D-Day through the eyes of a Coast Guardsman

A Coast Guard-manned LCVP from the USS Samuel Chase disembarks troops of Company E, 16th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division on the morning of June 6, 1944 at Omaha Beach.  U.S. Coast Guard photo by CPHOM Robert F. Sargent.
A Coast Guard-manned LCVP from the USS Samuel Chase disembarks troops of Company E, 16th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division on the morning of June 6, 1944 at Omaha Beach. U.S. Coast Guard photo by CPHOM Robert F. Sargent.

It was June 6, 1944, when Allied forces began the largest amphibious invasion of all time – D-Day.

Today, on the anniversary of D-Day, Compass would like to share the story of Motor Machinist’s Mate 1st Class Clifford W. Lewis, a crewman aboard the Coast Guard-manned LCI(L)-94. As part of Flotilla 10, LCI(L)-94 was an amphibious assault unit that landed Allied troops during the invasions of Sicily, Salerno, Normandy and the Pacific Theatre.

Below are excerpts of a diary kept by Lewis describing what it was like before, during and after the bloody assault at Normandy, June 6, 1944.

28, MAY [1944]:

Coast Guard-manned LCI(L)-85 during a practice landing. U.S. Coast Guard photo.
Coast Guard-manned LCI(L)-85 during a practice landing. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

At 0115 hrs. we were awakened by a bomb exploding close by. More explosions followed Immediately which shook the ship. I was dressed and half-way up the ladder when the alarm sounded. Jerry had sneaked in close behind our own planes returning from raids on France, thus fooling the radar. When I emerged on deck and began getting my gun ready, the sky was filled with tracers and searchlights. Ships out-board of us got underway, but we remained at the dock. We weren’t allowed to fire for fear of revealing our position. The ack-ack batteries in Portland were firing right over our heads and many shells exploded about us on the ship and dock. The noise was deafening and shrapnel careening about furiously. Buncik, MoMM3/C, who was stationed in the steering room had his head protruding from the hatch, when a 20mm slug or large piece of shrapnel pierced his helmet and cut a crease In his head. Our Pharmacist Mate gave him prompt attention and he was soon taken to a hospital for treatment. The night fighters soon were in action and the raiders chased off. A JU-88 was caught in the lights and came in, in a wide arc losing altitude rapidly. He was soon lost to sight, but no doubt he went down. A 20mm slug dropped thru the top deck and Into the officers shower. No one was hurt however. The “All Clear” sounded at 0245, but warning was given to be on the look out for delayed action & butterfly bombs. Took an hour for my nerves to calm down so I could get to sleep. About 8 men in the flotilla were wounded. Had an alert at 1830. No action however.

29, MAY [1944]:

0200 General Quarters sounded. Searchlights were probing the skies when I reached my gun. Radar operated batteries were firing at unseen targets and shells were exploding high In the darkened sky. Obviously Jerry didn’t have any gifts for Weymouth, as nothing was dropped. All clear at 0245.

30, MAY [1944]:

About 11 assault transports moored in harbor including U.S.S. [Samuel] Chase, [Joseph T]. Dickman, [Charles] Carrol & Bayfield. LCVP’s in and out all day with ammo’ & army supplies. British small boats were also picking up U.S. material.

31, MAY [1944]:

Muster after colors. Mr. Mead gave us orders as to: no one to leave or board ship without an escort, no liberty, no conversing with base personnel or personnel of other ships. Strictest security from here on in. We were issued more gas clothing, also a cartridge belt and water canteens.

The Coast Guard LCI(L)-85, battered by enemy fire after approaching Omaha Beach, prepares to evacuate the troops she was transporting to an awaiting transport.  The "85" sank shortly after this photograph was taken. U.S. Coast Guard photo.
The Coast Guard LCI(L)-85, battered by enemy fire after approaching Omaha Beach, prepares to evacuate the troops she was transporting to an awaiting transport. The "85" sank shortly after this photograph was taken. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

1, JUNE [1944]:

Under 0700. Anchored In harbor. At colors a letter from Adm. Kirk was read pertaining to the invasion of France which is very near. 1000 hrs. tied up at dock in Weymouth again.

2, JUNE [1944]:

Received print of crew and officers also a letter from Gen. Eisenhower.

3, JUNE [1944]:

Troops are on board. We have 29th Division infantry, M.P.’s (traffic directors) a medics. Navy LCI next to us has First Division men. Many rumors floating around as to place & time. Pool gotten together as to D-Day. (10 shillings)

4, JUNE [1944]:

Still the same. Ship is still secure.

