normandy – the Battle of Normandy was underway.
As a component part of our C-8 Platoon, our Communication section established contact with our control vessel offshore and reported all the conditions on the beach as furnished by our Company Commander Lt. George Clyburn, our Battalion Commander, Commander Carusi and elements of the 5th Engineer Special Brigade to which we were attached.
Because we were sending so many messages via radio, it was later reported to us that the Germans "zeroed" in on our radio frequency and proceeded to pinpoint our exact location.
As best as I can recall, it was mid-morning when an Army first-aid man came to the area on the beach where I was standing and attempted to roll a soldier who was dead off a stretcher. I told him not to do that but to take hold of the other end of the stretcher and together we would place the body away from the area where trucks and jeeps were passing for travel to the openings in the German defenses.
As I bent down to pick up the stretcher, a very large explosion occurred. I was momentarily stunned; when I regained my senses, I discovered my clothes were on fire. After regaining my bearings and extinguishing the fire off my coveralls, I noticed that a jeep close by was burning. I turned to one of my men and told him to come with me. We went to the jeep and removed two 5-gallon cans of gasoline and a number of boxes of hand grenades. I was concerned that if these two elements were to explode, more deaths would occur in addition to those that were already dead due to the explosion. Amin Isbir, Seaman First Class, who was the oldest man in my Platoon, born in 1909, suffered an instant death due to the explosion. Prior to leaving England for D-Day, Isbir confided in me that he would not come back alive – how prophetic!
As Beachmaster, I had the awesome responsibility of being very much entwined with the overall aims of the landing operations and the safety of those whose lives would be affected by carrying out my duties.
At one point, I ordered Seaman First Class Jim Gately to go out some distance in the turbulent waters to assist a soldier who was floundering while pulling a large Army weapon. Gately followed my orders only to come back and report that he had been hit by machine gun fire in the shoulder while giving assistance. His expression was, "I did what you told me to do." He was evacuated later in the day.
Another incident that I remember because of its humor was when an Army bulldozer reached a point some 20 to 30 yards from the high water mark even though there was no operator on it. I ran out to the "dozer" and after a few moments got it running and started towards the beach.
I had not traveled more than 10 to 15 feet when one of my men ran up to me and reported that Commander Carusi wanted me off the bulldozer – "I was more valuable as a Beachmaster than a bulldozer operator," was the message. A short time later we did get the "dozer" off the beach area. I say it was humorous only because I had always wanted to operate a bulldozer but on this day I was denied the opportunity.
Perhaps the most touching moment that day was when a young soldier lay dying on the beach. I bent over him and told him to hang in there and that I would send help. Dr. Jim Davey, Lt.(jg) M.C. of my platoon administered morphine which relieved him of the pain, and shortly after, he was dead. I shall always regret that I did not get his name. He was so young and so dependent on us to help him.
The word D-Day indicates the day of the landing, but to the men of the 6th Beach Battalion, it meant at least three twenty-four hour days which became one long day. Each night at dusk, German planes would strafe our beach with gunfire causing much anxiety and some casualties. John Hanley, Seamen First Class of Boston, who had jumped into a foxhole was hit in the leg by a strafing plane and was evacuated.
The evening of the first day, our communication section sent repeated messages to the control vessel at sea that the Army was in desperate need of "bazooka" ammunition in order to repulse an expected counter attack by German tanks. As it turned out, we did not get the ammunition nor did the Germans counter attack.
We also experienced the fear and anxiety of a gas attack. An alarm was sounded indicating gas. All of us, without exception, ran to retrieve the gas masks that we believed would never be used. As luck would have it, the warning was a false alarm.
On D-Day, a college classmate of mine, Ed Gallogly from Providence College, Rhode Island, came ashore. He saw me and said, "Hi Joe, what the hell are you doing here?" Ed later became Lt. Governor of Rhode Island.
The greatest satisfaction that the men of the 6th Naval Beach Battalion experienced was that we were the welcoming committee for the thousands and thousands of men who came ashore over our Easy Red Beach and fought their way to ultimate victory over the German war machine.
On D+7, Dwight Shepler, USNR, painted the above Omaha Beach scene of a Navy Beachmaster directing the unloading of men and equipment from LSTs. To the right of the young Beachmaster, two beach battalion sailors are sandbagging a shelter for their signal station. Once empty, the Navy Beach Battalions load up the LSTs with casualties and German prisoners for the cross-Channel trip back to the United Kingdom.
