Posts Tagged ‘Omaha Beach’

We just received an email from Perkins P. Cochran, Jr., son of 111th member Perkins P. Cochran, who died in 1983. He sent the following photo and notes to share. His report is interesting because although it contains a few dates we have not known previously, it also raises more questions about two other dates—when the unit arrived in St. Dogmaels, West Wales, and when they landed on Omaha Beach after D-Day. If all reports so far from men and family members are correct, the unit left Wales in two (or more) conveys late on the night of June 6, destined for two different embarkation points—Plymouth, England, and a port near Southampton, England—and arrived on Omaha Beach on three different dates: June 9, June 11, and June 12. Then somehow they found one another and regrouped. Is this possible? We would love to hear any other accounts.

We were also sorry to learn that Perkins Cochran was wounded in late 1944 and was sent back to the States for hospitalization. (This is a first; does anyone else know of injuries sustained among the men? Let us know.) Here is what his son sent us:

“My father, Perkins P. Cochran, was drafted and entered the U.S. Army in July 1942 at Camp Shelby, Mississippi. He went from there to Fort Warren, Wyoming, in August 1942, then to Fort Crook, Nebraska, from November 1942 to January 1943 for Auto Mechanic Training Course. He went to Pomona Ordnance Motor Base, California, for further training until April 1943. Then he was sent to Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, for four days, and on April 10, 1943, to Fort Dix, New Jersey. It was probably around this time that he became a member of the 111th Ordnance Medium Maintenance Company. In July 1943 he arrived at A.P. Hill, Virginia, and in November 1943 he arrived at Camp Shanks, New York. He was a mechanic and truck driver in the Army.

Cpl Perkins P. Cochran of Senatobia, Mississippi

Cpl Perkins P. Cochran of Senatobia, Mississippi

“I found some notes that my father had written after he left Camp A.P. Hill, Virginia. I have summarized what he wrote in these notes as follows: He tells about leaving Camp Shanks November 5, 1943, crossing the Atlantic on a ship named the S.S. Examiner. The journey began smoothly, but soon they faced rough seas with hard wind and rain. One day they received word that four German submarines had been spotted about fifty miles away, so they changed course. They continued in the North Atlantic and saw a whale and some sharks following the ship even though the seas were still rough. At one point it was so rough that they lost one of the ship’s life boats. As they got closer to England, they saw patrol planes flying over them. On November 19, 1943, they arrived at Liverpool, England.

“They left Liverpool and rode all night by train to Barry, Wales, then traveled by trucks to Brynhill golf course at the edge of Barry to help build the camp up. They stayed there a few days and then on December 3, 1943, went to Sully, Wales G-40, where Dad was a truck driver at the S.O.S. Depot near Cardiff. Later in February 1944 they moved to Albro Castle near St. Dogmaels. He tells about a Captain Goode taking command of the 111th in February 1944. They left there on June 4, 1944 [we believe this date is off by two days], for Southampton, England, arrived the next day, waterproofed their trucks, loaded on the LST’s and left for France June 8, 1944. They landed on Omaha beachhead on June 9, 1944. He didn’t go into detail but wrote that they saw terrible things even three days after D-Day. They took the waterproofing off their trucks and moved up behind the Second Division about 10 miles from the coast and just over a mile from the front lines.

“He wrote about the constant artillery shelling back and forth and the enemy planes strafing almost every day. He also wrote about it raining almost every day for three weeks after they arrived in France. They had to watch out for booby traps, snipers, and land mines, and as they moved forward, most of the towns had been destroyed. They moved from Cherbourg up past St. Lo, Vire and on into the spearhead toward Paris in July and August 1944.

“They moved on to Belgium, then to Holland after this. His notes did not show the months (probably September and October 1944), but he wrote about many of the dykes, canals, and bridges that had been destroyed in Holland. He wrote that they lived in an old factory building that had been used to make pottery and tile for roofing. He mentioned that they had a nice shop and were doing a lot of work. He wrote about dreaming that the war would be over by the end of October 1944 and was waiting to see if his dream would come true. They began to see many German prisoners of war in those days.

“My father’s notes ended after the above information. I don’t know what happened, but sometime around November 1944 he was wounded and was in the hospital. I don’t know how or where he was wounded or where he was in the hospital. He never talked about this. He left Europe on December 30, 1944, and arrived in the U.S. in January 1945 at Brooke General and Convalescent Hospital, Fort Sam Houston, Texas. He remained there until April 30, 1945, when he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army.”

Ed and I had the pleasure of spending several fascinating hours this past weekend in Florida with Arthur T. Brooks, one of the five surviving members of the 111th Ordnance Company. He joined the unit as a lieutenant in late 1942 and was promoted to captain and commanding officer in late January 1945. He is a vibrant man of 96 years old, and he regaled us with many stories of his time in WWII. We also enjoyed talking with his lovely wife of 67 years, Judy, and their daughter Louise. It was a wonderful weekend.

Art Brooks and Andrea, Judy Brooks, seated

Art Brooks and Andrea,
Judy Brooks, seated

Ed video-recorded nearly three hours of interviews with Art, which we will edit and send to the Library of Congress for its Veterans History Project. We learned so many new things about the 111th that it will take days to absorb it all, so in this posting I will share one of the stories, relating to their time in Normandy, France, shortly after D-Day. (In the next posting, I will describe how the 111th played a role in helping the U.S. defeat the German troops during the Battle of Normandy.)

