Ken Beaton: Tin cans saved the day

On D-Day 2nd Lt. Leonard Anker who was a member of the 116th Infantry Regiment of the US Army 29th Division's second wave at Omaha Beach Normandy, France on June 6, 1944. Leonard was wounded three times and was promoted to Captain as the "Fighting 29th" liberated France and Germany.

On D-Day 2nd Lt. Leonard Anker who was a member of the 116th Infantry Regiment of the US Army 29th Division's second wave at Omaha Beach Normandy, France on June 6, 1944. Leonard was wounded three times and was promoted to Captain as the "Fighting 29th" liberated France and Germany.

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Eighty years ago,  was June 6, 1944, D-Day. At a couple of minutes after midnight, American males in their teens or early twenties wearing either an 82nd or a101st patch on their left shoulder began hooking their harness to the wire. In nine seconds, 18 paratroopers loaded with 100 pounds including two cartons of cigarettes jumped out of their C-47 “Dakoda.” They jumped into the dark unknown over occupied France, held by the German troops for the past four years.

Meanwhile on Liberty ships at sea, thousands of “our boys” from three US Army infantry divisions, the 1st, “Big Red One,” the 29th, “Blue & Gray” and the 4th ID, “Ivy Division,” were being served a big breakfast of scrambled eggs, home fries, toast and coffee. Remember the seas were still rough in the English Channel from the storm that delayed D-Day from June 5th to the 6th. Many of the “land lover” troops in the first wave filled their helmet with their regurgitated breakfast while being transported in a LCVP, landing craft vehicle personnel, on the ten-mile choppy ride to land at 06:30 on Omaha or Utah Beaches.

The first nine companies of the Big Red One’s 16th Infantry Regiment and the first nine companies of the Blue and Gray’s the 116th Infantry Regiment headed to their assigned beaches. The LCVP’s ramps were dropped to have many of our boys cut down by “Hitler’s Buzz Saw,” the MG-42. Unlike most machine guns that fire 500-600 rounds a minute, the MG-42 fired 25 rounds per second, 1,500 rounds a minute! Many of our GIs dropped face down to bleed out in the sea water which the GIs named, “Bloody Omaha.”

Thirty minutes later the second wave of the Blue & Gray’s 116th Infantry Regiment, Companies J thru R, was about to land at Omaha Beach. A 1943 R.O.T.C. graduate from the University of Nevada and a third generation Native Nevadan was 2nd Lieutenant Leonard A. Anker. The platoon leader rapidly chewed his gum as he jumped off the ramp to have several of his men drop dead near him. Lieutenant Anker and the remainder of his men had to push bodies out of their way from the first wave to hurry to the sea wall for protection.

Six weeks after D-Day Lt. General Omar Bradley pinned the Distinguished Service Cross on Lieutenant Anker’s uniform and read, “To Second Lieutenant (Infantry) Leonard Alton Anker, United States Army, while serving as Platoon Leader in action against enemy forces on 6 June 1944, at Normandy, France. At the time of the landing of Second Lieutenant Anker’s platoon, the beach was under withering fire from enemy artillery, automatic weapons and small arms. After proceeding about 200 yards, all troops in the vicinity of Second Lieutenant Anker were pinned down by the devastating fire. Second Lieutenant Anker located an enemy machine gun that was inflicting heavy casualties. With complete disregard for his own safety, Second Lieutenant Anker, aided by an enlisted man whom he inspired to action by his own gallantry, fearlessly charged and destroyed the enemy strong point with hand grenades, killing 16 and capturing five of the enemy. Second Lieutenant Anker’s intrepid actions, personal bravery and zealous devotion to duty exemplify the highest traditions of the military forces of the United States and reflect great credit upon himself, the 29th Infantry Division and the United States Army.” Leonard received the Distinguished Service Cross, three Bronze Stars and three Purple Hearts, our Battle Born Son.

In the air across the English Channel, the USAAF’s P-47 and P-51 fighters along with B-25, B-26 and A-20 medium bombers with the heavy bombers, B-17s and B-24s were flying to bomb Nazi rail yards, troop locations, communications centers and targets of opportunity.

Let’s not forget the French Underground, “the Marquis,” was using C-4, plastic explosives, to blow up railroad track as troop trains or supply trains passed over the explosives. The French believed in equal opportunity. Frenchwomen in the Marquis enjoyed killing German troops as much as the Frenchmen!

Other than the US Navy’s Patrol Torpedo, PT Boats, most Destroyer captains were on the edge, “when in doubt, attack, to cause fear and death in the hearts of the enemy!”

The following quotes are from US Navy Captain William B. Kirkland, Jr., (Retired) Alameda, CA. “H hour began at 06:30. At 06:47 DD-493, the USS Carmick, had a German Shore Battery opened fire on this ship. At 06:50, German Shore Battery silenced by Main Battery of this ship. No damage resulting from enemy fire.”

At approximately 07:00 things began to go “south” with smoke confusing the LCVPs’ landing craft coxswains’ ability to see their assigned landing location. The LCVPs were pushed by a strong eastward tidal current. (There were up to 10’ waves with a strong tidal current caused 32 Duplex Drive tanks off course and sink. Only one Duplex Drive made it to the beach.)

The German machine gunners killed and wounded many of the assault troops and the Army’s Engineers’ demolition teams. At 09:00 the destroyer captains of the USS Doyle, USS Emmons, USS Frankford, USS Harding and USS McCook had been screening for German U-boats a couple of miles off Omaha Beach. When they noticed MG-42s and Nazi pillboxes’ fire pinning down our troops. The five Gleaves class destroyers decided to turn to “Cross the T,” being parallel with the Omaha Beach. This allowed their four 5” guns to concentrate on the same Nazi pillbox to turn the pillbox into rubble with all the occupants losing their lives for Hitler. Then, they’d concentrate on the next pillbox.

For the GIs who hunkered down on Omaha Beach on June sixth, nine destroyers were sent from Heaven to save their lives. A couple of destroyers came to within 900 yards of the shore, scraping their keel a couple of times while firing all four of their 5” guns leaving no Nazi survivors.

There was one Wickes class destroyer, DD-155, the USS Coleville with eight Gleaves class destroyers, DD-624, the USS Baldwin; DD-493, the USS Carmick; DD-457, the USS Doyle; DD-494, the USS Emmons; DD-497, the USS Frankford; DD-625, the USS Harding; DD-496, the USS McCook; and DD-626, the USS Satterlee. Those Tin Cans cleared the way for our boys to advance inland over the next eleven month to liberate Europe from the tyrannical Nazi hobnail boot.

Traditionally, sailors refer to a ship as “she.” Destroyers were referred to by their crew as a “Tin Can,” being lightly armored for speed. Those Tin Can Sailors love to brag about her top speed, 37.4 knots (43 mph) an hour. They’d brag, “She can turn on a dime and give you nine cents change!”


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