The WWII 300th Combat Engineers

unloading a LST
Unloading a LST by Tracy Sugarman

History of the 300th Combat Engineers, 1943 to 1945

LST and dozer ad

Normandy Invasion

When: June 1 to July 1, 1944

Where: Coast of England to Normandy in France

Troop Movements:

  • June 5- Battalion in camp near Portsmouth, England
  • June 16- First Echelon of battalion landed at Utah Beach, Normandy
  • June 19- Second Echelon of battalion hit German mine off Utah Beach (see detailed account in LST 523)
  • June 27- Third Echelon of battalion landed at Utah Beach
  • June 16 to 30- Battalion bivouacked at Carentan

Allied gliders in field in Normandy
Allied gliders in field in Normandy. Photo: Harold Palmer
Allied glider in Normandy
Allied glider in Normandy. Note German obstacles of cut off trees. Photo: Harold Palmer
Allied leaders plan the invasion of Europe under the direction of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. The code name of the invasion was Operation Overlord. Approaching D-Day, 42 Allied divisions were prepared for the invasion; 20 American, 17 British, three Canadian, one Polish and one French. Allied air support consisted of 5049 fighters, 3467 heavy bombers, 698 combat aircraft, 2316 transport aircraft and 2591 gliders. Waiting at sea were more than 6000 Allied navy vessels including; 233 LSTs (Landing Ship Tanks), 835 LCT's (Landing Craft Tanks), six battleships, 22 cruisers, 90 3PT boats, 255 minesweepers and mine layers and 72 LCIs (Landing Craft Infantry). Allied troop strength totaled 2,876,500 men.

Operation Overlord was scheduled to begin on June 4, 1944. On June 2, the 300th engineers were loaded onto LSTs (Landing Ship Tank) for the English Channel crossing. All of their building, demolition and support equipment as well as supplies and personal gear were packed on their vehicles and loaded on the LSTs with the men. The vehicles included; jeeps, two and a half ton cargo trucks (one per squad) called a Jimmy or Deuce and a half, command cars, weapons carriers, water tank trucks, bull dozers, Sherman tanks and tank-retriever trucks (to haul the bull dozers).

Wendell Plastridge, 3rd Class Petty Officer, US Navy, participated in the Normandy Invasion:

Wendell PlastridgeOn June 3, 1944, we started out on what was meant to be a three-day journey driving our LCM over 100 miles across the English Channel. When we left from our quarters at Royal Navy College, Dartmouth, England, we were told to store our sea bags and bring enough clothes for three days. The landing craft headed into the English Channel in the dark and in groups of 50. We were to land on Utah beach but Eisenhower called off the invasion so we just waited. On June 6, beginning at 6 AM our destroyers, battleships and cruisers all shelled the beach while we loaded fully equipped infantry soldiers from the troop ships to the our landing crafts. We would pull up to the troop ship and guys would come down the cargo nets to board our 50 foot LCM.

It was around six o'clock in the morning on June 6. And when we got loaded up we would make a circle around the ship and there were maybe 10 boats just like mine, each one could take 50 men so our group could take about 500 men. We were in the Fifth Wave and each wave was about two minutes apart. You would go in at about 35 miles an hour. And we would go back and do it again until the troop ships were empty. On the first trip when we lowered the ramp three of the men went down from machine gun fire. German 88 shells exploded all around us and one made a hole in my craft but it was above the waterline so we were ok. That first day I landed about a dozen or more times and the next few days we were bringing troops to shore. And by night time it quieted right down. It would be six o'clock in the evening with nothing going on so you would think it was just a regular beach. And then late one afternoon we took in about 600 prisoners. And we loaded them onto one of the LST's. One bunch of prisoners we had some guys and there was one girl about 17 and she was eight months pregnant. We all tried to get souviners from the prisoners and some got hats and I got a belt and I brought it home. One time some P51s came over and I don't know why they came over because they were shot down immediately, they were our own planes. They didn't tell anyone about that either. There were about 5000 ships shooting at them with 50 caliber machine guns, 20 mm guns and some were shooting with their 45 pistols.

Aerial dog fight as seen from the ground
Aerial dog fight as seen from the ground. Photo: Harold Palmer
It was with mixed emotions that the 300th learned they would not participate in the first landings in Normandy. Their service, however, would soon begin. In England, they were split up into three groups, referred to as Echelons, with each Echelon made up of men from each of Companies A, B & C, Battalion Headquarters, Headquarters & Service Company and the Medical Detachment.

The First Echelon was composed of Detachment "A" of Headquarters and Service Company and Companies A, B and C (less Detachments "A" and "B"). The Second Echelon was composed of Detachment "B" of Headquarters and Service Company and Detachment "A" of Companies A, B and C. The Third Echelon was composed of Headquarters and Service Company (less Detachments "A" and "B") and Detachment "B" of Companies A, B and C.

Body in a field
Body in a field. Photo: Harold Palmer
The daily Morning Reports submitted by each of the companies described the details of movement of the 300th as they left England heading to the shores of Normandy and their first few days of battle in France.

June 8 & 9: The First and Second Echelons of the 300th left the camp at Chisledon, England to move to the bivouac area at Haley Wood Wiltshire by motor convoy.

June 14: The First Echelon moved to the marshalling area in Portsmouth, England.

June 15: The First Echelon left Portsmouth at 0900 arriving at Weymouth at 1200 hours. LST 87 left Portland Harbor, under cover of darkness, at 2130 hours.

Allied bombing destroyed town, most likely in Normandy, France
Allied bombing destroyed town, most likely in Normandy, France. Photo: Harold Palmer
June 16: The First Echelon arrived on the coast of France near Carentan, at 1000 hours. They sat off the coast the rest of the day. Meanwhile, the Second Echelon left their camp in England and arrived in the marshalling area at 1405 hours.

June 17: At 0145, the First Echelon began to disembark from the LST at Sugar Beach (part of Utah Beach) and travelled by motor truck to the bivouac area eight miles north of Carentan.

George Garrison landing in Normandy:

Our battalion went across in three groups: First Wave, Second Wave, Third Wave. They told me that I would go in on the third wave. And they put us in these areas to load and the companies were separated. So I was sent down to go in on the third wave. I went down and we were visiting around that evening and there was this guy who was a little short German. He was about 5½ feet tall. He was joking, he was blonde-headed and the last thing he said was, "I want you boys to know that I am an Irish lad. The best Irish lad you ever saw." Somebody told me then that I was not going in with that group and I probably would go in with the first group. They told me that Maj. Tucker wanted my motorcycle so to take my motorcycle to Headquarters and they will tell you what to do. They said that he wanted my motorcycle because in the morning when we landed he needed it to round everyone up. So I went back to Headquarters and turned over my motorcycle. So then they said there has been another change. They said that you will going in on another boat with [James] Chambliss and [Ray] Brashear. We were going on a D-7 bulldozer, the biggest truck we had and they said you will ride that bulldozer in. So the three of us were the only ones of my unit that went on that boat and I don't know who else or what else was on there with us.

So the three of us when we got to the beach I took out a bolt and a string and measured the water. They would run the boat up on the beach and wait until the tide went out. So I knew it would be quite a drop when we drove off. But the water had gone out so we just drove down the ramp and we were there. We were on an LST and we landed at night. They moved us down onto the beach and we were ready to go and we were waiting to be told to go. They had to get some others onto the beach on the other side before they could move us in. It was a little hectic and confusing.

Jacob Reinhardt Lands at Normandy:

It was a few days before we were to strike on the shores of France you can imagine where we were that right out in a lonely clump of woods just a few miles from Camp Chiseldon England resting up for the final blow on Old Adolf's mighty fortress of Europe. The truck drivers got their final instructions which were (1) drive out of the boat on the right hand side only (2) do not shift gears on the wet beach (3) get waterproofing off of trucks as quick as possible. Well, these instructions didn't mean nothing because we did the opposite. When we hit the beach, the trucks sputtered and popped. We had so much waterproofing on the motor it couldn't breathe so the driver shifts gears as I said just opposite of what the orders read. Well, we finally made it to our bivouac area after getting stuck in a nice deep ditch and had to be winched out by another truck. By the way, a major was the cause of that. There were dead Germans lying all around in ditches, fields and houses. Boy it was a sickening sight. Oh! Yes, everything in sight was tore to hell!

Norman Webb landing at Normandy:

Norman WebbIt was about 11 days after the invasion and I went over on the first wave of the 300th. They split the Battalion up into three groups so if something happened they would not lose the full battalion or a full company. So they sent a platoon from each company on each one of the LSTs. I remember that I was on the first wave because I was already in Normandy when I heard about the second LST. It was LST 523 hitting a mine and us losing a lot of our men. We didn't go in very far after we landed, just a few miles. I remember the first night after we had bivouacked I remember going out on a detail with an officer. Three or four of us went out there into no man's land. We passed by the troops and the paratroopers were in foxholes sleeping. And then we got on past the front line and I can recall machine gun tracers going over us. They were our men and weren't really shooting at anybody but every so often our men would be firing. I don't recall if the Germans were doing the same thing. I remember thinking I was thankful that I wasn't one of those guys in the foxhole.

Warren Chancellor tells about landing at Normandy:

chancellorQuite a bit of training was done here (Swindon, England) and we began to "waterproof" all vehicles in case we needed to drive off of our ships into the shallow water. We woke up one morning and literally thousands planes were flying overhead for hours. We knew then that we would not be in the very first wave of troops onto Normandy and the invasion of France. After a couple of days we were given "gas impregnated clothing" in case the Germans used some type of poison gas. Of course we all had gas masks. We were also issued enough K-rations to last us for three days because there would be no hot meals for at least that period of time. All of us were also given two cartons of cigarettes. Here, I will tell you the price of a carton of cigarettes (ten packs) - 50 cents!! We boarded an LST (Landing Ship Tank) near the city of Portsmouth one afternoon along with all of our equipment, trucks, jeeps, bulldozers, etc. Our unit was split into three sections and scheduled to go from England to France one week apart. I was originally to go on the second ship, but the day before the first ship left, I was transferred to the first one and it left England on June 15, arriving at the coast of France about 3:00 a.m. on June 16. We made it to France with no problems. However, the ship that carried the second unit to France, that I was originally scheduled to be on, hit a mine just off the coast of France and sunk with the loss of over 125 men from our unit.

