We had boot training at Bainbridge, MD, a period of six weeks. From Bainbridge we went to Norfolk, Va, for DE training. Upon completion at Norfolk, we were sent to New Orleans, LA. There we would board the USS Rich, DE 695, built in Bay City, MI, and brought down the Mississippi River. The Rich was commissioned on October 1, 1943. She had a crew of 217 enlisted men and 12 officers.
We set sail for Hamilton, Bermuda, for a shake down cruise. We were in Bermuda for 30 days testing guns and all the equipment on board to familiarize the crew with the ship. Charlie and I chose to be radio men and were assigned to the radio shack and during battle conditions we were assigned to guns, Charlie to the 20 mm antiaircraft along with shipmate A. C. Boyd of Tabor City, NC, and a newcomer to the ship, Porto.
We had several 20 mm guns on board, several 5 in. 50mm guns and the 1.1. anti-aircraft gun which had four barrels similar to the British Pom Pom gun. I was the trainer on the 1.1. gun. Jim Stewart of Bladenboro, NC, was the pointer. Twelve men made up the gun crew with two men below the gun pushing ammunition up to the loaders. Other data enclosed will fill you in on the Rich.
May 14, 1944, we departed Brooklyn Navy Yard for the UK on what was to be the usual convoy run to Londonderry, Ireland. Yet the air of mystery surrounded us, we took on more ammunition than usual, the convoy was larger. The USS Rich, DE 695, usually acted as scout ship in the convoys, meaning we went ahead of the convoy and scouted for submarines, continuously zig-zagging all the way across to our foreign port. Londonderry was about 14 days from Brooklyn and upon arrival there, liberty was granted, and within a very few short days the Rich returned to the States.
On this convoy trip as in the past upon arrival the radio room was secured, meaning no communication men were manning the transmitters or receivers. All radio communiqués were copied at the Londonderry Navy radio station. My daily routine was to go off the ship and go to the Navy radio station to pick up the Rich messages. They were decoded back aboard ship giving orders. On the afternoon of 6/ 2/44, 1 left the ship to pick up the radio messages as in the past. The messages were marked URGENT and had not been in the past. I sensed that we were going other places and not returning with our convoy group. Reaching the ship, I immediately called Lt (J.G.) H. J. Enquist, USNR, stating I had returned with priority mail marked urgent.
Lt. Enquist came down from the bridge and came into the radio shack and went into the decoding room. Upon coming out, I will never forget the look on his face. I knew and he knew, though no exchange of conversation occurred. Promptly he carried the communiqué up to the bridge to Cmdr. E. A. Michels, Jr., USN, ship's commander.
Some of the crew had been granted liberty and immediately word was given to round them up for boarding the Rich. Perhaps in 45 minutes all were back on board. The Skipper got on the ship's horn (loud speaker) and told us that we had been chosen to participate in the invasion. Michel was a very stern, disciplinarian, never smiling and tough commander. He had lost a destroyer already in the Pacific. He was perhaps age 32. He told us we had been a good crew, doing our jobs good and lastly he said, "God bless each of you as we go into battle".
We loaded ammunition just out of Londonderry, so much that we could hardly walk in the passageways. Going down through the Irish Sea was a sea sick sailor's nightmare, terrible weather and rough water.
Docking in Plymouth, England, no longer did we ponder our days which lay ahead. There were LST's, troop transports, all types of Navy craft. While docked at Plymouth, extra guns were placed on the Rich. We were not allowed to talk with the Navy men who came on board to install the guns. All the Rich personnel were moved to the starboard side to avoid any conversation.
Due to foul weather, the invasion was postponed one day. Having departed Plymouth with expectations of invading on the 5th, we just stayed in the channel in the largest convoy ever assembled, over 4,000 ships. Also we had barrage balloons tied above the ships to keep German aircraft away.
Nearing the invasion beaches at approximately 2 AM (French time), the skies were ablaze with anti-aircraft fire and it looked like hell on earth. Gasoline dumps were going up, hit by terrific bombing by the Allies. I wondered if any living thing could be left and what's the use in invading?
German air opposition was unbelievable, hardly any of their aircraft coming over. I was on my battle station at the 1.1 gun. Charlie Black and A. C. Blyd were on the 20mm a couple of decks above.
