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D-Day: Remember Men of the Rich
Article appearing in the Southern Pines Pilot, June 6th, 2008
by Paul R. Dunn

 


Mount Gilead resident Ed Black poses with Hillary Clinton during
a visit to Utah Beach in the 1990s.

    In 1943, Ed Black, then a resident of Pinehurst, joined the Navy.

    After boot camp, he was assigned to the USS Rich. That Buckley-class destroyer-escort was named after a naval aviator from North Carolina who led Douglas Devastators against the Japanese during the Battle of Midway. Rich was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross.

     Under Lt. Cmdr. E. A. Michel, the Rich's crew was made up of mostly 18 and 19 year olds who'd just graduated from Destroyer Escort school in Norfolk, Va. Initially, the Rich performed monotonous convoy duty from America to Northern Ireland and back. Then on May 10, 1944, it was unexpectedly ordered to Plymouth, England to protect the USS Nevada, which had been brought from Pearl Harbor to fire large shells supporting the invasion.

    The Rich was one of the first ships off Normandy on D-Day, June 6th, 1944. She supported battleships laying down smokescreens.

    Ed, who now lives in Mount Gilead, still remembers vividly seeing landing craft filled with GIs headed toward shore. He remembers waving to a Moore County friend who was in one of the passing boats and who survived the ordeal.

     He wrote in his diary that evening, "The USS Nevada is shelling a town over on the coast with big guns. If we come through this OK, we'll be lucky. However, our trust is in God to take us through safely. He put the diary back in his pocket. It was the last entry he wrote in his little black book. Black and his crew had run out of luck.

     On D-Day-plus-2, the Rich steamed to assist the disabled USS Glennon in a minefield in range of German shore batteries in Quineville. As she neared the foundering Glennon, the Rich lowered a motor whaleboat, which headed for the wounded ship.

     The Glennon warned the Rich to beware of mines. At about 9:20 AM, the Rich was about 300 yards from the minesweeper USS Staff, which had taken the Glennon in tow, when an explosion erupted in the sea 50 yards off the Rich's starboard beam. Three minutes later, another mine exploded directly under the ship.

     Men on the bridge were thrown to the deck. A 50 foot section of the stern was blown off and set adrift. Survivors clung to this floating wreckage and swam desperately in the debris-strewn water. Where the fantail had been amputated, wounded men crawled in a thicket of broken scrap and uprooted gear.

     A third powerful mine detonated two minutes after the second blast, directly under the forecastle, throwing the ship's captain off the bridge. The flying bridge was completely demolished, with the mast lying across the debris atop dead and badly wounded crew members. All this time the ship was repeatedly shelled by German shore batteries. The Rich remained afloat only 15 minutes, going down by the bow.

     Ed was blown straight up in the air and into an overhanging metal flag container. His skull was fractured, jaw broken in five places and leg broken. He was a bloody mess. He said to Carlie Black, a friend from Thomasville, "Carlie, we've got to get out of here!" But he knew he couldn't make it. Carlie locked arms with him, and they jumped into the water.

     "Carlie pulled me onto a life raft," Ed remembers. "There were six of us on it when I passed out."

     Four, including Carlie, died. He forgot all about the diary. On June 6th, 1984, the 40th anniversary of D-Day, Ed was standing on Utah Beach, looking out over the waters where his friends died. On the back of his jacket he'd written, "Ed Black USS Rich".

     A man came over and said, "I got you out of the water after you sank on the Rich. I can't believe you're alive. You were more dead than alive when I pulled you out of the water."

     Later in April, he visited his savior, Frank Calvo of Connecticut. Frank handed Ed his 40-year-old diary. It had fallen out of Ed's clothes when Frank had cut them off him. Calvo had added a final page: "USS Rich 2 PT boats picked up survivors and brought them to our LST 57. We worked like mad taking care of them and the fellows appreciated it very much. Some weren't so lucky and 4 passed away.

     The diary is now in a French D-Day Museum. Ed sent Frank Calvo a Carolina country ham.

     Of a ship's company of 215, 89 officers and crew were lost and 73 wounded. In 2006 the appreciative people of France flew Ed and his cousin Charlie Black (a Pinehurst native who'd also survived the Rich) to Paris where they and 98 other members of the "Greatest Generation" were awarded the Legion of Honor and a bonus of 1944 Euros to commemorate their role in the liberation of France.

     The Rich likes forever 40 feet down in water at latitude 49 degrees 31 minutes north, longitude 1 degree 10.6 minutes west. May God bless the brave men of the USS Rich.

Paul R. Dunn, a veteran of the U.S. Navy, lines in Pinehurst, North Carolina.

 



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