It's hard to describe what an LST looks like. They were just a large open hull down below. We entered the ship about dark and went below and stayed there until we landed. Everyone was on a truck. The LST beached while the tide was in and we sat there and waited until the tide went out. The huge doors opened and the ramp went down. We drove off on the wet sand. It was extremely dark and we could see very little.

Each LST had one or two "barrage balloons" attached with cables, fore and aft. While we were waiting for the tide to go out, a German plane flew over and hit one of the balloons. It caught fire completely illuminating the beach. There were several LSTs there. The plane did not go down. We were just a little worried about more planes attacking since the beach was lit up like a Christmas tree for a few minutes and the Germans could see all the ships down there. No more came over.

There was quite a bit of mortar and artillery fire but none close to us. We were not close enough to the front at that time to be able to hear rifle fire. We then moved inland at a snail's pace and it was not long before we heard the rifle and machine guns. We then entered a small hedgerow encircled field and stayed there until probably mid-morning. This was when our first mine field was laid. There were plenty men from the 101st Airborne Division all around us. Needless to say, we knew we were at or very near the front.

Frederick A. Wild, Jr to Normandy:

Frederick A. Wild, JrI don't remember much about our trip to the port of embarkation, except that we drove by Stonehenge. I think we left for France through Portsmouth and landed on D+4 on Utah Beach. I was not aware of any sense of danger and, indeed, I recall sitting on the deck of the LSM in a director's chair, reading a V-book, the original soft back books. We anchored off the beach, waited for the tide to go out and drove off in our weapons carrier without even getting our feet wet. I was with the first third of our battalion brought in on June 10th as I remember it.

Shortly after landing, the battalion commander, Major, later Lieutenant Colonel Riel Crandall, was replaced by Major John D. Tucker; Major Crandall was taken into the 1122nd Combat Engineer Group as a staff officer. That group, commanded by Colonel Spengler, a West Pointer, was composed of the 104th Engineer C Battalion, whose medical officer was a Dr. Marcus, who was decorated for bravery; Dr. Cohen who looked and behaved like Phil Silvers, was the dental officer; the 207th Engineer C Battalion, whose medical officer was Dr. George Myers of Cincinnati and whose dental officer was Captain Heaton; and the 300th Engineer Combat Battalion. The staff of the 300th included, besides Major Tucker, S1 (Personnel and Records), Lt. Charles Haller; S2 (Intelligence), Lt. Menard of Tucson, Arizona; Executive Officer and S3 (Plans and Operations) Major Jeff Jeffries and Lt. Dolan; and S4 (Supply) Captain Leonard Wood and Lt. Armstrong. Lt. Shoop was the reconnaissance officer and Lt. Hugh D'Anna, the A.D.E. We later had Captain Leslie Gates as executive officer and after him a Major Jagow. Captain Schwartz commanded A Company, Captain Falvey, B Company and Captain Armour, C Company. Lt. Peter Ellerman of Chicago ran the Motor Pool and was responsible for the maintenance of the many vehicles; our dental officer was Dr. Carl E. Binger of California and after I sent him home, Dr. Burke of Scranton, Pennsylvania.

Time for Dale Williams to go to France:

WilliamsWe are then stripped of all things that are not compulsory, such as neckties and I haven't worn one since, and overcoats, and, in fact, everything that we could not carry on our backs and a small duffle bag including our bedding.

The first of the unit gets on shore by D+9 and the second part—well, they did not make it as they hit a mine at sea, and that is where I lost buddies such as Alexandra [Clifford C. Tech 5 KIA 19 June 44], Wilkerson [Leon A. Tech 5 H&S MIA 19 June 44 (the boy I came across the Atlantic with) and Vardaman [Austin D. KIA 19 June 44] and many others.

It was called Utah Beach and was well played out in "Life" and "Time" but the town was Ste. Mere Eglise. We landed at Eighth Corps under 1110th Group and that was Danny Boy which we can all remember well—Blood and Guts did not have anything on him.

The famous Tucker Bridge cost several lives including the CO. We get lots of replacements including infantry to TD boys.

Kal Lutsky from England to Normandy:

Kal LutskyWhen I left England I was sure I was going to be a tank destroyer. That was on D-Day plus 1. After I landed on the beach, on the third day I became attached the 300th Combat Engineers. And I said to myself, why? Well, the 300th Combat Engineers had three companies, A, B and C and Headquarters Company. A B and C were companies constantly working with bridges and building bridges. I was attached to the Headquarters Company. So the 300th came to Normandy in three waves. The first wave landed in Normandy and the second wave with 250 people on an LST blew up in the channel. And one of those boys who was transferred from Headquarters Company to a line company, he had a twin brother on board. When all of those people were lost I became one of the replacements. Now it is two and half or almost three weeks in Normandy and we have to break out of Normandy. I am assigned to be a water supply technician. Of all the people in the 300th Battalion, I am sure that I was one of the youngest. I had just turned 19 when I landed in Normandy.

When I got to Normandy I picked up with Sgt. Donald Ross and two others. I was a water purification technician. He was a Tech Sgt. and he replaced one of the men who was Scoop Shelton and he was the original Sgt. of that group. Well, he screwed up and Ross took over. So now there were four of us. Shelton was from Oklahoma. And the third person to be in that group was another fellow named Joe Burden and he was from Louisiana. He was a very, very lazy guy. Scoop was in a fog and he was angry at Sgt. Ross taking his job. He screwed up.

George Garrison laid mines shortly after landing at Normandy:

In Normandy, we laid five miles of antitank mines between the 101st Airborne and the German Panzers. We laid mines that had 11 pounds of TNT in them. You could carry two in each hand. The detonator sits in the top of that mine and it has a safety clip and there is a spider. The spider has three or four legs that hook around the side of that mine and the detonator is right in the middle. When you pull the safety clip if the tank runs over it, it goes off. You dig the sod up and you dig a hole the size of that mine. You put the mine in and cover it back up with the sod so they can't see it. We did it day and night but mostly at night. We lost one fellow. This boy from C Company was laying a mine. He didn't get it quite level so he stomped that mine and he had already pulled the clip. It blew and it took his leg off and his arm off and half of his face. He was laying out there in the minefield and he was begging for his mama. He did not make it.

Harold Meyer laid minefields in Normandy:

MeyerWe landed on Utah Beach on June 16 and our first job was to lay a minefield. We laid the minefield between the Germans and the 101st Airborne in the hedgerows. The 101st were guards for us and we hauled the mines in at night and laid them. We had several men with us and some were talking too loud. I told them to keep quiet because there were Germans out there. We got the minefield laid but we lost one of our men on that mission.[CPL Clarence Pilkington KIA 6/18/44] After we laid the mines, there were three other engineers besides me and a lieutenant, and we were mapping the mines for removal. We come on a sniper and he was shooting at us. We were dodging bullets but none of us got hurt.

Norman Webb witnesses a horror:

I was out there laying a deliberate minefield and holding the spacing line with marks on it where the mines would go. I heard a loud explosion and hit the dirt. I turned my head and I saw this body up in the air perhaps 6 or 8 feet spread eagle out. It looked like a dummy from my distance. It turned out that this was one of our own men and the mine had exploded on him and the force of it threw him that high into the air and killed him, of course. He was Corporal Pilkington. I was told by the medics that he did live for quite a while.

Kenneth "Cowboy" Morris describes landing at Normandy:

chancellor We got on the LST and we knew that it had already gone over and brought back a lot of wounded. It was hot underneath and in one corner there was a stack of bloody clothes that had been taken off the wounded man. Looking at those clothes and that smell was not a good feeling going in where they had been. We were on the first wave of the 300th. You have never seen fireworks like that. The battleships were firing and those 16 inch guns they really roared.

When we were unloading off the LST on the beach there were a bunch of 12 x 12 bridge timbers on top of my truck. It was a pretty big load. You know that ramp you go down was metal and steep. I started to go down and something on the truck got wedged in and stuck on the ramp. The load was so heavy I couldn't go forward or back. They had told us to stay bumper-to-bumper so nobody would get lost and so we were scared just sitting there alone. Here I am stuck there and the convoy went on ahead and left the rest of us. We had one of those big dozers on board and they unloaded it and got behind me and with the blade they shoved me off the ramp.

So we went on down and there was a guard on the road and there were airplanes strafing all around. So I said to the guard, "Did some trucks go through here." He said, "Yes and get the hell out of here. Get on out of here before you get me killed." So we went on down a mile or so and I stopped the truck. Lt. Taylor was riding in my truck and he said, 'What did you stop for?" I said, "Well where are we going?" He said, "I don't know either." I said, 'Sir there are a bunch of Germans up there and I'll be damned if I am going to run into them. I'm going to stay right here and let our men find us." He said "I think we ought to go find them." And I said, "Nope I'm staying here until they come back." I had all those trucks behind me you see. So we all stayed there for about an hour or so and they came back looking for us and we went on together. Lt. Taylor was a real good soldier and he and I got along just fine even though I didn't always agree with him.

Frederick A. Wild, Jr in Normandy:

After landing in France on Utah Beach, we drove tamely enough into the bocage country and made camp. The battalion, or what was left of it, was asked to lay a minefield and I was told to set up an aid station nearby. We were taken to the site by Lt. Shoop, who advised me to stay there until he came back for us; then he left. Except for some mortar fire which we could hear, things were pretty quiet until a couple of stretcher bearers brought in an unfortunate fellow named Pilkington. In the process of laying mines, as I understand it, a saucer-like depression has to be dug, the mine placed in it and the sod replaced over the mine to conceal it. The story in this case was that Pilkington had dug too small a pit for the mine and, realizing this after placing the mine in the hole, instead of removing the mine and enlarging the hole, he stomped on it. He had probably been told that these mines wouldn't detonate since they were anti-tank mines, requiring the great weight of a tank to trigger. There was nothing to be done for him. One leg had been blown off at the knee and the other at the hip and he was badly burned, unconscious and in deep shock. I think he probably bled to death from the thigh wound. He was the first of the few casualties that represented the extent of my professional involvement in the war. One of my aid men, Tieskie, won a Silver Star decoration that day for bravery.