Back in boot camp at Bainbridge, MD, I had met another Black. He was Carlie Black from Thomasville, NC, but no relation. He was a real clean cut, good looking youth, had been active in his church, school and had a brother Lloyd in the Air Force. Carlie was also on the 1.1 gun as hot shell handler.
J. H. Joyner was from Louisburg, NC, and was one of two sons of Mr. & Mrs. Henry Joyner. Doug, the oldest, was a pilot in the Navy and the idol of J. H.'s eye. From over in Raleigh came H. H. Greene, Jr., joining with us at the same time. Jack Bowden from Broadway, NC, was among the same group.
Shortly after we reached our bombardment position, off to our port side 37 C-47 transports were going in each towing three gliders. German anti-aircraft immediate hit 5 of the C-47's and they disintegrated completely. Soon the French daylight came and what a mass of ships. The USS Quincy, a new American cruiser was patrolling near us. Friend, Ned Bushbee (now deceased) from Southern Pines, NC, was an electrician on board the Quincy. The USS Nevada was just ahead of us and the troop transport USS Bayfield was almost touch-mg our starboard side.
At 6:40 AM, all hell broke loose. The USS Quincy fired the first salvo onto the beaches. Then the other ships begin laying salvos in. The USS Bayfield was loaded with troops. Nets were lowered to the water and the weary soldiers began climbing down to enter Higgins boats for the trip into the beaches. Each Higgins boat carried 27 men in full battle gear. The trip in would be less than four miles, a very rough ride through swampy water. As we sailors watched the soldiers leaving the Bayfield, we would holler and ask: "Where you all from?". On my inquiry, one soldier answered back: "I'm Pvt. Archie Sullivan from Carthage, NC." He was a friend of mine from back home. He made it through and returned home to become Chief of Police at Vass, NC. He is now deceased.
Suddenly, German aircraft appeared overhead in an attempt to drop a bomb on the Nevada. It fell short and dropped to our port side, barely missing us by 100 yards. It fell into the center of a Higgins boat which had left from the Bayfield. Twenty-seven men died before they saw the sandy soil of Omaha beach. Guns, helmets, pieces of the Higgins boat and men blown upward into the air. D-Day had ended for them.
One casualty floated tip along side the Rich. We picked him from the water and placed him on the after deck. He had a terrible head wound. Half of it was gone. His left leg was broken and sticking through his trousers. Pharmacist Mate 1/C Cabibi from New Orleans and I removed his personal belongings from his pockets. He had a Stars and Stripes newspaper dated June 3rd rolled up in his rear pocket. We found several English coins, a stick of gum, a few cigarettes loose, not in a package, and a wallet with photos of a lady and two small children, apparently his wife and children. A Catholic rosary hung around his neck. He had participated in the invasion of North Africa and had died at Normandy before the day ended. We placed him in a canvas bag along with his personal effects and transferred him to the Quincy to the cooler.
Very soon the waters were filled with the dead. The heat of the battle made any further attempts to recover casualties Impossible. Life became expendable. On through the morning the battle raged. Around 9 AM off to our port side, the USS Corrie (a destroyer) was in near the beach laying salvos onto the shore. Suddenly an explosion rocked her. A mine and a shore battery had catight her and she was sinkiug fast. Under the command of Cmdr. Hoffman, USN who survived, the Corrie lost 62 men in addition to many wounded. Many years later Comdr. Hoffman and I shared a drink in Boston at a Corrie reunion. Later in the afternoon, around dark, the USS Rich was ordered to lay a smoke screen along the beaches. The Allies had managed to get a small foothold at last. The Germans had held the Allies down until around 4 PM. Only reinforcements kept the Allies going. Ten thousand casualties on D-Day for a few feet of advancement on French soil.
The Rich completed the smoke screen and returned to its bombardment position. Around 9 PM we noted a torpedo wake coming within a very few feet of our ship on the port side. Just behind us was the new American 2200-ton destroyer, USS Meredith, on her maiden voyage. The Rich was laying lengthwise while the Meredith was laying opposite behind us. We knew the torpedo was going to hit the ship amidships. In seconds a muffled roar and hiss of steam came from the Meredith and she sank below the surface. The Rich made no rescue efforts as other Navy craft came upon the scene. I was never able to get any information as to casualties suffered on board the Meredith or ever ran into any of the personnel thereafter. Throughout the night we were ever watchful for torpedoes, enemy aircraft and mines.
