On this beautiful June morning it is hard to imagine 70 years ago the carnage on Omaha Beach as Allied forces sought to retake Europe from Nazi conquest. While the media are full of pictures and speeches, old warriors like myself draw on personal memories to share.
The U.S. Navy had noted the reason the Nazis could not cross 30 miles of the English Channel was because they had no amphibious fleet. To retake Sicily and Salerno, the Navy built sister ships, the USS Frederick Funston and the USS James O'Hara, 15,000 tons, 492 feet long and 90 feet wide.
On the same D-Day as Normandy, we attached Saipan, the first penetration of the Japanese Empire. With amphibious craft called Higgins boats, we landed the 2nd Marine division on Saipan against heavy resistance.
In my memory was the horrible suicide of Korean sugar cane workers who were jumping off the north island cliffs to their deaths. They had been told by the Japanese military they would be tortured by the Americans if captured.
Casualties from the beach were immediately loaded on the (LCVP) Higgins boats and brought to our ship. We had extra doctors and corpsmen, but soon the recreation room and office space were full.
Surgeon Peter Brooks said to me, "Chaplain, will you hold this Marine's leg while I amputate?" "What shall I do with it?" I asked. "Wrap it in cloth and drop it overboard after dark," he replied.
While we were taking on casualties from the beach, we were informed of an attempt by an enemy carrier force to stop the Saipan landings. The battle was now raging in the Philippine Sea.
U.S. carriers prevailed, and by June 23 we were able to take out wounded to Pearl Harbor. Saipan had been secured.
- John D. Wolf, Valparaiso