As day fell and twilight came on, I began to get a little antsy about the return of Lt. Shoop and when he didn't appear, I ordered the station packed up and assumed that we ought to go down the road to our right. Without being dramatic, I told the men to scrounge up any weapons they could find, Geneva Convention be damned, and we set out. Twilight fell as we proceeded. Finally, I took a rifle, got out of the cab of the weapons carrier and led it down the two ruts that served as a road, with only the following vehicle's cat's eyes for illumination. There was no alternative. We stumbled into Carentan; the town was still, with the sepia color I associate with the ballet Rodeo but fortunately, we saw a sign that said 300th Engineers Headquarters and so came home. Next morning, Lt. Shoop said to me solicitously, What happened last night? I went back for you and you were gone! I could have cheerfully choked him.

Cowboy Morris first days in Normandy:

Those first few days in Normandy we didn't know what to expect. We pulled into this field for the night and one of those German planes came over and strafed the area we were at. The next morning we were all scattered and we found our Mexican boy down the road in the ditch. When they started strafing everyone took off running and jumped into the ditch. We moved to another field and Lt. [William] Taylor told us if we saw any Germans on patrol you just let them go because we don't want them to know we are here. He said that if they got too close to something we don't want them to see they will take over.

I had to take care of that truck, day and night. It was my responsibility. They told us that this truck would cost a lot of money to replace it but the Army can replace you for two dollars. That truck was more important to the Army than your life so whatever you do over there you take care of that truck. I stayed right around that truck all the time even when I was sleeping. I now think how stupid that was. I had about 3,000 pounds of explosives on the truck and a .50 caliber machine gun box full of detonators and caps. I didn't think much about it but if any shrapnel hit this truck would blow. But you took care of your truck it was only you, day and night.

Our men were building an airstrip and I was hauling dirt in my truck. The road was too narrow so we had to make our own road to go around it. I was starting to dump a load of dirt when a German plane came over and he was bombing this airfield. When the bomb went off the concussion knocked me half down and I took off and scattered that dirt all the way down the road.

Warren Chancellor tells of being separated from his unit his first night in battle:

Allied bombing destroyed town, most likely in Normandy, France
Allied bombing destroyed town, most likely in Normandy, France. Photo: Harold Palmer
The medics that accompanied the advance unit of the 300th had a very scary incident the first full night after arriving in Normandy on June 17, 1944. The medics were: Hoyt Neill, Robert Taylor (driver), Arthur Savage and Warren Chancellor and led by Capt. Fred Wild. The unit bivouacked in a field surrounded by hedgerows and Capt. Wild requested the medics set up our operations a few yards from the unit. Trucks from our unit were in and out of the field quite often and we paid little attention to what they were doing. About 2300 hours, we noticed there was no movement of vehicles - just the noise of artillery fire.

We began to look further and discovered that we were the only ones of the 300th left in the field. Scared and concerned would be putting it mildly. The unit had left us stranded. We quickly threw all our gear into the truck and proceeded to exit the field. When we got to the exit, we had no idea in which direction they had gone. We decided to go left and proceeded slowly with only the "cat eye" headlights. The farther we went the louder the machine gun and rifle fire got. When Taylor hit the brakes to turn around, they made the loudest screeeeeech I had ever heard in my life. I just knew we were gone at that point. I could just see all of us as German prisoners.

Church badly damaged by Allied bombing, most likely in Normandy, France
Church badly damaged by Allied bombing, most likely in Normandy, France. Photo: Harold Palmer

We turned around and slowly went about two miles when we got a glimpse of a small light in the distance. We had no idea if it was American or German. Deciding there was nothing else to do but proceed, that is what we did. We got lucky! It was one of our MPs [military police] directing traffic. We inquired if a convoy had passed by and he said that it had. This was one time we were extremely happy to see an MP. After going another mile or two we reached the 300th convoy. I have often wondered how we would have ever been reunited with the unit if we had not located them that night.

June 18: The Second Echelon arrived at the marshaling area at 0130 hours. At 0830 hours, they began loading aboard LST 523 and left Portland Harbor at 2100 hours headed to France. About a mile off Utah Beach, LST 523 struck a submerged enemy mine around 1250 hours. LST 523 had struck an acoustic-magnetic mine planted by the Germans in the vicinity of Iles St. Marcouf. The blast broke the LST in half sinking it. At least 90 men were killed in the explosion and more than 35 wounded. Survivors were picked up by several ships and put aboard the U.S.S. Hayfield and the U.S.S. Atlas. The 300th soon received replacements for the lost personnel with most of the men from New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

June 29: The Third Echelon moved from the marshalling area in England and at 1700 hours began loading aboard LCT 59. (One Army record shows it as LCT 435.) They departed Portland Harbor in Weymouth at 2200 hours and arrived at Utah Beach at 1100 hours. They began disembarking at 2315 proceeding by motor truck to the bivouac area of the 300th located at Picauville, France.

Tomme Elliott trained at Camp White as a member of the 300th Combat Engineers. He was transferred to the 276th ECB before the Normandy Invasion. He is one of the few original 300th men who went ashore on June 6, 1944. Here is his account of that day:

elliottI landed D-Day on Omaha Beach, Easy Red section, as part of the 16th and 116th Regimental Combat teams. The 276th ECB, of which I was a part, furnished soldiers trained to blow up or dismantle the beach obstacles to create gaps for the main body of troops to secure beach and inland designated areas. The main ECBs were the 299th, 146th, 176th and our small unit of the 276th. Each of these units had specific tasks. Our unit went ashore with 186 personnel. We landed in utter confusion. The heavy cross fire slowed us down and we had to make changes in plans in order for the main body to land. The 299th was the best unit on the beach and took the most casualties. Our unit had 47% casualties and the others about the same. The 146th also had a rough time on Easy Green beach. After several days, the beach was secure enough for depleted units to combine or receive new personnel. We then headed for Caen.

Excerpt from the daily War Diary of General Courtney H. Hodges, Commander of the First Army, maintained by his aide Maj. William Sylvan and approved by General Hodges:

Friday, 21 July 1944: At 0100 there was a series of shots - three minutes or so - wild shouts of "Gas," "Gas" and the alarm was sounded in the CP [Command Post]. General Bradley said he poked his head out of the trailer, and asked the sentry if there had been any planes overhead and receiving a negative answer, went back to sleep. General Hodges half-dressed to see what the excitement was about, and then went back to bed. Ten minutes later shots and shouts started again and again it was an all-clear. After the third "false alarm" a sound truck patrolled up and down the road , a quiet voice repeating; "Attention all troops, there has been no gas. Do not give the alarm unless you personally smell or see gas." This provided effective medicine, for there was not further alert.

Excerpt from one of the 300th Newsletters, Enjun Ears Gazette, H & S Company, 20 Feb 45:

Back in the days when "H" Hour was only a few days old, the 300th Engineer Combat Battalion was designated to lay one of the first mine fields in France.

It happened near Carentan, France, when the Germans were putting forth their strongest attempts to push us back into the Channel. T/Sgt. Jack J. Heimlick, Indiana, and T/Sgt. Don Geiser, Ohio, were taking a load of mines and fuses to the area where the field would be laid. Coming to a crossroads, Cpl. William Atteberry, the driver, stopped the truck to check the map and course from that point. Lt. Nathan Campbell, Michigan, who was not far from the junction since he was waiting to guide the truck and its deadly load to the prescribed area, yelled the news of the corners hazards and the men moved out immediately, not one second too soon for the eruption of earth where the truck had been a few seconds before, was an 88, intended for mines, men and material.

The truck moved on, reaching the area to find it under small arms and artillery fire. Lt. Charles B. Shoop, Ohio, told the men that an enemy patrol was coming down the road and that they had better prepare for a few hot minutes. A burst of enemy MG fire caused the men to jump into foxholes previously dug by the Germans. T/Sgt. Heimlick jumped into the nearest hole, onto the back of surprised Sgt. Newcomb, Texas. Sgt. Newcomb protested to the crowded conditions, telling Heimlick to take refuge in another foxhole nearby. Heimlick refused, saying the hole was big enough and if anyone was moving, it would not be him. Conditions finally improved, the mines were unloaded and the truck returned to the Battalion CP with the three jittery and baptized veterans of foxhole mine laying.

Excerpt from one of the 300th Newsletters, Enjun Ears Gazette, H&S Company, 3 Mar 45:

A young soldier recently came to this company as a reinforcement. He doesn't claim to be brave nor heroic but he does take this war seriously, as an action, for which he recently received a "citation" proves.

Unknown by members of this company, T/4 Nanco Delouis, proved himself on D plus when he was one of the men on that narrow, deadly beach back in Normandy. Like the rest of us, he was scared, praying that among all that death and destruction, he would be spared. He was also nervous and a little bewildered what that "gas alarm" was sounded. We all know how it felt when he believed we were being enveloped by that horrible weapon. When we believed everything, including ourselves, was permeated by the gas. When we suddenly realized that what we had been taught about the care of the gas mask was important. Delouis experienced the same reactions. He also felt that his mask was a priceless thing during the first few minutes of the alert, contrary to the opinion that it was "extra baggage" a few days before.

Delouis was working with a colonel during that time and that colonel obtained a "citation" for Delouis which he received a few days ago. When the alarm was sounded, Delouis put his mask on, adjusting it in the customary manner, sincerely believing the alarm to be accurate and that gas was in the vicinity. After donning his mask, he noticed the colonel, a little flustered, looking around anxiously with no mask on.

The colonel told Delouis that he did not have a mask since it had been lost during the confusion in the landings and that he had not found time to get it replaced. Delouis immediately removed his mask, fully aware of the consequences and realizing that his life was being offered. He offered the mask to the colonel, saying that since it was the only mask between the two of them, the colonel should take it because he was more important than himself. Luckily, we don't know for which one, the alarm was fake and gas had not been used.