June 7. The battle continued. We were more scared the second day than on the first day. We had had no sleep. We had no food and only a few drops of coffee.
On the morning of June 8, the USS Glennon (destroyer) was patrolling in the morning sunshine off Utah Beach near the San Marcouff Islands. The Germans had moved into Quineville, France, and were using mounted railway guns. Quinville is a small fishing village perhaps five miles inland.
A shore battery found its mark on the Glennon and the ship hit an underwater mine about the same time. Admiral Dyo ordered the Rich to proceed with extreme caution and render aid to the Glennon. As we approached the Glennon, the ship was about half submerged in the water with a tow boat hook on to its bow. A few personnel were seen on the deck. We were preparing to toss lines over to the Glennon when a violent explosion occurred under the Rich. We 1.1 gunners were all thrown on the deck and upon getting to our feet, we noted that our entire fantail (back) of the ship was severed as if cut by a large knife. Thirty feet of our ship completely gone and going on its own course some 50 yards aft. Actually it was severed just aft of the 1.1 gun. We examined ourselves for injuries, mostly scratches and cuts.
Deciding to make our way towards amidships, we reached the torpedo tubes which had become fused. Mize, the torpedo man, was attempting to turn them out to sea. Huddling together under the flag bag and upper bridge with all sound power gone, I remembered that Carl Boedecker was down tinder the 1.1 gun pushing ammunition up to the shellmen. I did not see him in the group. Suddenly another explosion rocked the Rich under us and that one got us.
Carlie Black and A. C. Boyd were up on the 20mm gun with Porto. They left the gun to see if they could see me. Upon returning to their gun, Porto was dead still hooked in his gun buckles. Of the 12 men on the 1.1 gun, nine lay dead. Carlie Black from Thomasville, NC, and I both badly wounded, decided that we should jump from the sinking ship as word to abandon ship was being passed by word of mouth. We could offer no help to the dead gunners and were barely able to move ourselves. We locked arm in arm and jumped from the boat deck on starboard side into the 54 degree water. The cold water briefly brought us back. We made it to a six man life raft and hooked our arms into the lines. Looking around the raft I saw shipmate Ken Kraus. He was next to me. He never spoke at all. Clarence Drake was on the end of the raft. Carlie Black was across from me. Agalia was next to my right and I do not remember who the 6th man was as I became unconscious and remained so for 31 days. Drake, Kraus, Black and the unidentified man I cannot remember died a few hours later on board LST 57 who picked us from the water.
A third explosion ripped the Rich. The third mine went off under the bow. In this explosion both Charles Black and A. C. Boyd were wounded. Charlie received a broken back and a severe head injury and Boyd suffered extreme leg injuries which cripple him today.
Later I would be hospitalized at Chelsea Navy Hospital in Boston after months in England. Carl Boedecker was there also. He had lost both legs.
What a group we were prior to the sinking. We were singing, joking, pulling pranks, going on liberty, drinking a few suds, exchanging mail from girl friends. We shared our homesickness, money, cookies from home, pictures of Mom, Dad, brothers and sisters.
Many were to die. Many were to be listed as missing. Many were to be wounded. Friends of mine - all dead: J. H. Joyner of Louisburg; NC, Carlie Black of Thomasville, NC, Jack Bowden of Broadway, NC, Ward Bownier of Monroe, TN; Arlie Norris of Alpine, TN, Whitney Miller of Coral Gables, FL; "Stew" Kauffman of Chicago - the story could go on and on. I could mention our Executive Officer, Lt. Cmdr. Bill Pearson, father of two small sons. Pearson was badly wounded with the ships mast pinning him down. Still conscious, he refused to be moved, saying "Get the fellows off. They are hurt worse than I am." He went down with the ship. I am still living, along with a very few of my mates. We just lost one who died from injuries received in an automobile accident just sometime ago. He was "Murf' Murphy up in Richmond, VA. Jim Stewart and Richard Whitaker died from brain cancer. Jim was my pointer on the 1.1. We were the only two who lived from the gun crew.
When the last Rich man has cashed in his chips and we muster in the beyond, we will need a few hours to rehash our adventures, war stories and greeting each other before we are assigned our duties.
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