The H+60 wave arrived in the transport area in much better order. At about 5:30 a.m. on June 6, the 614’s crew started going to their battle stations. Because half the crew were already at their underway watch stations, which were also sometimes their battle stations, there was no sounding of the klaxon or running about. The men on watch below simply came up when they were ready and relieved the men at their stations.
Since about 3:45 a.m., Carter had been on watch at the wheel. Peering through the little slits that served as windows or out the door, latched open to provide air, he had seen the invasion begin to shape up. At first he saw nothing at all; the blacked-out ships revealed nothing of their presence that he could see. After a few moments, though, he began to see a few tiny blinking lights on buoys left by the minesweepers as they cleared a channel to the beach and then red, green, and white flares from the control craft marking the beach landing zones. Shoreward, over the horizon, bombs flashed like summer lightning. By about 4:30 a.m. a gray light let him see the other LCTs, but they soon dispersed so that the 614 had only three companions. LCT 613 had the lead, LCT 536 was the wave guide in second position, and then LCT 612 followed by 614.
As Pequigney came up to take the wheel, the battleships and cruisers began opening up with their big guns at targets ashore. Because of the narrow channels that the minesweepers had hurriedly cleared, the LCTs had to chug past the gunfire support ships, and the concussion from the 8-inch guns of the Augusta felt worse than the bombs that had fallen around them in Portland. Carter stood for a moment to watch the shooting; the smoke drifting away from the ships struck him as nonchalant. He then went below to get into his battle clothing of a blue coverall treated with a sticky substance that was supposed to protect him from the flash of a nearby explosion or from poison gas if the Germans decided to use it. He then picked up his helmet, life jacket, and gas mask. Before going up, he rummaged through C and K ration boxes in the compartment, looking for snacks, and ended up stuffing his pockets with chocolate bars.
Topside, Carlson was standing watch in the gun tub, and Sparky was already there, eating crackers and orange marmalade. As Carlson went below, Carter and Sparky began getting the gun ready. “How do you feel, Sparky?” Carter asked.
“Kinda shaky,” he replied. “How about you?”
“The same,” Carter agreed.
About the time the gun was ready, Carlson came back, his pockets bulging with cigarette packs. Carlson noticed that the shoreline had finally become visible.
“Mornin’,” he said. “So this is France, huh? Take me back to Oregon.”
With his bulky life jacket on, Carter needed the help of both Sparky and Carlson to strap himself into the mount. Once in, he told Sparky to go ahead and put tension on the magazines in the ready service locker in case they needed to reload quickly. As Sparky worked on that, Irwin shouted down at him from the conning tower: “Sparky! Put on your life jacket.”
“I can’t load with the thing on,” Sparky replied.
But Irwin insisted. “Put one on. You might get blown into the water.”
To Irwin, standing on the conning position on top of the pilothouse, things on the beach seemed to be going fairly well. All the shooting he could see came from Allied ships; no shooting seemed to be coming from the beach. As Irwin conned the ship, keeping an eye on LCT 536, the wave leader, Pillmore scanned the shore with binoculars, trying to find their landing area. Since they were supposed to beach just to the right of the Les Moulins draw, exit D-3, he thought it would be easy to identify. But now, in the gloom and smoke and distance, he had trouble picking it out. But there was still time.
To get to the line of departure, the 614 and other landing craft had to sail around the Augusta, past the French light cruisers, and then form up in front of the battleship Arkansas. The blast from Augusta’s 8-inch guns jarred the LCT, and the sharp reports of the light cruisers’ 6-inch guns hurt the ears of the men on deck. But just as they rounded the Arkansas, the battleship loosed a broadside from its 12-inch guns. The blast and noise rattled the little LCT and hurt the men on deck. Carter thought that, had they been any closer, the concussion from the big guns could have easily flipped the little craft over. Irwin, perhaps even more exposed on the conn, turned around at the painfully horrendous sound and thought he was looking straight down the muzzles of the battleship’s guns. From his vantage point atop the wheelhouse, Kleen could easily see the big shells arching over them on their way to the shore.
About 6:30 a.m. they received the word to head to the line of departure. With the incoming tide, the LCTs made good time down the line of ships and reached the position sixteen minutes early. They milled around, watching the firing, until finally Leide radioed the order to beach. Irwin ordered Kleen to sound the beaching signal—five short blasts on the horn—and shouted down the voice tube to Pequigney to come about on a southerly heading. The three LCTs to starboard—703, 622, and 704—continued west and headed for Dog Green at the very end of the beach. LCT 569 held back, ready to go in on Easy Green to the east of the Les Moulins draw. The 614 was then exposed on the right side of the wave; suddenly Carter thought they were a much better target.