5, JUNE [1944]:

Still waiting patiently although we know much already as to where we are to land, etc. At about 1700 we got underway. Skipper called us all into the crews quarters and had a long diagram or photograph of the beach on the mess table. All pill boxes, machine guns, mines, entanglements & other obstacles. Our beach is to be Red Dog, close to Easy Green. He said we could expect plenty of mines & that sub’s & E-Boats would be active. New weapons were expected and 1950 enemy planes were available for use against us. He wished us the best of luck and then Mr. Mead checked over all our names for correct serial numbers & beneficiaries.

6, JUNE (D-DAY) [1944]:

Coming on watch at 0400, we wore our full gear: impregnated suit, socks, gloves & shoes, life jackets, helmets, cartridge belts, with canteens of water and sheath knife. Gas masks, eye shields & vesicants. At 0715 we were called to General Quarters. While at gun I noticed hundreds of ships & crafts all about us. Spitfire’s & P-48’s were constantly flying back and forth over the area. We gradually left the main body of ship’s behind us as we proceeded toward shore. A few LCVP’s were returning and some LCT’s were returning loaded evidently not getting a chance to beach. Smoke hovered over the beach and a number of ships could be seen to be burning furiously. Tracer shells began skipping out over the water towards us. They exploded very close & shrapnel clattered against the ship. At 0745 we were called to man our beaching stations. I made a dash for the engine room hatch and could feel and hear shrapnel & machine gun bullets careening by. I took my place at the throttles beside Sorensen. Hass stood by the clutches. We crunched on the beach at 0747 amid loud explosions which made the ship shudder. We disembarked our troops and started out when the Skipper noticed we had fouled an LCVP with a line and started back in to assist them. At that moment 3 shells burst into the pilot house and exploded killing 3 of my shipmates and wounding two including an officer.

Coast Guard Captains Edward Fritzche (left) and Miles Imlay (right) discuss the invasion of Omaha Beach on a relief map laid out in the hold of USS Samuel Chase. U.S. Coast Guard photo.
Coast Guard Captains Edward Fritzche (left) and Miles Imlay (right) discuss the invasion of Omaha Beach on a relief map laid out in the hold of USS Samuel Chase. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Couldn’t do any more for the LCVP so we cut the line and started off the beach again after the pilot house was cleared and hand steering put into operation. We had been on the beach 50 minutes and were now high-tailing it out minus the port ramp which had to be cut away. A Life photographer came aboard our ship from the beach and was soaking wet. He came into the Engine room to get dry. I was relieved and went top side to cool off and assist. The temp had been 120° in the E.R. and it made it twice as hot with all the clothes we had to wear on. Went topside on the boat deck just aft of the pilot house. The Pharm. Mates were working over a couple of shapeless hulks lying in wire baskets and covered with blankets. It was a horrible sight with blood & flesh splattered over everything. DeNunzio had both legs blown off & part of his stomach, but was still living. I helped the doc give him plasma, but it was hopeless. He died 15 min. later. Buncik was decapitated and occupied only half a stretcher. Burton was still intact but was killed by the concussion. Anthony had shrapnel in the feet & legs and was in great pain. He was given morphine and him and Mr. Mead, who was shocked and had shrapnel In his back, were put aboard the C.G. Transport Chase. The bodies were later put aboard an LST and were later burled on the beach. Most of our lighting & power from the pilot house had been shot away and we went about for some time with great difficulty. The [LCI(L)] 85 was near a transport with troops still aboard and was listing badly. She finally got her troops off before she sunk.

We were called alongside a transport and took on Navy relief crews for LCM’s. We had the ship pretty well cleaned up by now. We laid a couple miles off the beach and LCM’s came alongside to change crews. After that morning no more craft beached until that evening. The battleships Texas & Arkansas and 3 cruisers including the Augusta and 14 destroyers incessantly shelled the beach. Many craft were careening crazily about, some burning, some with huge holes ripped in their sides. Of the 9 LCI’s that beached on Red Dog 4 were still usable. Night time found Jerry over us. Bombs were dropped & some mines.

7, JUNE [1944]:

Laid around as mother ship for LCM’s. Warships keep up shelling and beaches were quieting down. Armored equipment was being put ashore; now mostly on Rhinos.