John Durant describes the "gas" attack in Normandy:

durant On Utah Beach, the alarm went off in the middle of the night up and down the beach. Charles Milton Farley, Kenneth Kaiser and myself were under a big camouflage tarpaulin. We set up our tent and the alarm went off - gas - gas in the area - gas in the area! Charles Farley put his hand out and a big droplet of water hit him on the top part of his hand. We couldn't have a light so Charlie pulls his hand back and thought it was mustard gas. In the first aid kit there was ointment for mustard gas. Charlie put that ointment all over his hand. Sooner or later it blistered his hand. It wasn't mustard gas but droplets of water that dropped off the tarpaulin! All of us were scared to death. Mustard gas, it's just a funny story.

When the 300th landed on Utah Beach they were heavily burdened for the trip from the LST to shore. Each engineer carried most of the following: bag of Hagensen (explosive) packs; wire cutters; gas mask; ammunition cartridges; inflatable life belt; canteen; rations; and first aid pack. They carried either carbines or Garand rifles and bazooka torpedoes. Some carried mine detectors or heavy wire reels for communication lines. Over all this was a fur-lined jacket.

B-25 grounded possibly in France
Lockheed P-61 Black Widow. Photo: Harold Palmer
By the time the 300th landed at Normandy, Allied forces had gained some foothold on the German-occupied coast of France. Even with the strength of nearly three million Allied forces (all services of American, English and Canadian troops), German resistance, although somewhat surprised by the landings, inflicted huge Allied losses.

The expansion of the Allied beachhead from June 6 to 12 involved bitter fighting around Caen and Carentan. British forces pushed toward Caen while U.S. forces moved from the coast westward to the port of Cherbourg that was taken after fierce resistance. The Germans completely demolished the port so, initially, it could be used for nothing more than beach unloading. It was the skill and determination of the engineer battalions that put Cherbourg Port back in operation in less time than even the most optimistic predictions.

Although at less than half strength and within a week of landing, the 300th had laid a three-mile minefield in front of the 101st Airborne Division while under mortar and small arms fire from the 6th German Parachute Regiment. The 101st was instrumental in the success of the earlier June 6 primary invasion force facing grave dangers and suffering terrible casualties. Cpl. Clarence Pilkington, Co. C of the 300th, was killed while laying this minefield as he replaced the sod on a mine he had just planted. A few days after completing the minefield, the 238th Combat Engineers were assigned to clear these same mines. Although under enemy fire, they removed 12,000 mines in two days.

Don Richter recalls the great gas scare on the Normandy beachhead:

After the Battalion had been gathered in a single bivouac likely sometime in early July, the word "gas attack, apply gas masks." The Third Platoon of Co. B had just gone out on a platoon mission when we heard the word of gas attack which spread almost instantly across the beachhead. Everyone put down tools and weapons hurrying to squad trucks to secure gas masks from their storage on the squad side boards. I was not able to find my mask as was Ralph Woolley. There was an unclaimed mask affixed to the truck. The driver had applied his mask and told us to hop aboard and he would rush both of us back to the bivouac where we could likely secure our masks.

During the several mile trip, glancing at the unclaimed mask in its place on the sideboard but neither of us would take it and apply it to our own face thus saving us from the horrors of being gassed. We looked at each other and then to the mask but neither made a move for it. Along the road we saw soldiers with masks covering their faces and French civilians with handkerchiefs or towels over their faces and closing up their homes to the deadly gas.

Upon reaching our company bivouac we found our supply sergeant and requested that he supply us with two gas masks so that we could put them on and save our lives. Supply Sergeant then asked through his mask, "What the hell happened to your gas mask that you had?" We answered that we did not know. 'They just disappeared from the truck before we could get them and use them." Supply Sergeant looked at the truck and seeing the mask there said, "I just don't know why neither of you guys took that mask on the truck and used it but here is one replacement mask and one of you can get that mask off the truck and use it."

I took the mask on the truck but now smelling no gas and feeling no need for the mask, I slung the bag closed on my body. No one ever knew where the poison gas scare started but thankfully it was a false alarm. I kept this mask as mine all the way across France and Belgium but never keeping it on my person, only slung over the third squad truck. Then in January 1945, when I became the company clerk for Co. B, I took it along with me to Personnel Section of Headquarters where I kept it stowed along with my duffel bag.

One day Capt. Hugh D'Anna, Company Commander of Headquarters Company, came through telling us all to get our gas masks and present them for his inspection. When I opened my gas mask bag, a can of K Ration clattered to the floor. That startled the captain as well as myself as we watched that can roll around on the floor. Having any foreign object in a gas mask bag was not approved at all. Capt. D'Anna asked me, "Soldier, is that your gas mask bag?" I confess that it was and accepted the punishment of carrying the bag on my person for one week. It was then I saw it inside the gas mask for the first time the name of the Third Platoon Sergeant Marcus Brod. He must have taken my gas mask in Normandy when the alarm sounded for the gas attack.

I got a lot of ribbing such as, "Hey, Richter, are we having a gas attack?" I suppose the punishment could have been worse requiring me to have it attached to my face for a week. I was more careful after that.

The After Action Report of the 1110th Engineer Combat Group provides details of action in France in the days immediately after the engineers arrived in Normandy. The 300th was attached to the 1110th at the time. The following are excerpts from the report section titled "Enemy". The time period is 11 June through 20 June.

Soldier in foxhole taking aim on something
Soldier in foxhole taking aim on something. Photo: Harold Palmer
Principal enemy action was received in contact with elements of the 6th Parachute Division of the 21st SS Panzer Division and the 1075th "Ost Bn." The 1110th Engineer Combat Group was supporting the 101st Airborne Division in the vicinity of Carentan, France, and during this time the 300th Combat Engineer Battalion came in close enemy contact while laying minefield southeast of Carentan in front of the 101st Airborne Division's main line of resistance. [June 19 Report 300- Minefield laid forward of 101AB Div. 90% complete. 1 EM {Cpl. Clarence Pilkington} killed by premature explosion of land mine due to artillery fire. Contact with elements of the 6th Parachute Division was made constantly and mortar and small arms fire were received throughout this period.]

When the Group moved to Picauville, France, the only contact made was by reconnaissance units near Barneville, France. In the VIII Corps advance from St. Sauveur le Vicomte towards Le Haye du Puits, France, numerous abatis and mine roadblocks were encountered. Most of these were laid by the [German] 345th Infantry Division Engineers and were protected by that unit. However, two unknown OST battalions (elements) were encountered and numerous prisoners were taken by the 82nd Airborne Division. Information concerning these mines was learned from these prisoners.

The enemy fought a tenacious delaying action and our attack was made with Infantry-Tank-Engineer Teams. The morale of the enemy units contacted during this phase was very high, and in no case was there a riot on their part. All [enemy] withdrawals were carefully planned and executed, and strong holding units which slowed our advance.

Jerry Barton recalls landing at Normandy:

Jerry BartonAt some level of command, it was decided that the 300th should be transported to a beach in France in three separate waves with a few days in between the departure of each group. My part of H & S (Headquarters & Service) was assigned to the first wave which went first. We were loaded into 6' x 6' trucks and other vehicles for the trip to the harbor on the English Channel at Weymouth, England where we were loaded onto an LST (Landing Ship Tank) landing craft. Our vehicles had all been waterproofed just in case it was needed in the landing. At about 11:00 p.m. on June 15, our first wave drove off the landing craft onto a sandy beach at a site called Utah Beach when the tide was low.

By the end of the full day ashore in France, we were set up in a bivouac area with pup tents and fox holes. Each man was instructed to dig his fox hole upon arrival at any new bivouac site. Because of the importance of food, the setting up of the field kitchen was always important. During that first week in France we saw the crashed gliders that had ferried in the first batch of troops early in the morning of June 6, mile after mile of hedgerows of apple trees and the torn and mangled trees that had been bombarded by artillery and other fire. Dead farm animals were everywhere.

300th Engineer Hubert Reinke describes laying the mine fields:

reinke Right after we got off of the boat, around the 101st Airborne paratrooper outfit, the Germans were pushing pretty hard. They called us up. The way it worked was that each squad had maybe 300 yards to cover. This was your area and we strung out, I guess, about 3 miles of anti-tank mines. The 299th was there too.

When we got through we went out in an open field and they [the Germans] started firing at us with artillery. We started running and I ran just as far as I could. There was a blown out tank and I got behind it and said, "If the tank blows up, I blow up too." I got my breath and ran back to our trucks. Just as we were leaving a shell hit where we were just standing.

Domingo Muniz describes nearly getting shot in Normandy:

Domingo MunizWe were clearing some mines right after we landed in France and I went into a ditch when they started firing at us. It had a bunch of wires and I got wrapped up in the wires and I couldn't get out. I had got my backpack tangled in it and nobody helped me. I finally got the wire off the backpack and got out of the ditch and started running on the pavement. When I did this a sniper shot at me and the bullet hit real near me and I knew it was a bullet because sparks flew out. So I went back in the ditch and jumped over the fence. I said to the guys, "Why didn't you help me?" They said they didn't know that I was stuck out there. Good thing I didn't get hit. Somebody in the company found the sniper up to the top of a tree and they shot him and killed him. Yeah they got them.

Charles Fuller dries a weapons carrier:

Charles FullerWe were setting up this water point in Normandy and we were working day and night. We had traffic going and coming at that water point. I was exhausted so I wanted to drive some water out. So I got this weapons carrier and two guys came with me with the five gallon cans of water in the truck. So here I am sailing along and the youngster sitting next to me said, "Are you tired Sgt.?" So, I said 'I'm okay." So another mile or so he said again, "Now if you are really tired, I'll drive for you." I finally took the hint, he was scared to death at my driving. I didn't know how to drive that carrier and traffic was heavy, very, very heavy. So I let him jump over and take over the driving and he was much relieved. I asked him what he did before the Army. He told me he drove trucks before the Army.

300th Engineer Randy Hanes describes his work in the minefield:

hanesDue to my drawing and mapping ability and my reconnaissance school training, I was assigned the plotting and recording of each mine for 2½ miles on the outskirts of Carentan. At 2200 hrs., I took a detail of five men on an advance party into the hedgerow/orchard (bocage) area. Orders were not to shoot even if we were fired on so as not to give our position or mission away. This is scary damn stuff! There was to be no talking, no hurried moving about - "The silence is golden" idea.