This story is about the near-disastrous landing on Omaha Beach of the serial led by Lt. Brooks. His was the slower convey leaving Wales because he was leading the unit’s larger vehicles. Their LCT crossed the English Channel a day later than the rest of the unit.

The 111th unloading on Omaha Beach

The 111th unloading on Omaha Beach

The 111th officers: Goessel, Kent, Witt, Brooks, Goode, Lewenthal, Errington, in Normandy summer 1944

The 111th officers: left to right, Goessel, Kent, Witt, Brooks (center), Goode, Lewenthal, Errington, in Normandy, June 1944

On D+6 (June 12, 1944), as Brooks’ LCT approached Omaha Beach, the Navy man in charge of their LCT stopped it and told them to unload. Brooks was in the lead jeep, and he and his driver were sure they still were too far from shore. They found a pole to check the depth. Sure enough, they were in 10 feet of water. Had they followed instructions, the first vehicles off their LCT would have sunk and men may have drowned. Brooks recalls that he and his driver yelled “No way!” to the sailor and told him they needed to move to a better spot. The spot was found and all went ashore safely.

The best part of this story is that two days before Art Brooks told it to us, I had talked by phone with another 111th veteran, Roger Rickon, from his home near Cleveland. He had told me the very same story, except that he couldn’t recall the name of the officer he was with. And Art couldn’t recall the name of his driver. So we were able to match up the two men! They talked by phone after our visit and relived that memory of nearly 70 years ago. How we would have loved to listen in!

Update, Jan.25: We received a note from John Raisler, a 111th surviving member, saying that he recalled the same landing experience:

“The account of Capt. Brooks’ landing in France sounds very familiar. You see, I was supposed to be the first to load [the LCT], which would have me last one off. No way, there was room for my small truck to fit, so my assistant and I would be first off [presumably after Brooks’ jeep]. The deep water bit, then moving over…well, needless to say we made it, got a little wet but up and away on the beach.”

At first we thought all three men might have been on the same LCT, but after Brooks and Raisler talked by phone a few days later, they sorted it out and determined they were on different LCTs.

We began the first day (yesterday) with a visit to the American Cemetery above Omaha Beach. We had visited it about ten years ago, where we realized for time first time why Dad was in Wales: preparing for Normandy, based on seeing the large map in one of the pavilions next to the graves. He died in 2001, and although we knew he was here D+5, we didn’t realize the full extent of his time in Normandy until recently.

France etc. 2013 111

We looked again at the large map and guessed that he probably had left from Milford Haven, Wales, rather than from Swansea or Cardiff, which were much farther away from St. Dogmaels, Wales. [But we were wrong: two months later, when we  learned that the company had left from Plymouth, England.] At any rate, it was a lovely quiet morning, with mostly French families visiting this very moving place.

France etc. 2013 013

Here are a couple of pictures Dad took on D+5, when the 111th Ordnance company landed at Omaha Beach:

img192 Our trucks unload on Omaha Beach D+5 img194 Boats off of Omaha Beach, D+5

The goal of the day was to find the Abbey of Cerisy-la-Foret, between St. Lo and Bayeux. This was because, long ago, my sister asked our dad about a small watercolor painting of an old church that had hung in our childhood home, and that had always been rehung in our parents’ two later homes. Dad told Marcia that he had been based there soon after landing at Omaha Beach on June 11, 1944.

France etc. 2013 150 abbey cerisy painting France etc. 2013 178

We located the village of Cerisy-la-Foret on the map, not ten miles from our B&B, and arrived early afternoon in a cloudy drizzle. Our first clue that this was the right place was a monument to the Second Infantry Division at the top of the lane leading to the abbey. By now, we had figured out that Dad’s unit, tank and small arms repair, was continually being detached and reattached as needed throughout the war. We think that for a short while, he was part of the 29th, then part of the 2nd, here, in the early summer of 1944. That belief was confirmed by the small monument at the head of the lane leading to the abbey:

France etc. 2013 147

Dad and Donald McGowan, place unkown

Dad and Donald McGowan at the abbey, summer 1944

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Andrea at the same spot, 2013

We were happy to see, on this Sunday in October, that the Cerisy abbey was open for visitors. While Ed parked the car, I walked around the side and made a wonderful discovery. There in front of me, to the left of the entrance, was the very wall of the church that formed the background of a couple of photos of Dad and his buddy McGowan. I couldn’t believe it was so easy. Because the wall looked so destroyed, I thought it might be a church anywhere from France to Germany, the result of war devastation. But this wall had just fallen to pieces over a thousand years, quite naturally. They took the picture because this was their home at that time.

We went in to pay to see inside the abbey. When we showed the girl at the ticket desk our picture of Dad and his pal outside, she became as excited as we were and refused to let us pay, even giving us a postcard, a booklet, and a poster from the little gift shop. Her English was limited, and she didn’t know anything about the troops there, but her mother, now 80, had told her stories about the air raids and bombs hitting the nearby villages during the war. It was another remarkable day.

We learned a few months later, after talking with Arthur Brooks, who was one of the company officers, that there were no fresh food to be had in Normandy, and that the men subsisted on C rations for a month or so. That explains these photos of my dad’s:

“C rations again,” Dad wrote.

mom's list

“You still have to stand in line for everything.”