8,9 & 10, JUNE [1944]:

U.S. Army troops aboard a Coast Guard-manned LCI(L), during the night of June 5, 1944. U.S. Coast Guard photo.
U.S. Army troops aboard a Coast Guard-manned LCI(L), during the night of June 5, 1944. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

An average of 5 raids a night. Much flak was sent up and planes were hit. Bombs & shrapnel fell. Went out 0200 hrs. to look for ammunition barges and numerous mines were known to be in the vicinity. First real raid wasn’t until 0330. Dive bombers attacked and two bombs screamed and exploded near a petrol barge anchored only 50 yards off our port quarter. Raids continued until broad daylight or after 6. Shrapnel & 50 cal. slugs were picked up on deck.

12, JUNE [1944]:

Not many air alerts in early hours of morning. Our bombers continually flying back & forth. Exploding bombs & demolitions heard most of the time. Night of June 11th we were called to rescue of an LST which struck a mine just outside the transport area. By the time we arrived all survivors were picked up by other LCI’s & 83 footers. In the afternoon of June 12th about six of us went ashore in a Higgins boat. The beach was a turmoil of activity and was strewn with twisted wreckage of landing craft and vehicles. The dust was very thick. We looked over the numerous pill boxes & gun emplacements which were made of thick concrete and dug Into the side of the hills which dominated the beaches. Pill boxes left intact were being used as command posts & comm’ centers. We walked to the top of the hill being careful not to fall in somebody’s foxhole and turned to look out over the vast panorama of ships. Ships of all shapes, sizes and descriptions as far as the eye could see. We had a Coast Guard photographer with us taking colored movies and he was well pleased with the material at hand. On top of the hill poppies grew. Everywhere could be seen the pretty red flowers and at once I recalled the poem we had always read In school on Memorial Day; “In Flanders Field The Poppies Grow.” German prisoners were digging graves for our many dead nearby and I thought of my three shipmates who were laid to rest there.

The 83401 and 83402 were two of the 60 Coast Guard cutters sent to England to serve as rescue craft off each of the invasion beaches during the Normandy Invasion. U.S. Coast Guard photo.
The 83401 and 83402 were two of the 60 Coast Guard cutters sent to England to serve as rescue craft off each of the invasion beaches during the Normandy Invasion. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Inside a large fenced in enclosure were many German prisoners. They were sitting about on the ground in a semi circle as an army Sgt. read off their names. Most of them were Czechs, Poles, French & Russians and most were either real young or old. Another enclosure contained officers and as I watched they frisked 8 new ones being brought in. A truck came up with 6 French civilian snipers under heavy guard. We walked on down a small dusty road and into the nearby village of Les Moulins. Only a few houses and a church which had been hit by shells and mortars. We walked into the church yard where an old bent over French was replacing the disturbed tombs and monuments. We talked to the caretaker until the smell of embalming fluid got too much for us. We stopped at a small cafe where an old man with his arm in a sling and a young boy were clearing up the debris. We caught a ride In a jeep, but were stopped by an M.P. who said that Naval personnel were restricted from going beyond the beach and that our blue helmets & clothing were a perfect target for snipers who were still active in the area.

We took the long road back to the beach and were constantly warned of land mines. Once again on the beach we made our way to where our sister ships the 91, 92 & 93 lay broken, twisted & charred by fire. Seeing them made us realize even more how lucky we were. Tanks, trucks & equipment were constantly coming ashore and bulldozers were grinding here and there assisting wherever needed.

Coast Guard Flotilla 10 prepares to sail the English Channel and invade Nazi-occupied France. U.S. Coast Guard photo.
Coast Guard Flotilla 10 prepares to sail the English Channel and invade Nazi-occupied France. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Our time was nearly up so we started back to where we were supposed to meet our boat. Our boat was late and we had to wade some distance into the surf to reach It. There was only two air raids that night, but a person is so tense expecting raids any minute, that sleep is almost out of the question.

END; DATED 26, JULY [1944]:

Went ashore in evening with Qullien, Cuss and Davis. Rode LCVP and transferred to a duck. Hit Dog Red Beach. Walked up road toward St. Laurent. Visit grave yard. Saw Buncik, DeNunzio and Burton’s graves. No’s. A-4-71, A-9-174, 6-1-12. It’s fixed up nice and the little white crosses are lined up neatly In 2 directions. A flag pole, a mast from some ship is in the center and flowers are planted around It. (some Colonel paid the French $5 to bring the flowers.) Many more graves being dug. The graveyard is about a mile from the beach and overlooks a pleasant green valley.