We were so far forward of our lines that we could hear the Germans talking. There were three of them in a machine gun nest chatting away unknowing of our presence. One of then said, "Guten nacht," got on a motorcycle and rode away. Being unaware of our presence, we could have easily dispatched all three but - Orders are Orders!

After plotting far enough ahead, the rest of our men followed with the laying of a deliberate (camouflaged) mine field.

Leonard Burke describes landing at Normandy:

BurkeWe went through a bunch of bushes and it was so damn dark we had to hold each other's belt. The next day we put mines in the dirt. I was the one who put in the fuses. I was the demolition man. There were still dead paratroopers in the trees. They couldn't cut them down or they'd be shot.

Dead German soldier in Normandy after the invasion
Dead German soldier in Normandy after the invasion. Photo: Willie Hein

Harold Meyer describes landing at Normandy:

Everywhere you stepped there were dead bodies. It was horrific to see. You didn't know the people but you knew they were soldiers from America and were Allies. We saw some German soldiers dead there too but we didn't pay much attention to them. There was still fighting going on. It was still really intense nine days later.

Leonard Burke recalls laying mine fields in Normandy:

We had been laying mines in a field in Carentan when a paratrooper from the 101st Airborne came running down the road. I asked, "Are you hurt?" He was okay but he said a German sniper was in a nearby tree. He said, "Point your rifles toward that tree near the top and let's fire." I think the 13 of us must have hit that guy. You could hear him coming down busting the branches and a big thud when he hit the ground. We got out of there in a damn hurry.

Billy Byers meets a paratrooper in Normandy:

MeyerSoon after we landed in Normandy we had very little territory in Allied possession. Our company was laying a mine field between us and the German Army. A group of paratroopers was also there.

One of the paratroopers asked me, "What kind of outfit are you guys in?"

I told him we were Combat Engineers.

He said, "I wouldn't want any part of that!"

I couldn't believe he said that. He was a paratrooper, which is probably the toughest and most dangerous job of all. Many of the paratroopers didn't even survive the jump. I remember seeing a few of them still suspended from the trees when we arrived.

I guess the job you are chosen for and trained to do, no matter how difficult or dangerous, is easier and safer than another soldier's job.

Hubert Reinke recalls being in a foxhole in Normandy:

When we were laying the mine field, the 101stAirborne had fox holes. I was looking for a place to hide because we were under fire. One ole boy said, "Get in the hole with me." So I ran and jumped in the hole with him.

Everything got quiet and we heard the command car come in. He was dressed up all in creases and shirt, walked around and looked in our foxhole. He saw that the 101st Airborne guy had a German Luger stuck in his belt. It was a Colonel. He looked down and said, "Soldier, I want you to give me that Luger." This 101st guy said, "Look Pal, I killed one son-of-a-bitch to get it and I'd kill another son-of-a-bitch to keep it."

We never heard anything more about it.

First 300th church service after the Normandy Invasion
First 300th church service after the Normandy Invasion. Photo: Willie Hein

George Garrison and Hersey Bars:

I pulled a stunt one time there in Normandy. When some of the trucks were coming off the beach and somebody told me that there was Tropical Hershey Bars in the boxes on one of the trucks. Those Tropical Hershey Bars were real big about 6 inches long and about 2 inches thick. So I was on my motorcycle as the trucks with the supplies came up to an intersection in Carentan. You could turn right or left and all the supplies were supposed to go to the right to go to Ste.-Mere-Eglise. There was an MP there at the intersection and he stopped every one of the trucks. And I was there with the MP and I thought I knew which boxes were the Hershey Bars so I took one of the boxes off and pitched it off the truck and it went down an embankment. I didn't think much about it. The next morning I had orders to report to Col. Spengler. His Group Headquarters was on the right at that intersection. He was in a six-man tent and so I reported to him. And he said, "You are doing real well. Do you ride a motorcycle?" I said, "Yes sir." He said, "You want to tell me what you thought was in that box you threw off the truck?"And I said, "Yes sir. I threw one off" He said, "Would you like to see what you could get court-martialed over? You don't fool with those trucks coming off the beach and what did you think you were getting?" I told him I thought it was Tropical Hershey Bars. So he said, "I want you to look over there by the desk." And there was a box with a tin can and it. He said, "You know what that is." I said, "No." "That's the box you threw off. It's dehydrated potatoes. Would you like to go to the stockade for stealing dehydrated potatoes." I said, "Sir, I don't even want to eat them." So he gave me a little lecture and he was very nice and he let me go.

Don Richter describes the Company marker:

richter Capt. Farley was a gambler. He was commander of Co. B. when he chose the marker for Co. B to be Lucky 7 dice. He had Charles Olive, who was an artist, paint a Lucky 7 on the helmet of each man of Co. B. We were moving Bailey Bridge equipment from Normandy Beachhead to La Chappelle, France. It was dark when we were unloading. These Red Ball trucks were bringing them in. The trucks stopped and the Lieutenant in charge said, "Just dump it right here and they can hand it in by hand." So I said, "Just a minute." I walked up to him and he mistook my Lucky 7 for Captain's bars. He said, "Oh, Captain what can we do for you then." I said, "Just bring your trucks and follow me up here off the road so my men won't have to muscle it in." So he did that and that's how Lucky 7 saved the men of the 300th a lot of work.

Ben L. white talks about his time when he landed at Normandy:

Ben WhiteI remember we were going down the road I think it was in Carrentan after we landed and they had already pretty well cleaned it up. And beside the road this dresser was setting up on a mattress and it was at this house and everything else was blown away. There were no walls beside where this dresser was just setting up there. That story made the "Stars and Stripes" when they took a picture of it. And the mirror on the dresser was not even broken.

Then we got to the hedgerows where the 101st Airborne was. And we went up there to the hedgerows and this soldier looked over at me and he said, "Are you scared kid" and I answered it by just shaking my head "sure I was scared." So he reached and pulled his canteen out and he passed it to me and said, "Take a drink of this." So I took a drink of that and it was whiskey and I don't know what kind it was but it was pretty stout. I have often wondered if when he bailed out of that airplane he brought that whiskey with him.

Normandy battlefield soon after the invasion
Normandy battlefield soon after the invasion. Photo: Willie Hein
He was talking to me and he said that he had already fought over there in Africa and Sicily and it didn't seem like anything bothered him and he was just as calm as he could be.

And so we laid that minefield in front of the 101st Airborne. I can't remember this old boy's name but I am pretty sure he was in the third platoon and I knew him pretty well. We were laying the minefield and I don't know what set the mine off but of course it just blew him up. He had those ammunition belts across the shoulders. And when the mine blew it also blew the ammunition that he had on his belt over his shoulders and so it tore him up pretty bad. And that paratrooper told me, "I'm going to give you some advice. You can find something to eat and you can figure out a way to stay warm and above all else don't run out of ammunition." So I carried plenty of ammunition for the rest of the war.

Chuck Bice remembers the hedgerows in Normandy:

Chuck Bice John Rekich was a replacement and a Yankee. He was real homesick in England so I kind of took him under my wing. We were on the hedgerow in Normandy supporting the 82nd Airborne Division when we got fired on. A bullet went right under Rekich's nose and knocked dirt into his face. He was on kind of a bank. I was checking my guys and I saw him slide off the bank. So I ran down there and he was real dark. I said, "John are you all right, you are just as white as you could be." And, he said, "Bice, that son of a gun just shot at me. He just then realized that the Germans was aiming at him.

Hedgerows in Normandy, France
Hedgerows in Normandy, France. Photo: Willie Hein

You know we went over there as the best bridge builders according to the General and all the reports. That was really our goal and purpose. But when we got there in Normandy we were in support of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions. We were on the hedgerows with them and several times we were fired on. We laid mine fields and we did anything somebody needed us to do.

P-47s as recalled by Don Richter:

I looked at the story and video about the P-47 pilots operating in France in 1945. It reminds me of being involved in installation of an airstrip that was base for P-47s on the Normandy Beachhead in June 1944. The runway was constructed of modular steel components and my 3rd Squad, Third Platoon, Company B of 300th Engineer Combat Battalion worked on the entrance to the strip and saw the planes come in for their first landings there. They were really welcome as the Beachhead was still in some danger of being overrun by the Germans. It was quite a sight to see the 47s land and take off in a really tight situation with minimal runway and trees all around.

The 300th bivouacked at Blosville, France, eight miles north of the town of Carentan. They built bridges, made road repairs and removed mine fields and obstacles - most of the time under fire from the Germans. On June 18, the first bridge was built by Company C of the 300th. It was a small, temporary Treadway bridge across the Douve River at Pont L' Abbe which was about four miles southwest of Saint-Mere Eglise.

Don Ross described the environment:

rossJune 24, 1944 [France] - Those damn Germans sure make a mess of a place. Their stuff is scattered all over creation. We don't touch it though, afraid of the booby traps. What few towns I do see are wrecked, completely. Can't find a whole building anywhere.

Carentan was a small town less than three miles from the beaches at Normandy. The military strategic value of the town was clear. The roads that passed through the town went to the critical towns of Cherbourg to the north and St. Lo and Caen to the south and east. The main rail line between Cherbourg and Caen ran right through Carentan. The 300th worked out of this area for nearly six weeks as the Allied troops slowly gained control of Normandy.

The geographic features of the Carentan region resulted in some of the most intense and difficult fighting for the First Army. The marshy area around Carentan had been flooded by the Germans to slow the invading troops. The hedgerows, massive embankments with vines and brambles on top, formed natural dikes up to 10-feet high that provided protection for the German defenses while slowing the advance of the Allies to a few hundred yards each day. This was a much slower pace than the original objective plan to get to the high ground of St. Lo. Carentan was enveloped in fierce fighting and changed hands several times.

bridge at Carentan
Tucker Bridge showing under pinning and piers of double Bailey Bridge in the rear, 29 June 1944. It was two days earlier on 27 June 1944 that Maj. John Tucker, Commanding Officer of the 300th, was killed while the 300th built this bridge under fire from the Germans. Photo: Riel Crandall

At Carentan on June 20, the 300th built their first permanent bridge. It was a fixed, Class 70, 80-foot wooden bridge constructed under heavy enemy fire. At times during its construction, the bridge was under heavy and accurate enemy artillery firs requiring numerous reconstructions of sections of the bridge. While encouraging and working along side his men, the commanding officer of the 300th, Major John Tucker was killed by enemy shell fire and 15 others were wounded including Sevando Varela of Co. B. The bridge was named The Tucker Bridge and remained in service for more than 50 years. (It was replaced in 1996 by a stone and concrete structure but it remains the Major John Tucker Bridge.) Major Tucker was replaced with an interim commanding officer, Colonel Daniel Spengler, Commander of the 1110th Combat Engineers, until a replacement could be named.