At first, the hour-long trip to the beach was quiet. Pillmore located the correct area of the beach and pointed it out to Irwin. He then left the conn to supervise getting the vehicles ready for landing. Irwin thought that Captain Wright had been correct when he said that the bombers and battleships would clear the Germans from the beaches. When shells started exploding in the water ahead of them, Irwin’s first thought was that the ships behind them were shooting short. He needed a moment to realize the 614 had finally come under mortar and artillery fire. He also began to see that the promised gaps in the obstacles had not been blown. He ordered reduced speed and began looking for a way through.
With Irwin stuck on the conn piloting the ship, Pillmore roamed the deck, making sure everything went according to plan. When they turned to head for the beach, they exposed themselves to a quartering sea that made the ride all the more uncomfortable for the crew and the soldiers. Many soldiers stood in the jeeps and bulldozers to see where they were headed, and Pillmore saw Andin, Gudger, and Cromer clearing the tie-downs and chocks from the vehicles. Since they were about finished, he told Cromer to loosen dogs on the ramp and take his position on the port bow locker. Resembling a Wild West hero hitching up his gun belt, Cromer tucked his hammer into his belt and headed forward. Andin worked his way aft to loosen the anchor in its bracket, and Gudger grabbed a Thompson sub-machine gun from the compartment and went to the ramp to direct the traffic off.
Pillmore climbed back up to the pilothouse. By now the LCT was drawing some rifle and machine-gun fire. He stayed near the door to the pilothouse and called up to Irwin that the ship was ready to beach. Irwin had finally picked out what seemed to be a path through the obstacles, ordered full speed ahead, and then told Carlson to drop the anchor. Carlson released the catch, but nothing happened. “I said drop the anchor,” Irwin shouted.
“It’s stuck!” Carlson called back. Pillmore ran across the catwalk to see what the problem was. “I dunno,” Carlson said. “We’ve never dropped the anchor before.” Pillmore was taken aback a moment.
“You mean you have never dropped this anchor the whole time you’ve been on the ship?” Pillmore asked.
“No, sir,” Carlson replied. “As far as I know, this anchor hasn’t been dropped since this boat was built.”
Pillmore bit off a curse. He was going to need some help, and fortunately the giant Stefanowicz was at hand. “Sparky, get back here,” Pillmore ordered. He and Sparky began pulling the cable from the reel hand over hand while Carlson manually kept the reel rolling. Several tense moments passed under fire in the exposed area around the anchor winch before the anchor bit into the sandy bottom and enough cable came off that its weight took over and the drum began paying out freely. Pillmore ran back to the cover of the pilothouse, and Carlson and Sparky jumped back in the gun tub with Carter. Only later did Pillmore realize that those men probably saved the ship, but of course, it was still early in the day.
The 614 neared the obstacles, catching up to a line of LCVPs carrying the bulk of the 116th RCT’s Company M, which was also trying to find a way through. The congestion of men and equipment drew increased mortar and machine-gun fire plus aimed artillery fire. The distinctive rip of an 88mm gun firing from the Vierville draw occasionally punctuated the hiss of the antitank rounds.
“God, look at those shells,” Sparky said.
The soldiers on deck began to move toward the ramp, ready to move off. The soldier Carlson had befriended the day before came up to the gun tub and sat down facing Carlson. But before he said anything, a chunk of shrapnel banged against the back of his helmet, saving Carlson’s face. Without saying anything, he climbed back down on deck.
Despite the intensifying small arms fire and mortar explosions, the men stood at their battle stations, ready to get the soldiers and vehicles off the ship as quickly as possible once the ramp dropped. Johnson, manning the starboard 20mm, glanced over at Carter from time to time and wondered whether they were going to shoot even without orders. Neither Carter nor Johnson thought that standing while strapped to their guns and drawing fire was the way to go to war. Jarvis, Johnson’s loader, had even less to do with the guns not in action. He stood beside Johnson, crouched behind the tub’s shield, scanning for targets. A tracer round zipped through his life jacket, puffing out a small cloud of the filler material. He jumped and shouted, “Jesus Christ!” In the tension, Carter and the others found themselves laughing at Jarvis.
The ship pushed through the obstacles, scraping against the hedgehogs and knocked a Teller mine off one of the posts. Irwin shouted course changes to Pequigney in such rapid succession that the quartermaster could do nothing but spin the wheel around. About 7:20 a.m., actually some ten minutes early, the LCT grounded a hundred yards away from the beach. Irwin thought they were still too far out, so he delayed ordering the ramp dropped. That left Cromer, lying on top of the starboard bow locker with his hammer, fully exposed to small arms fire and shrapnel from the shells. From his vantage point he could clearly see the wreckage of men, vehicles, and landing craft on the beach