Joseph Vaghi went on to serve as a Division Officer of the landing team that invaded Okinawa. For his services beyond the call of duty, he was awarded the Bronze Star. After serving in the Navy for five years, LCDR Vaghi returned home, where he raised a family and founded his architecture firm, Joseph P. Vaghi AIA & Associates. In 1995, Vaghi accompanied President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore to Europe to mark the 50th anniversary of V-E Day. He was interviewed for the BuMed documentary - Navy Medicine at Normandy D-Day, "Untold Stories of D-Day" in the June 2002 National Geographic, served as a Voorsanger Architects, PC consultant regarding The National World War II Museum in New Orleans, delivered the keynote speech at the unveiling of the National WWII Memorial Stamp in Washington, D.C., and was interviewed for THE WAR, a 2007 PBS documentary produced by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick.
A third of all Jews who were alive on earth before World War II were murdered.
Reports of genocidal acts committed by the Nazis had reached the Allies over the course of the war. President Roosevelt stated, "To the Hitlerites, subordinates, functionaries, and satellites, to the German people and all other peoples under the Nazi yoke, we have made clear our determination to punish all participation in these acts of savagery." When Goebbels heard of the Allied discussion of both Churchill and Roosevelt regarding unconditional surrender, he was jubilant, claiming he could not have dreamt up a more effective strategy, persuading German soldiers to fight to the bitter end. General Eisenhower became concerned that FDR's vocal unconditional surrender policy would stiffen German resisistance on the beachheads, before the 6 June 1944 D-Day landings.
Less than a year later, Dwight Eisenhower, Omar Bradley, and George Patton entered a concentration camp near the village of Ohrdurf, but where not prepared for what they saw. Bradley was speechless; Patton leaned against a wall and became violently ill. Eisenhower announced as they left, "I want every American unit not actually in the front lines to see this place. We are told that the American soldier does not know what he is fighting for. Now, at least, he will know what he is fighting against."
The following is an excerpt from a speech given by Eli Rosenbaum, Director, Office of Special Investigations, regarding the 70th Anniversary of Kristallnacht, and a message to the Vaghi family.
Rosenbaum Address on the 70th Anniversary of Kristallnacht
20th Annual Meeting of the World Federation of Jewish Child Survivors of the Holocaust
Hilton Alexandria Mark Center, Alexandria, Virginia
November 9, 2008
Seventy years ago this very night, the Nazi regime of Germany launched the infamous pogrom in Germany and Austria that we know today as Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass. In a horrifying spasm of German government-sponsored terror, nearly a hundred Jews were brutally murdered, countless others were hurt, and some 30,000 Jews were abducted – nearly a tenth of Germany's remaining Jews – and deported to the Dachau, Buchenwald, and Sachsenhausen concentration camps. More than 200 synagogues were destroyed, and thousands of homes and businesses owned by Jews were ransacked. Two days later, faced with complaints from Germany's major insurance companies that they were responsible for paying vast claims for property damage inflicted during the anti-Jewish rampage, the German government ordered the Jewish population to pay upwards of a billion Reichsmarks to cover the damage. In some respects, Kristallnacht can be viewed as the commencement of the Hitler regime's systematic effort to annihilate the Jews of Europe – a people who had lived there peacefully for many centuries. It was arguably the beginning of the end for the majority of Europe's Jews.
My own career path was undoubtedly influenced by echoes of the Holocaust, particularly as embodied in a family member's lasting reaction to his encounter decades earlier with the results of Nazi inhumanity. My father served in North Africa and Europe during World War II in the U.S. Army's Third Infantry Division and then in the U.S. Seventh Army. In April 1945, he was dispatched by his commanding officer to the Dachau concentration camp, the day after its liberation, to report on what had been found there. Word had spread quickly among U.S. forces in Germany that something horrible had been discovered at Dachau. (The original order sending my father on that assignment is a cherished possession of mine.) The deeply shocking experience that he had at the camp was one that shaped his postwar life, propelling him to serve his people both as a philanthropist and a Jewish activist. However, to the day he died, last year at the age of 86, he was unable to speak of what he had seen in Dachau. Once, when I was about 14, he mentioned being sent on the Dachau assignment and I asked what he had seen when he arrived there. My father tried to tell me. His mouth opened, but no words came out. His eyes welled with tears and, after a long period of silence in which he struggled to find both the words and the strength to speak them, the subject was changed. Seeing my father cry that day had a profound effect on me, as such an experience would have on any young teenager, and it would be disingenuous of me to suggest that the experience had no bearing on the professional path that I chose later in life.
