News of the death of 89-year-old New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg this month led many to observe that he was the last veteran in the U.S. Senate with memory of World War II.
We have a senior statesman in Frazier Park who is filled with memories this week, on the 69th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy.
Richard Hoegh, 92 is writing about the experiences he faced at 23 years old. Hoegh entered Normandy on June 12, 1944.
He was in the wave of those landing between June 6 (D-Day) and July 14 in the daring invasion of Europe by Allied forces that ended the war with Germany.
By Richard Hoegh
General Eisenhower was down on the south coast of England as the invasion forces headed for Normandy on the French coast. Douglas DC3s were loading up the 82nd and 101st Airborne.
My turn to go did not arrive for another six days. We left from the south British coast near Southhampton.
I was a lieutenant with Sergeant Danny O’Connor along for backup, and a driver named Gallena with a jeep. We boarded an LST [Landing Ship, Tank] on June 12 as the advance unit for our 129th AA (Antiaircraft) Gun Battalion. We were to land on Utah Beach on the French coast of Normandy, some 130 miles across the English Channel.
An LST is about 300 feet long and 50 feet wide. It can go at a top speed of 10 knots, roughly 13 miles an hour. The trip across was uneventful, as was the landing. It took about 10 hours.
The LST bow opens up and a ramp swings down so vehicles can drive off onto the beach. My orders were to check in with the corps headquarters and pick up the orders for the battalion’s deployment on Normandy, then meet the battalion on the beach when it arrived, to deliver the orders to our colonel.
O’Connor, Gallena and I fared okay on our own in Normandy for six days. The three of us camped by ourselves, but we scrounged food from established mess areas. One of us stayed awake at all times. We were near the town of St. Mere-Eglise.
The battalion’s arrival was on schedule. We got orders for the battalion from headquarters and gave them to our colonel when the battalion landed on Utah Beach in Normandy on June 18.
The orders told where the battalion should be set up to fight the Germans. The detailed preparation for the invasion was fantastic. We had great maps.
There were snipers around. Our A Battery met German resistance that Captain Steve Wilson’s men took care of. In the movie about D-Day, The Longest Day, you may remember that Red Buttons played a paratrooper whose parachute got caught on the steeple of a church. The movie actor Red Buttons survived and got down. That was not true in real life. Every German soldier within a quarter mile of that church took a shot at the poor American paratrooper hanging up there. Our guess was that there were 400 bullet holes in him.
I saw dead German snipers in trees. One of the snipers looked like my cousin. Denmark borders on Germany. My grandparents were from Denmark. The sniper had red hair, just as I did in those days.
But other German snipers were still alive and taking shots. The Americans had advanced across Normandy about two miles by then. Captain Wilson’s battery had to fight its way to stay in its assigned area when it arrived.
War is dumb and brutal. My life 69 years ago is still vividly there in my memory.
At one time, July 15 1944, I was so scared I could not speak.
I guess I think you should hear about it.
Continued next week
This is part of the June 14, 2013 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.
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