23 comments on “D-Day through the eyes of a Coast Guardsman”

  1. Thanks for sharing your story.  My dad landed at Omaha Beach with the 16th Infantry Regiment.  I find it interesting that several years ago when I came to work with the U.S. Coast Guard that their motto is “Semper Paratus”, also.  It was a bloody landing and eventhough many were killed, it was below the expected deaths.  Hopefully we will never see another world war.  Some people say that we should fight humane wars.  War is not merely a political act, but also a real political instrument, a continuation of political commerce, a carrying out of the same by other means.  They have never experienced war and fail to realize that the very nature of was is to seek, kill and destroy.  May we take time today to honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice defending our nation.

  2. Many of my Uncles fought and died in WWII, including D-Day.  Thanks for this story.  I’m really disappointed that our president did not mark the anniversary, today.

    1. President Obama did give a speech thanking the participants. I saw it mentioned in the White House Blog coverage. The networks didn’t mention his speech on the news! Do you think the corporate honchos are controlling the election outcome? I do.

    1. Appreciate your comment, Jerry Chambless!

      Please share this story, and others like it, so we can continue to honor all those who fought for freedom.

      Very Respectfully,
      Lt. Stephanie Young
      Coast Guard Public Affairs

      1. Good Morning Lieutenant Young:

        Thank you! From my personal discussions with Coxswainmate Tommy Harbour, he asserts soldiers put ashore D-Day at UTAH beach never got their feet wet; solely because of the superior seamanship demonstrated by his USCG crewed LST PA33-4. The USCG crew felt a soldier with dry feet is a more effective fighter inland. And a LST (Large Slow Target) was just as vulnerable beached as thirty feet from shore. Perhaps the UTAH story next year?

        Anyway, the 12 June chapter, paragraph one, sentence thirteen; narrative mentions a USCG photographer “taking colored movies” from the beach. Video available online from the USCG archives?

        And thinking 12 June chapter, paragraph one, sentence eleven; contains a typographic error. The phrase ” to ‘look’ out” reads better than “to ‘lock’ out.”

        Thank you for posting, Shipmate.

        Very Respectfully,
        MCPO Joseph Benning USCG (ret)

      2. Thanks for your comment, Master Chief.

        From the information we collected from the historian’s office, we were not able to identify the photographer or the “colored movies” mentioned. Maybe some of our Coast Guard history buffs out there can dig into that?

        They were, however, able to identify the Life photographer who came aboard the engine room mentioned in the June 6 entry as Rob Capral. Only six or seven pictures – of all his pictures taken during the first assault – survived due to a processing error in England.

        With respect to future stories, please feel free to email me us at socialmedia@uscg.mil with any story ideas and we would love to work with you on them.

        Lastly, thanks for catching the typo. Just fixed it. 

        Very Respectfully,
        Lt. Stephanie Young
        Coast Guard Public Affairs

    1. Good to see your name again, Mr. Roesing! 

      Thanks for continuing to follow the missions performed by the men and women of the U.S. Coast Guard here at Compass.

      Semper Paratus.

      Very Respectfully,
      Lt. Stephanie Young
      Coast Guard Public Affairs

  3. A great story, man our grandparent’s generation were incredible, we can only aspire to their level of courage, but us Coasties hold thier sacrifices and traditions in our hearts. Semper Paratus!

  4. I believe it was MM1 Clifford Lewis that spoke to the San Francisco Bay Chief’s Mess back in ’05.  Quite a character with a wealth of sea stories – all well earned.  Semper Paratus

  5. Although my Grandfather did not land on D-Day, he was killed in the Ardains on Dec. 3rd, 1944. We ( The baby boomer Generation ) and all Generations that have followed and the ones yet to be born oue our life, liberty and our way of life to The Greastest Generation that has ever been. Hand Salute!! Former Coastie, Chief George Ferguson.

    1. Wow, great to hear from you Master Chief! 

      Very Respectfully,
      Lt. Stephanie Young
      Coast Guard Public Affairs

  6. Reference http://www.6thbeachbattalion.org/uscg-lci.html  concerning LCI 88’s beach landing at Normandy “War Correspondent A.J. Liebling was literally drenched in Coast Guard blood, unable to see through his glasses”. LCI 88 was the tip of the tip of the spear, landing the Beach Masters ashore to direct the invasion. The LCI took a direct hit from a German 88, vaporizing some of the crew. Every unit of the invasion was in harms way, under the watchful eye of an overwelmed enemy. Normandy was just the beginning of Coast Guard casualties. Our shipmates who made the supreme sacrifice can be found in Normandy, Cambridge, North Africa, Sicily Romes, & Manila American Military Cemeteries. In addition, those on eternal watch are listed on the Memorial Wall of the Missing” at each cemetery. The Coast Guard family must always remember our fallen shipmates, our shipmates missing in action and our shipmates interred overseas. Semper Paratus
    Joseph Kleinpeter, Coast Guard Combat Veterans Association 