The U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Special Investigations (OSI) has commenced new prosecutions both last year and this year of men we allege participated in the perpetration of Holocaust crimes. Since almost every American knows someone – or knows of someone – in this country who is still alive and who fought on the Allied side of World War II, I am always mystified that anyone would suppose that all of the Axis veterans, and all of the war criminals among them, are deceased. By the way: As Veteran's Day is just two days from today, it is appropriate that we remember this evening, with abiding gratitude, the heroic and historic efforts of our fighting forces that finally brought to an end the nightmare of Nazi rule in Europe. They truly saved the world. The veterans of World War II are an ever-dwindling group, but still they visit Washington by the planeload each year to see the World War II memorial on the Mall. Many of the veterans live in this area, among them Joseph Vaghi, a Normandy veteran whom some of you no doubt saw on the recent Ken Burns documentary film "The War." Joe Vaghi was one of the first men to land on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944. Platoon commander Joe Vaghi, a few weeks from his 24th birthday at the time, was a "beachmaster," responsible for, as he put it, "directing traffic" for an entire sector of Omaha Beach while German artillery mowed down thousands of young Americans. He bravely endured hour after hour in the line of fire and labored on despite a serious wound and the unbearable sight of horrors all around him that few can imagine. He played a major role in ensuring the success of the Allied invasion, thus saving the lives of countless hundreds of thousands of people – including, I dare say, some in this room – who would have been doomed had the war not been shortened by the success of the D-Day invasion. Thank G-d for Joe Vaghi and all who risked, and, alas, often gave, their lives to destroy the Third Reich.
From: Rosenbaum, Eli
Sent: Monday, January 05, 2009 9:27 PM
To: Joseph Vaghi, Jr. (III)
Subject: Thanks So Much for Your Call! (And Here's My Speech)
Dear Mr. Vaghi, [son of Commander Vaghi]
Thank you so very much for speaking with me on the phone this evening. It is an honor for me to speak with any member of your family. How very fortunate you are to carry the name of such a great man. As I mentioned on the phone, most of us, as youngsters, tend to see our dads as "Superman," but in your case it was actually true! The fact that your father never told you and your brothers about his amazing heroism at Normandy until events of fifty years later necessarily prompted their disclosure bespeaks a modesty of a kind that one hardly ever encounters in this world.
Attached is the text of the speech I mentioned that I gave on November 9 at the annual meeting of a major international organization of Holocaust survivors. Sunday, November 9, was the 70th anniversary of the infamous "Kristallnacht" pogrom in Germany and Austria, which launched the Holocaust, and it was also just two days before Veterans Day, so both dates figured in my speech. I had just re-read the 2002 National Geographic piece that highlighted your father's valiant wartime service in the cause of freedom and humanity and it was very much on my mind as I prepared my remarks. My too-brief summary of your father's D-Day heroism at Normandy (see page 7) generated tumultuous applause and a spontaneous standing ovation from the hundreds of Holocaust survivors and family members in attendance. (I wish you could have seen it!) The survivors, having endured the unspeakable, tend to be, as you might imagine, what performers call "a tough audience." But they were deeply and quite visibly moved by my (inadequate) account of your father's almost unimaginable bravery and sacrifice. I am confident that, to a person, they also share the enormous debt of gratitude that all Americans, and especially all Jews throughout the world (I qualify on both counts), feel for those who, like your father, courageously risked everything to save the world from the evil designs of the Axis powers. ("Enormous debt of gratitude" actually seems like such a terribly inadequate expression under the circumstances, but I think you know how I feel.)
I will try to summon the courage to phone your father, per your very kind invitation. (I'm very shy about such things.) Permit me again to say that if I ever may be of service to your father or to any other member of your family, I would consider it a great privilege to be called upon. And if you or your brothers would ever like to have the "grand tour" of our offices at the Justice Department, I would love to welcome you to OSI. (BTW: My office's website is at: www.usdoj.gov/criminal/osi )
With every best wish,
Office of Special Investigations
With his photographic memory, D-Day Veteran John Hanley discusses C-8 platoon commander Joe Vaghi 9/26/2002. John died a month after the interview.
|Eli's father, Irving Rosenbaum, fled Nazi Germany with his family and later helped the United States defeat his homeland in World War II. While in the U.S. Army, he participated in psychological warfare, interrogated prisoners and helped rebuild the press in postwar Germany. John Talton, NCDU No. 44, Gap Team #9, "Easy Red" Omaha Beach, stands next to Joe Vaghi in 2006 at the D-Day Memorial in Bedford VA. Joe Vaghi takes a break in the Pacific Theater during World War II.
Part 1 D-Day Veteran John M. Hanley talks about his Beach Master Joe Vaghi
Part 2 Interview of D-Day Veteran John M. Hanley
Part 3 D-Day Veteran John M. Hanley talks about his Beach Master Joe Vaghi