June 6, 2019, will mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day, a pivotal battle of World War II, which took place near Normandy, France. “The largest seaborne attack in history, it was also one of the bloodiest, with a combination of strong winds, unruly tidal currents, and a formidable German defensive, resulting in the loss of 2,400 American lives by the end of the first day.” Source: D-Day and the Omaha Beach Landings
My father, Garland Crook, was there that day, on Omaha Beach. Only 19years old on D-Day, he now resides in a skilled care facility in Mandan, N.D. — all these years later. He is one of a very few surviving D-Day veterans. Fewer than half a million of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II survive today, and of those, half a million or so still living, only a fraction were actually on the beaches on D-Day. Those survivors are dying rapidly. We cherish each day with my father.
At 6:30 p.m. June 6, we will honor him with a special program at Miller Pointe, his home, at 3500 21st ST SE, Mandan, and anyone is welcome to attend. To wit, I have a very important request to all of you who are reading this. You are, no doubt, familiar with Mail Call, that time so precious to soldiers and sailors when they receive mail from home. Please consider sending my father a card or letter for D-Day Mail Call, to arrive by June 6, and express your personal gratitude to him for all his has done for his country.
Please send to:
Garland Crook, Miller Pointe, 3500 21st ST SE, Mandan, ND 58554.
The iconic photograph above was taken on D-Day by Robert Capa (read more about Capa here) and hangs on the wall in my father’s room, a treasured gift from a dear friend, Bob Martinson, who purchased it a few years ago when he visited the battlefields of Normandy. Everyone who visits these battlefields is so moved by these memories, but Bob acted upon this in a unique way. Bob also bought one for his own wall and had my father autograph both copies prior to framing. I was there the day he took my father to lunch in order to present this to him and secure the autograph, and there were tears and a burst of pride for my father.
Much has been written about D-Day and I will not recount that here other than to highly recommend the classic book on the topic by Stephen Ambrose, “D-Day: June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II,” which I read decades ago, shortly after I was fortunate enough to briefly meet Ambrose at a book signing. Additionally, I highly recommended the website of the National World War II Museum. I’m so grateful that I read Ambrose’s book at a time when I could ask my father about his personal D-Day memories.
Because my father recorded the memories of his long military career as part of an oral history project, we are blessed to know those details, details he can no longer readily share in his advanced age. I have written about him several times here and here.
He entered the U.S. Army in March 1943. From his oral history: “I had six weeks of basic training at Fort Eustis, Va. I was one of the 300 who trained on 50 to 90-millimeter guns. I didn’t know at the time that we would be mountain the guns on the Queen Elizabeth, which was used as a troop ship moving troops to England during World War II. We were the first 300 troops boarding the Queen Elizabeth in the harbor of New York and I went on watch on the guns right away. Three-, four-hour shifts for three days and nights as they were loading troops through two portholes on the QE and ended up with 19,000 troops aboard. It took us four days and nights unescorted to make the trip to England.”
“When I got to England, I was assigned B Battery, 633rd AAA Automatic Weapons Battalion, who had been in Iceland the past two years as coast artillery. The 633rd then trained on 40 millimeters and Quad 50 machine guns. After this training of which mostly took place in southern England, we went to Northern Scotland. I think Wick was the name of the town closest to where we were firing. We fired out our guns on tow targets. By this time, there were thousands of troops on the island with equipment everywhere. The English had big barrage balloons anchored with long steel cables all around their factories and towns to entangle low-flying German airplanes. We would kid them saying ‘there are so many troops on the island that if it wasn’t for the barrage balloons, it would sink.’ ”
“After our firing out, we went back close to London and set our guns up around a 9th Air Force Base, a B26 base from there to a P51 Air Base. I was at these bases for about six months. At this time and before, the Germans were bombing England about every night.”
“I was on a 72-hour pass in London one night while we were at these bases and staying at a Red-Cross billeting area. London got bombed from buss bombs and within a block and a half from where we were that night.”
“About April or May of 1944, we moved outside of Dover, England and set up in a pasture living in pup tents and training for the invasion of France. We didn’t know then just when that would come but knew it could be soon. We were able to go into Dover by trucks on passes and mostly to go to a movie. There wasn’t anything to buy. We could get fish and chips at a street window outlet before it got dark. After that, all was blacked out. ”
“There was a Red Cross USO club in most of the town where you could get coffee, some soft drinks and maybe a cold sandwich of baloney, Spam and so forth. That is where our trucks were parked. There were pubs or beer taverns, but I was only 19 at this time and could not go into them.”
“I remember well going on my first or second pass into town going to a movie and going into the movie when it was daylight and coming out after dark. It was so dark you could cut it. And walking back to where our trucks were parked and walking smack into someone walking the other direction. Of course, after a bit, your eyes got acclimated to the dark and you could see better.”
“I was on one of those passes in Dover on the 1st of June 1944, and they turned on the lights in the movie theater and told us to go back to our trucks. We knew what was up. By 8 a.m. the next morning, we were on the road with MP escort to Portsmouth, England.”
“We went into a staging area and waterproofed all of our guns and vehicles. On June 3, or about, we loaded our half-track with Quad 50 on a LST, leaving our 40 millimeters and their crews behind. Then sat and waited. About midnight June 5, 1944, we got orders to move out along with many, many more ships and landing crafts. By the time we got to where we could see France, it was getting daylight and all hell broke loose. It was like you could walk from one ship to another there were so many. And it looked as if everyone one was firing at this time (and I was sure they were).”
“About 2 p.m. June 6, 1944, we hit the beach at Omaha, I think Red Beach. HR-9 hours. The Beach was pretty much secured at this time. There was some artillery shelling. The Combat Engineers had bulldozed out a narrow road up the cliff where a dry ditch draw was there we went.”
When we went into the beach,our LST hit a sandbar about 200 feet out. He could not go any further so opened his ramp and out first was my Platoon Officer in his Jeep. He went about 25 feet and went down. Both he and his driver swam back to the LST and got on the back of my half-track, which was going out next. He said, ‘When you clear the ramp, turn as far right as you can.’ So we missed the bomb hole that I suppose his Jeep went into.”
“As we got to the top of the cliff we were pulling in to an area set up for de-waterproofing our equipment, and I got out of my half-track and looked down and saw a steel pot with a bullet hole right the center front. I knew that guy didn’t make it.”
Sometime later that summer, during the “hedgerow fighting” in France, my father was wounded, but he went on to serve in Europe throughout the war, not returning to Mississippi until early 1946.
Please do contribute to Mail Call for my father by June 6. It will mean the world to a man who made tremendous sacrifices for you and me.