  7. My father, LCDR John Joseph, USCG did not participate in D-Day, but he did the load out for the invasion of Souther France that was suppose to form a pincer movement.  For his efforts he was awarded the Bronze Star and given orders to go do the same thing for the Invasion of Okinawa.  He was gone for three straight years.  As a mustang he could have been reverted to his enlisted rank at the end of the war, but he retained his rank and eventually retired as a CDR. 
    He later commanded Acushnet and did the rescue of the survivors off the stern section of the Fort Mercer while Bernie Webber was doing the same thing in a much smaller vessel from the stern section of the Pendleton. Bernie was later stationed at Base Woods Hole with my father.
    Peter Joseph, Captain, USCG (Ret)

  8.  Quentin R.  Walsh was there and won the Navy Cross.  Then LCDR Walsh commanded the first Navy unit to enter Cherbourg and captured Fort Du Roule on 29 June 1944 with his Detachment.

  9. The Coast Guard per capita lost more members during WWII than any of the other services
    . My Step-Dad did landings in North Africia and chased Rommel around, Sicily and chased Italians around, Ansio and chased more Italians, Normandy and chased Germans around with the Big Red 1 Tank corp under Matthew Mark Clark.
    All the landings were by Coast Guard.
    I served 10 years in the Coast Guard 57-67

  10. As a former shallow water sailer I would like to salute and give prase to each and every one of the Men and Wemon who have served and are serving our Great Country.I served abourd the Coast Guard Cutter Monroe.If memorie serves me right the Ship was commisiond in Honor of Coastgaurdsman /Pettey Officer / Boastenmate/Coxswainmate(Dont know the first name)MONROE.I think he was the only Coastgaurdsman to reseve the Medal of Honor during WWII.I served aboard the Monroe in late 82 to Sept 22nd of 84,what a great ship and a great crew.Hawaii was our port of call.Lots of Fun and Duty.We where first on hand whene the Russians shot down Koreians air lines 007 and the last to leave.To this day I beleave it whent down in Russian waters thats becouse every time we got close to the 7 mile boundry them IDIOTS would go to GQ.I allso remember them putting guys over the side of there ships in boastenchairs painting the side of them rustbuckets.ThinkGod we done that in port.As for me I was a Cook on board and we ate Good,at least I would like to think.I remember the King Crab in Alaska now that was good eating,we whent up there every 3 months or so from Hawaii on fishery potroles.As I understand it now the Monrore is stationd in Alaska,now thats a trip.I also served aboard the Coast Gaurd Cutter Red Cedar stationed in portsmith Virginia.She was a bouytender (another great ship and crew)There were only about 30 or so guys on board that ship ,we worked our asses off(and had a good time whene we pulled in to port).I was only 17 whene I enlisted everybody was a big brother/sister to me and that ment alote to me.I hope this finds everybody in Good Health and Good Spirits,Love the coast gaurd and all who have served and who are serving now.PettyOfficer 3rd class,Phillip Helms. Sorry to have carried on like that.  P.S. as far as the shallow water statement,hell Ive been over the deppest part of  the Ocean,theres some cooking pans down there that we couldnt get cleane to prove it,Im also a GoldenDragon.Remember you have to go out but you dont have to come back,that was our motto,GODBLESS ALL OF YOU.

  11. Lt. Young, thank you for getting this history out there so we do not lose sight of those who have gone before us.  It is a shame that many of our schools, especially our high schools do not teach this history…the history of their grand and great grand parents. Keep up your mission to educate and inform.

  12. Until today I had no idea how active the United States Coast Guard was in WW II !  As a Vietnam Veteran I understand what it is like to be under fire. The courage and sacrifice that were made by our brave men and woman of the United States Coast Guard is unbelievable.  As a member of Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 20-05 I take great pleasure working with Station North Carolina Fort Macon and Station North Carolina Hobucken. To understand our past History hopefully will help our elected officials not make the same mistakes as their predecessors! May God Bless the USA!

    Ted Clark, FSO-FN
    20-05 New Bern,N.C.

  13. My uncle was the captain of LCI 350 billeted at Agatha Christie’s estate on the Dart River. He was a Harvard educated maritime lawyer and life-long sea lover and sport fisherman.

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