Jacob Reinhardt's first assignment:

We got our first assignment which was to lay a mine field up around Carentan. We laid it in about thirty-six hours working day and night. Old Jerrie tried hard to keep us from laying the field. About every half hour he would give us an 88 barrage which scared us to death. One incident, a sniper pinned us down and was shooting pretty close to our heads. We accomplished our mission by getting the mine field laid. We went back to our base camp and rested up until we got our next assignment which was a bridge job.

Frederick A. Wild, Jr remembers the loss of Major Tucker:

While we were in Carentan, the battalion was ordered to repair a bridge that had been imperfectly built by soldiers of the 207th Battalion. Somehow, I found myself on the road approaching the bridge one morning, exchanging commonplaces with the Group Commander, Colonel Spengler. The bridge was coming under interdictory fire and a round hit nearby. I don't know what happened to Colonel Spengler, but I started so violently that my helmet flew off and I dribbled it down the road. Every time I reached for it, I would kick it out of reach. When I finally caught it and got it back on my head, I jumped in a ditch and found myself staring into the questioning eyes of one of my medics, Sgt. Haney, who must have been wondering what the hell I was doing playing basketball with my helmet in that neighborhood.

It was shortly after this incident that Major John D. Tucker, who had inherited the command of the battalion from Major Crandall, was in the area when interdictory fire drove the soldiers to take cover. Being the gung-ho officer that he was, Major Tucker ran out on the bridge, motioning the men back to work, though repair under these circumstances was not urgent. A shell hit the bridge and killed him. I can remember riding over that bridge later and seeing a sign indicating that the bridge had been named after him. I can remember mentioning at breakfast with Major Crandall shortly thereafter that one of our officers had been extremely critical of the 207th battalion, for "goofing up" the construction of the bridge at Isigny. Crandall immediately demanded the name of the officer - which I refused to give him. He threatened to court-martial me but nothing ever came of the incident.

George Garrison at the bridge at Carentan:

We were putting in that bridge at Carentan. We had been taught that you would never put in a fixed bridge under fire. You might do some bridges under fire but never a fixed bridge. That was most definitely a fixed bridge because it was a highway on the western edge of town. The Germans were shelling it all the time. I was to report immediately when the bridge was in because it was a main supply route off the beach. I was there and then those 88s started coming in real regular. They were coming in eight or 10 at the time, much more than regular. And I looked and there were two little French girls and a little boy across the street in a building. And they could whistle like one of those 88s. They were just dying laughing when I took cover every time I heard them whistle.

Norman Webb at the bridge at Carentan:

I remember the Tucker Bridge pretty well because I had a little detail, three of four men, and we were assigned to go out and maintain this bridge and make sure there was no sabotage. And we were there to repair the bridge if it got hit. We went out in a 6x6 truck and when we got there and before we could get off the truck the Germans started shelling. It was just a coincidence. So we powered off and got behind the hedgerows and we took protection there. This was one of the times when I thought I sort of panicked and didn't use very good judgment. I wound up pretty close to the bridge. An 88 shell landed just on the other side of the hedgerow and buried itself in the hedgerow. So I said, "I'm going to get away from this confounded bridge." So I took my helmet and moved along the hedgerow 50 yards or so getting away from bridge. It didn't make much difference because they were shelling up there also.

We were in Normandy and we were loading up a truck to put some fill in some place and a plane went over and it was wobbling its wings and there were lots of puffs from the ack-ack guns and it looks to me like they were German paratroopers coming in. And it was sort of a panic but it wasn't any time before I knew that it was antiaircraft fire. I heard later on that it was one of our own pilots and he parachuted out and survived.

Jacob Reinhardt assisted in building the bridge at Carentan:

We started for the bridge site a little after dinner and didn't see camp for three days. This particular bridge was built on the outskirts of Carentan. We threw up a Bailey Bridge in no time at all with the help of one outfit which we took training with back in the States. They were assault engineers on D-Day and damned near got wiped out. By the way, that Bailey is the back breaker of the engineers. Then the word came we had to tear out an old bridge and build a new fixed bridge in its place. Old German sent a barrage of eighty-eights over every now and then. On the second day, one shell killed our Major and wounded a few of our men but still we worked hard to get the bridge up.

That same evening at chow, they started to shell us. One shell hit pretty close and everyone ran away except three of us. We stayed and watched every shell hit. One shell blew the roof off a house about 100' from us. Boy shrapnel flew every direction. (The funny part was the cooks wouldn't give us seconds so when the enemy shelled us, all the cooks ran away and we ate to our heart's content.) After completing the bridge, we hit camp for a rest. The bridge was name after our Major who got killed there - The Tucker Bridge - one of the best built in France.

William McAlexander describes the death of Major Tucker:

mcalexanderWe built a bridge at Carentan, France and went through La Haye-du-Puits where Col. Spengler, [Interim Commander of the 300th] was killed.

The Germans had us zeroed in and they were firing 88's at us at the bridge site. That's where we lost our company commander, Major Tucker, because he came up on the bridge and told everyone you don't stop for artillery - you keep working. It's hard to do, to stop jumping in a hole. But he got killed. I worked under the bridge and [I knew] if they hit the bridge, they would hit me too. So we had to just grin and bear it. That introduced us to the bad, bad parts of war.

300th Engineer William Lakey describes the death of Major Tucker:

lakeyWe helped build the Tucker Bridge where Major Tucker was killed. It was rough because the Germans were shelling us all the time we were building this bridge. As they were shelling us, we would try to find a hole to get in. That's the reason Tucker was killed because he had got on the bridge and told us that the next man who left the bridge [while the Germans were firing] would be court-martialed. That's when the shell hit him and killed him. It was pretty rough - it was bad.

George Garrison and Major Tucker:

Major [John] Tucker was a firm a fellow he was a good soldier. A little too good. He wasn't afraid of anything. When we were laying the mind fields after the 101st he would go out in the hedgerows looking for Germans. One time he found one and he got shot at and it hit his helmet and put a crease in it. So he killed that German and he always wore the helmet with a crease in. B Company was putting in that double Bailey bridge. They stacked up the panels three or four feet high. The Germans started shelling and the boys would all lie down or run for cover. He [Maj Tucker] was not there in the beginning but he drove up in his command car and they started shelling and everybody ran for cover. So he yelled, "What are you cowards? I don't want to see another man run. I don't want to see another man hit the ground." So he lectured them a little. All at once they started shelling again. I might have misunderstood but it is said that he whipped out his .45 and said, "I will kill the next cowardly son-of-a-bitch that runs. We don't want those Germans to think we are a bunch of cowards." The next shell that came in blew the whole side of his head off. Killed him right there. I liked him and he was nice to me but he was definitely too much G.I. military.

Roy Bridges wounded at the bridge at Carentan:

Roy BridgesWe were working on that bridge at Carentan. Two or three of us were working on getting the abutment ready when Maj. Tucker jumped up on that stack of lumber. After that first shell landed we all scattered. He said, his exact words, 'I don't want to see any of you sons-of-bitches running. You are all soldiers." When the second shell hit, it hit him direct and I saw him slowly fall off that lumber on the other side of that concrete wall.

There was another kid who had jumped in a hole with me, I don't remember his name. We were watching the shells and they were overshooting us at first but then they started pulling back and getting closer. So this kid says, "Let's get the hell out of here." So we started going back down the road into town a bit. I noticed then my hand got sticky and I said, "I've got blood up there." I had been hit by shrapnel from that hit at the bridge. A medic took me back to the base. Then they took me to England for two months. I broke my arm, you can still see the scar, broke my foot and got hit in the leg. There was this Mexican boy named Frank Vesley and he had been hit bad by the shrapnel. The doctor came up to us and said, "Who is first?" And I said Vesley because he was the worst hurt.

When I came back to France we were driving trying to find the 300th. I was a TEC 5 in Company B and that was where I wanted to be. We came up on a four-way intersection and the driver said, "Let's turn this way," and I said just drop me off here and I will go the other way on foot. I came on some men and I said, 'You see any combat engineers?" and they said they hadn't seen any. Well here I am out of nowhere. Then I saw this truck coming down the road. We had our letters on the bumpers. It was one of my trucks, Company B. So I stopped the truck and the driver was TEC 5 Cliff Dickerson. I said I wanted to get back to my company so he took me with him. I got back and the captain said, "We got all the replacements we needed but I'll let you spend the day with the company but you will need to go to the Replacement Depot tomorrow. So my heart just fell that I couldn't stay with the company.

So I was called to go to another replacement depot and found a man there from the 300th. He said, there were 15 of us 300th here. So I went up to headquarters and there was the Warrant Officer and said to him, "There are 15 of us 300th boys back there and they want to go back to their company. He said, "Okay you go back down there and all of you that want to go, just go." So I went down and hollered, "All you guys from the 300th that want to go back let's go." All of us jumped onto a weapons carrier. When we got back to the company, the replacements were not happy because they would have to go to a replacement depot. I stayed with the Company from then until he 18th day of February 1945.

Domingo Muniz tells about his experience at the bridge at Carentan:

The first battalion to start building of the bridge at Carentan got nearly wiped out and did not have enough men to continue so they called in the 300th. We took over and started working. I remember the commanding officer was Major Tucker because he was always saying do this and don't do that. Servando Valera and I were working on the bottom of the bridge. Tucker was on top of the bank and he had a raincoat and I don't understand that because it wasn't even raining.

