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Carusi's Thieves II  

The Engineers got fouled up, and not many of them got in ahead of the infantry, as planned. Everything drifted eastward, and few units hit their assigned beaches. The morning was so overcast that our own air couldn't give us support, for fear of bombing and strafing friendly troops, and at H-hour plus 40 minutes, before the Engineers had been able to blow channels through the enemy's underwater obstacles or clear paths through the mines on the beach, our Headquarters Unit, consisting of the skipper, exec., communications officer and me, got orders to shove off.

As we floundered toward the beach, I looked over toward a nearby LCVP with eight men of Navy Demolition Team 11 aboard. Even as I looked, an enemy 88 shell burst in the air above them, detonating a load of primacord they were carrying. That stuff has a bullet sensitivity of zero! The LCVP seemed to rise bodily out of the water, burst apart in a great mushroom of red-orange flame, and the next moment there were hardly even fragments visible to mark the spot. I learned later only one man survived.

I looked at the other side, where Team14, in an LCM, was going in a little ahead of us. Same thing: A shell hit detonated their explosive, and they were wiped out. Then it was our turn. We were in an LCI with about 200 personnel. [LCI(L) 88 was scheduled to land on Easy Red at 0735] As we neared the beach we quit watching the ships blowing up all around us, and got ready to leave our own vessel as fast as we could. We grounded, the ramp went down, and I followed the skipper over the ramp and into neck-deep water. The very next moment a big enemy artillery shell registered a direct hit on that ramp, and it was blown to bits! Some of the men of Charlie Company went to glory with the ramp; others tumbled over the side - or were blown over - and made their way to the beach.

As I started pushing through waist-deep water toward the beach, I came to a row of hedgehogs - steel crossbeams the enemy had planted as underwater obstacles - and these were natural things for a man to try to hide behind. Only the demolition men were working on these obstacles, blowing them up. They used colored smoke for signals; a billow of green smoke, say, and voom! they'd shoot the works! But they used colored smoke for other signals too, and I wasn't checked out on the smoke code. The net of all this was that every time I saw a puff of smoke, no matter what color it was, I'd move. The next thing I knew I was hopping about among the hedgehogs like crazy; the air was full of flying fragments and sheets of water as the demolition boys put their backs into it, and waves of enemy machine-gun and automatic-weapons fire whipped the water to froth all about me.

In desperation I looked toward the beach. There was Commander Carusi, standing upright on the shingle in the middle of that murderous fire, and waving to the rest of us to come on in and not hang around out there in the hedgehogs. Well, there sure wasn't a heck of a lot of choice, so I left the line of hedgehogs behind me and crawled out of the sea near the skipper. He was about to flip his lid - and no wonder!

Looking around that beach it was plain that everything had gone wrong! Nobody seemed to be where they should have been according to plan, and that included us. All up and down the beach tanks were sitting in the surf line knocked out, impotent and burning. Heavy smoke and mist covered everything; usual signals were absolutely no good - and worst of all, equipment of every conceivable sort was piling up in huge hills at the waterline. The time schedule as well as the schedule of priority objectives had jumped the track, the great ships lying offshore were pumping men and munitions toward the beaches with which they had no communication, and if ever disaster threatened the whole gigantic undertaking it was at that moment.

"Keep your head down, and find somebody with a radio!" Commander Carusi screamed. I shoved off down the beach eastward, looking. It was then that I came across the poor guy propped up against the tank with his guts in his hands. After I'd done what I could for him, I went on down to the beach, and 20 minutes later I found the CO of Charlie Company, Lieutenant Perrin [Vince Perrin was the platoon C-7 Beachmaster]. He was using his arms and semaphore code to direct an LCT, with two tanks aboard, to a natural channel to the edge of the beach. The LCT finally made it.

Lieutenant Perrin knelt down; I crawled over to him, and told him my orders and that the skipper was at the western end of the beach. The lieutenant told me to keep on looking for a communications man. Meanwhile, he said, he'd start rummaging through the tremendous confusion of gear on the beach to see if he could find any radio equipment. All this time, of course, the whole sector was under withering enemy fire; munitions, tanks, trucks, bodies and supplies were leaping skyward as rocket and artillery fire registered direct hits; the scene was one of carnage beyond comprehension.

I started back up the beach, part crawling, part running, and after a while I found a radio man. He had come in with us, and he said he had part of a radio set down at the water line, if it hadn't been blown up. He'd floated it in on pneumatic rings. About this time an army colonel came along yelling at everybody to move forward. He wanted a radio, too. But I know who needed the radio more right then. So I told the radio man to bring whatever equipment he could find up where the skipper was, and I shoved off in that direction myself.

When I rejoined the commander he had a signalman sending semaphore messages to a fleet of LCVPs and LCMs, which were pounding toward the beach, to "Go back! Go back!" Some of them got this order from the beachmaster and obeyed; others never saw the signalman because of the smoke and fog, and kept right on coming.

Finally we assembled the essential working parts of a jerry-built radio, and at H-hour plus 120 minutes our skipper got word through to the top command off shore to halt all landing traffic until the beach situation could be cleared. This enabled the Engineers to start clearing paths through the beach mine fields and open up beach exists, and by 0900 Commander Carusi opened the beach to traffic once more.

Along about 1100 the skipper started asking for Lame Brain Smith. Nobody had seen him. So the skipper started cussing, "That stupid, blankety-blank so-and-so! He's probably been dumb enough to go get himself killed!" He went on like that until 1700 or so, by which time we were up on the ridge line and starting to dig in. Of course the skipper knew Lame Brain wasn't stupid; who knew it better? But the skipper was apprehensive. And then, just like in a story book, who came ambling out of the smoke but Lame Brain himself! He wasn't scratched; he was carrying a canned ham he'd picked up, God knows where; and the first thing he did, as cool as you please, was start digging a foxhole for the skipper. Commander Carusi was so relieved to see him he never even asked him where he'd been.

About three nights later Commander Carusi got plugged through the shoulder by a 20 mm.shell. They operated on him at a field hospital, then evacuated him to England. And you never in your life saw anybody carry on the way Lame Brain did! He wept bitter tears, and he begged our exec., Lieutenant Edmund C. Reardon of Yonkers, New York, for permission to go along with the skipper and take care of him. Request refused.

We finally were evacuated ourselves to Salcombe, England, where we had a reunion with the skipper. Although he was still a mighty sick man, he hadn't forgotten us - not Commander Carusi. There was a whiskey ration in those days, and the skipper had seen to it that they'd saved the whiskey ration for Carusi's 400 thieves. Only there weren't 400 of us anymore; 200 would have been closer. Actually, I believe our casualties were officially tallied at 41 percent. The French awarded the Croix de Guerre to the Sixth Beach Battalion, along with the First Division.

That's how it happened that, one morning in the fall of 1944, a special train from Salcombe delivered one throbbing, quivering, aching hangover at the British port of Liverpool. We had piled aboard our special train at Salcombe, and there at the ends of the cars, waiting for us, was our accumulated whiskey ration! We knew it was the skipper's doing; it was just like him. So, as we spun through the dark night, every man had his bottle, and we drank toasts - toasts in plenty to our skipper, but also to the comrades we'd left behind on Easy Red and the other Normandy beaches. There were a lot of them, and it took a powerful lot of drinking.

Ray Perez 1920-2003.  For more information on this 6th Naval Beach Battalion yeoman, go to www.defenselink.mil/specials/heroes/perez.html

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