So here come those 88s, come in whistling. We knew what an 88 was already so we took cover and when we came out a second one came so we went back in. So the second time Tucker yelled at us and said, "I don't want any of you running away." Soon as he got through saying that another 88 came in so we took off running anyway. To me, if you are out there, you've got to defend yourself. Nobody stood out there, everybody ran off.

That's when Servando got hit. I got to him and asked if he wanted a tourniquet on it and he said no. So, I picked him up and said don't you turn over or you will faint from all the blood. I put him on top of the bank and then I got up on the bank myself. I picked him up and started walking toward the Jeep they had there. And that's when I said to Servando, Tucker got killed because they had him lying there, across the back of the Jeep. And, that is why the bridge is named Tucker Bridge. They took Servando off, I guess to a hospital.

I went back and saw this ole boy, I think his name was Myers, and he was crying and said, "I'm hurt, I'm bleeding." So I said, "no you're not I don't see any blood." I didn't want to scare him because I knew he was hurt pretty bad and I could see he was hurt. I think a I did a good thing by not telling him not to scare him. I gave him some pain pills and water and he walked off. He did get well, so I guess he was not hurt real bad.

The words of Lt. George Edgar of the 989th Engineer Treadway Bridge Company as recorded by his grandson David A. Armstrong:

Five days later, on June 27,[Lt. Arnold] Maeker traveled with Lt. [William] Baker to a site near Carentan where Major John Tucker, the commander of the 300th, and his engineers were working hard to complete a 45-foot timber-trestle bridge across a canal on a road that was a critical link between Cherbourg to the north and St. Lo and Caen to the south and east. I had been supervising our crane and compressor equipment in support of the 300th, and I had returned to our jeep for smokes when an artillery shell screamed out of the sky and buried itself in the near bank of the canal before it exploded. The concussive blast blew Maeker and Baker to the ground a millisecond before the shell's shrapnel shot through the air only inches above their bodies, and they escaped unharmed, as did I because, by chance, I was protected by a low rise.

But in the minutes that followed, the artillery fire grew intense, and terrifyingly accurate, and men repeatedly ran from the bridge's nearly completed deck to try to protect themselves from getting hit - something that incensed Major Tucker, I could see, even though he was well aware that Maeker and Baker had just barely escaped with their lives, and fifteen more men already had been wounded, by my count. Tucker had served with Col. Spengler at Guadalcanal two years before and had become his protégé of sorts - both of them old-school army engineers who would gladly strip you down to buck private if they disapproved in the slightest with the way you carried out an order. To make his point that the bridge would be finished and finished now - regardless of how heavy the shelling became - Maeker, Baker, and I watched from a distance as Tucker strode out onto the bridge and shouted at the top of his lungs that the next man to leave the bridge before his work was done would be court-martialed. Yet the angry warning was barely out of his mouth before an incoming 105mm shell slammed directly onto the bridge deck and blew Tucker to bits.

A German grave near Chartres
A German grave near Chartres, France. Photo: Albert Stein

Four of the fifteen casualties were serious enough the soldiers had to be evacuated to a nearby mobile hospital. Maeker, Baker and I were stunned but unharmed - and Maeker was still shaken by his own close call - and Captain [Carlyle] Swartz [Commanding Officer of Co. C] of the 300th quickly assumed command and ordered everyone to clear the bridge and take cover, an order that, as far as I was concerned, had come about ten minutes too late. Maeker and Tucker had enjoyed drinking coffee and talking in their HQ tent late into the night, I knew, and they had become good friends during the long months of training in England.

Col. [Daniel] Spengler [Commander of the 1110th Engineer Combat Group] also had been at the Carentan bridge site on the 27th, and had watched helplessly as Major Tucker was hit by artillery fire and killed. Despite the shock and the personal loss, he had stayed to see the completion of the bridge, and before the tragic day was over, Spengler had ordered the men of the 300th to erect signs at either end of the permanent bridge that read, "Major John E. Tucker Bridge, Constructed by the 300th Engineer Combat Battalion." Colonel Spengler took Tucker's service revolver and shoulder holster before medics carried his body away, then offered them to Maeker because of the close friendship he'd shared with Tucker, and Maeker, in turn, passed them to those of us who were his junior officers as the months and the war unfolded, each of us carrying them as the unspoken reminders they were that every day that dawned could readily be our last.

Bill Baker, 2LT in 989th Treadway Bridge Co. witnessed the death of Major Tucker

I had just joined up and didn't know anything about bridges. So Captain Arnold Maeker and I went over to Carentan to observe our 989th Engineer Treadway Bridge Company installing a Treadway Bridge. We were making the rounds for my education.

The 300th Combat Engineer Battalion was just a little distance away building a permanent Bailey Bridge. It was on June 27 that we were observing when a German shell hit real close to us. We went upside-down and then scramble for cover. Then we saw the Bailey Bridge take a direct hit.

Tucker Bridge
Tucker Bridge at Carentan, France, 29 June 1944. Sign reads: Tucker Bridge, In memory of Major John E. Tucker killed while supervising construction of this bridge. Photo: Riel Crandall

Major John Tucker was the Commanding Officer of the 300th and he was right up there on the bridge. His men were real skittish and were taking cover. The men of the 300th told us he was yelling at them, saying, "The next one of you bastards that takes cover will get a court martial!" That's when the shell hit - a direct hit on Tucker. It blew his head off. We could hear the men moaning and groaning from their wounds. We took cover in a nearby house.

We were not real sure how it happened, but one of our men got Major Tucker's pistol. For the rest of the war, our officers passed it around. Captain Maeker wore it first and I wore it for awhile.

The day following the death of Major Tucker at the bridge at Carentan, the following message was sent to the 300th as reported in the Unit Journal. Have a sign painter make a sign of sufficient size with white background to have the full 2" letters - Tucker Bridge - in honor of Major Tucker killed 27 June 1944 while in charge of construction of this bridge. (Capt. Haberkorn)

The duty fell on the engineers to open gaps through the hedgerows. Prongs were welded to the front of tanks enabling them to slice through the hedgerows and cut an opening for other tanks and equipment. Often, where the hedgerows were so thick that the cutter tanks could not break through, the tank driver forced the barrel of its gun into the hedgerow and the engineers packed the hole with explosives. The blast created a breach that tanks or dozers widened.

Official government documents (handwritten Unit Journals) of 27 and 30 June reported the circumstances surrounding the death of Major Tucker on 27 June.

military photograph
Sidney Brock being awarded the Bronze Star. Photo: Army Signal Corps

Under heavy artillery fire at 1600 BN CO killed, 7 men injured from "A" Co., 4 men in hospital, 3 men treated by 1st Aid. Sgt. Dougherty in hospital wounded slightly. Under fire for 45 minutes. Continuing with bridge. (Capt. Swartz) Maj. Tucker was killed. Some men went back to work immediately after shelling eased. Send names of those men now. (Lt. Dray).... These men returned: Capt. Falvey, Tec 4 Brock, Tec 5 Beckham, Pvt. Gentry, Pvt. Bowdle.

The After Action Report of the 300th for the month of June 1944 reported the following casualties on June 27 or 28 at the bridge construction in East Carentan (all were wounded in action except Major Tucker who was killed): John E. Tucker, Major; Leslie C. Gates, Capt.; William E. Dougherty, M/Sgt.; Don E. Geiser, T/Sgt.; Cecil L. Hignite, Pfc.; Thomas E. Hinyup, Jr., Pfc.; Sydney L. Kalina, Pvt.; Earl M. Wood, Pvt.; Robert L. Benfield, S/Sgt.; Servando Varela, Pvt.; Jerrel Eidson, Pfc.; Roy L. Bridges, Tec 5.

The same After Action Report also noted that Private First Class Cecil L. Hignite, Co. A, 300th Engineer Combat Battalion was awarded the Purple Heart for wounds received from enemy artillery fire while working on a bridge on the 27th June, 1944, in Normandy, France.

The official History of the 1110th Engineer Combat Group praised the 300th for their actions in late June in Normandy. The 300th was attached to the 1110th at the time.

A long stream of gas trucks in France
A long stream of gas trucks in France. Photo: Willie Hein
The principal mission was to open Highway 14 through Carentan as soon as possible. One of the attached units of Group, the 300th Engineer Combat Battalion, despite constant mortar and small arms fire from the 6th German Parachute Regiment succeeded in laying a minefield southeast of Carentan in front of the 101st Airborne Division's main line of resistance. Another important achievement of the Group during this phase was the construction by the 300th Engineer Combat Battalion of a Class 70, 80 foot timber trestle bridge East of Carentan, France. At all times during the construction, the bridge site was under heavy, accurate artillery fire, which necessitated frequent reconstruction of sections of the bridge. During the construction, in addition to numerous casualties among the work parties, Major John E. Tucker, commanding the 300th Engineer Combat Battalion, was killed by enemy shell fire at which time Colonel Spengler took over and personally supervised the construction of the bridge. He stayed on the site until the job was completed.

In the Combat Diary of Captain Arnold Maeker of the 989th Engineer Treadway Bridge Company, he described his work providing technical support to the 300th building and repairing bridges while under fire in the Carentan region. (The diary was shared by David Armstrong whose Grandfather was 1st Lt. George Edgar, Commander of the 2nd Platoon of the 989th.)

On the 18th of June we moved into our first bivouac near Carentan. The job of clearing dead Germans from the field was no pleasant one, but necessary to make the field habitable. The field was a battle ground during the paratroop landing on D-Day... From the 23rd to 27th [June, 1944] we did maintenance work on the bridges we had built, and assisted in the construction of a fixed bridge at Carentan. On the 27th I had a very close call at Carentan when an artillery shell landed a few feet from me. Fortunately, it buried itself in the river bank before exploding. The concussion blew me to the ground, but the shrapnel missed me. The next round was more profitable for the Jerries and killed my good friend Maj. Tucker. The Hiennies got better with their artillery as time went on. The first shell they sent in on the 28th found me in a small shack using a telephone. I jumped into a foxhole beside the shack only to be covered with part of the shack as a result of the next shell. We finished our work at Carentan 28 June 1944.

Hoyt Neill tells about treating Major Tucker at Normandy

neillOne morning at about 10:00 a.m., Colonel Tucker walked over to the aid station and asked if we had any mentholate. He had a slight cut on his left ear. He had walked upon a German soldier who shot him. The bullet hit just above the rim of his helmet. It then traveled between his helmet and the helmet liner. It hit the chin strap on the right side, ricocheted down, hit his ear and bled all over his poncho. I don't know if he ever told anyone about it. He was later killed by artillery fire while building a bridge at Carentan.

Norman Webb recalls an incident prompted by the enemy shell fire:

One incident at Carentan Bridge is that of a Lt. gathering a few men and making an invasion, so to speak, on a two story home located not far from the bridge site. It seemed that every time there were quite a few men concentrated on or near the bridge construction area the Germans would start lobbing in artillery shells. This caused some to believe there could be a spotter informing the Germans who were obviously so far away with their artillery that they could not know when the activity was occurring. I happened to be one of those the Lt. grabbed to go with him. It is my recollection that we did not find anything at the home except some nervous civilians.

Norman Webb recalls shaving under fire:

After the bridge [at Carentan] was completed and in use, I was assigned the job of taking three or four men out to the bridge and more or less standing guard on the bridge and being available to repair the bridge in case it was damaged by artillery fire. The men I took with me (I was a corporal at the time and was Sgt. Bice's assistant squad leader) and I had decided to grow a beard as we were actually out of training and assumed less restrictive regulations would be required. My detail and I arrived at the bridge site in the afternoon and the shelling started before we had gotten off the truck. Things settled down and as I recall were rather quiet until the next morning at which time Major Crandall found me up near a slit trench area where we had settled in. He had come by the bridge and noticed the two men on guard had whiskers. I approached and saluted him and he stood me at attention and gave me a lecture and then said, "I am coming back out here in about an hour and you and every man in this detail had better have a clean shave!" So I was getting some water ready when the Germans started shelling. I felt it more important to take cover than to continue trying to shave. The artillery had hit the bridge and the road just in front of the bridge and created a crater about six feet or more in diameter and perhaps two or three feet deep. The shelling went on for thirty to forty-five minutes or more -- the longest session and the worst I can remember. My slit trench was perpendicular to the hedge row next to the road and I had my head at the hedge row end. I could feel the hedge row shake like an earthquake when a big shell would hit it coming in and explode. When the shelling let up, I headed for the bridge and we started to repair the bridge planks that had been hit and to fill the crater in front of the bridge. While we were working, Col. Spengler and some other officers came up. I reported to Col. Spengler and he was quite friendly. After talking a bit he had asked me where I was from and then said that he always liked to meet young men from Texas. Then he grinned at me a little and said, "You know, I am going to have to get after you boys about these beards." I laughed a bit and replied "Well, Sir, you are a little late!" Then I told him about Major Crandall and his ultimatum and told him but for the shelling having been just about continuous since Maj. Crandall had left, we would all be clean shaven. He got quite a chuckle out of that and said, "So Maj. Crandall got on to you, did he!"

Jacob Reinhardt in Normandy:

During that time we were resting up from the big bridge job. We worked patching all sorts of bad roads from Pont L' Abbe to St. Saveur to Orglandles and back to the front lines. After about two weeks of this road work we got a bridge assignment. Upon arrival at the bridge site, one man got his foot blown off by a mine. That sure was a sickening sight. Three of our sergeants went to contact them when suddenly two Jerries came out of the bushes with their hands up to surrender. Suddenly a third which no one knew about opened fire from the bushes. He shot two of our sergeants right smack between the eyes. The third sergeant hit the dirt and fired his trusty M1. He killed two of the enemy and wounded a couple of more. After having the run in with the Jerries, the sergeant started back to the bridge site to report his actions. We finished the job and headed back to camp. [There is no evidence the two sergeants were of the 300th]

While commanding the 300th, Col. Spengler was wounded by enemy fire. Warren Chancellor, 300th medic recalled the incident:

Col. Spengler came into the aid station one day after being hit by a sniper's bullet. The bullet hit the upper part of his helmet and some way, spun downward along his arm, ripping open part of the sleeve of his jacket and slicing a few inches of his arm. Hoyt Neill treated the wound and Spengler went on his way. Pretty evident that the sniper was aiming for Spengler's head. Lucky day for him.

Norman Webb talks about his "favorite" Lieutenant:

I'm not too proud about this incident to tell you the truth. We were in Normandy and what took place was that I was a squad sergeant and I was assigned a duty setting up a machine gun emplacement to guard a stream. That stream flowed in two directions because it happened to be a stream that was created by the tides. Our job was to fire at suspicious looking objects in the river because they could be mines in this channel.

I took the liberty of telling my men that they could zero in their rifles since we had just gotten across the channel. So they would fire their rifles at anything in the river. I guess it was the next day a lieutenant came by and told me he would like to check my guards. So, I slung an ammunition belt over my shoulder, got my rifle and went with him. About this time a jeep drove up with a first sergeant from a different outfit. He came over to where the lieutenant and I were telling us that somebody was firing bullets into the stream and they were ricocheting off the water landing on the other side where he men were. He was perturbed about it and I presume he had a right to be.

This lieutenant for some reason or another then became extremely agitated and arrogant and like a bully or something jumped all over me. He acted terrible to me like I was a fool or something for doing this, for these bullets ricocheting. I was just a smart-acting kid at 18. I got smart with him and said, "Just a minute, who the hell are you anyway?" You sound more like a Nazi than an American officer." I had quit calling him sir.

This embarrassed him pretty badly and he turned red in the face but he did provide his identification quite quickly. I was quite close to a machine gun emplacement and the guy on the machine gun I could see him shaking from laughter and this egged me on. After the lieutenant showed me his identification, I was then calling him sir. I explained the situation and told the sergeant I would tell the men to not fire at anything unless it was an extremely suspicious looking article.

The lieutenant left abruptly. As luck would have it, he was transferred to our outfit as our new platoon commander and I was squad sergeant under him. Things didn't go too well after that. His name was Jacobs.

[Note: First Lieutenant Paul H. Jacobs was assigned to the 300th ECB, Co. C, on 18 June 1944 and later wounded in action on 18 February 1945 in Germany. Sergeant Norman Webb was reduced to Private Norman Webb by Lieutenant Jacobs.]

Warren Chancellor has difficult duty:

We were laying a mine field and one of the mines exploded prematurely. Cpl. Clarence Pilkington was seriously injured in the explosion and they brought him to us. We worked on him (Hoyt Neill, Dr. Wild and me) and he screamed, "Save me, Doc. Save me, Doc!" He didn't make it and Lt. Taylor and I were given the duty to taking him to the temporary cemetery at Utah Beach. It did my heart good to see that German prisoners were the ones digging graves for our soldiers.

While in Picauville, the 989th Treadway Bridge Company provided technical support to the 300th. Both were attached to the 1110th Engineer Combat Group at the time. An example of training despite combat conditions and the interactions of engineer units are described in the Unit Journal of the 300th in a message received on 30 June 1944. You will have 60' tread from Treadway Bridge attached to your unit 1 July 44 from 989 plus 2 trucks. You will practice laying it over craters, etc. for speed in laying on ground.

Harold Meyer built bridges using unusual equipment:

Sometimes we had to work on building bridges at night, working quietly because there were Germans everywhere. I had heard of a noiseless hammer when I was a kid and I thought it was a joke. But we actually had one and it was made of rawhide. The Bailey Bridge was put together with pins. We had this luminous dial we would look through and drive the pin through with the noiseless hammer.

The parachute, Warren Chancellor, 300th Medical Detachment:

Camouflaged 300th truck at the front line in Normandy
Camouflaged 300th truck at the front line in Normandy. Photo: Willie Hein
When we arrived in Normandy, camouflaged parachutes that were used in the invasion by the 101st and 82nd Airborne were lying in the fields everywhere. Hoyt [Neil] and I picked up one each and put them on our truck. Using our surgical scissors that we had, we cut large panels from one of the chutes. We folded our two blankets and covered them with the chute material. We then took some small nylon cord from the shroud lines to use as thread. Using a rather large suture needle and the nylon cord, we sewed across one end and down the side, and this made a pretty good bed roll. The material was waterproof. We used the remaining parachute to cover our pup tent. Perfectly camouflaged tent! Both uses of the parachutes proved to be very valuable later when we had the two weeks of rain when we were bivouacked at "Mud Hill" near Modave. I brought a large piece of the parachute home with me and my mother, being quite a seamstress, made a long sleeve shirt from it. I never really wore it. The war was over!

George Garrison and dead GIs:

When we landed at Normandy on the second day we were told that we would be transferred to grave registration. There were so many bodies, so many dead people and they needed more help and the 300th would become the 300th Grave Regiment. I hated that idea but we never did make it to grave registration. There were so many dead bodies around and they would take the bodies and put them in a mattress cover. It was like cheesecloth, 39 inches wide, and they would put the bodies in it. They would take a bulldozer and make a trench and lay the bodies side-by-side and the bulldozer would cover them up. These were temporary graves. When I went to La Haye-du-Puits there were dead soldiers on each side of the road head to toe covered with raincoats. Everybody was covered and they were head to toe on each side that entire distance and sometimes two or three deep. I had no idea how many dead GIs there were but there was never a place where there were none. When I rode the motorcycle over that road at night I was most afraid that I would go off the road and run over one of our men. So I dragged my feet all the way to be sure I didn't go off the road. When I got back I told the man there that every one of those boys raised up and saluted me when I went by because they knew I was going to get help.

The second day we were in Normandy a Frenchman gave me a .25 Browning automatic pistol. Roy Bridges begged me right and left for that gun. I finally sold it to him for $25 and he carried it all the time and you would think that he was carrying his heart in his pocket. He didn't make it much farther because he was wounded at the Carentan Bridge and did not return to the unit.

Co. C constructing a by-pass
Co. C constructing a by-pass between Carentan and Isigny, France, 12 July 1944. Photo: Riel Crandall
Co. C constructing a by-pass
Co. C constructing a by-pass between Carentan and Isigny, France, 12 July 1944. Photo: Riel Crandall


The 300th in France, June, 1944