Arendt, Laurie (ed.) / Back from duty 2 : more stories from Ozaukee County's veterans
[Profiles], pp. 11-148 ff.
Fred Beck Took Part in the D-Day Invasion When Fred Beck was voluntarily inducted into the Army in 1943, he didn't realize just how long it would be until he came home: 34 months and two days. The Port Washington soldier wouldn't come home until he took part in D-Day and marched across Europe before the war ended. I went into the Army in January 1943, which was before Congress voted that you couldn't send anyone over- seas after training without a furlough home. When you're 18, you're pretty naive. I went over to Europe with guys who never saw their homes again. Because of that, instead of coming home after completing basic training at Fort Hood, I was sent to New York where 16,000 of us boarded the Queen Elizabeth for transport to Scotland. It took us five nights and four days, and I later found out that we set a record for the number of troops transported in one voyage. My job was to man a 50-caliber gun on deck, and I would work four on and have eight off. I don't know what I would've done had I needed to shoot it because I was so sick. I had seasickness and I didn't like the food they served us - it was a British ship and we had things like marmalade. After we arrived in Scotland, we took a trip through England to a replacement depot in Litchfield. The first night we were there we experi- enced our first air raid. We ended up training at Plymouth, England. My job was a battery computer for fire direction control. I served in the 29th Division's 111th Field Artillery, Headquarters Battery, Battalion Headquarters, Fire Direction Center. Our team included a horizontal control operator, a vertical control operator, three battery computers and our captain. I worked a 12 on and 12 off schedule. During our hours off, we'd sleep, shower and later they took us on hikes to keep us from get- ting soft. When I went in, I weighed 130 pounds, and by October 1943 I was up to 143 pounds. We started training for what would become D-Day in late 1943, early 1944. We used DUKWs, but we went out on the English Channel in LSTs, Above:This picture was taken while Fred was and then back the DUKWs off the LSTs into the water. We had 12 stationed in England. Note the 29th Division howitzers in each battalion and 13 DUKWs. Each DUKW had 14 men and shoulder patch - the same insignia worn by 40 rounds. During training, I actually rode in a DUKW with my gun "Private Ryan:' battery, but at the last minute, they decided I should be in the Headquarters DUKW. I later found out that the guy who took my place was machine gunned to death. The morning of June 6, 1944, we were out in the Channel by 0330. It was dark, and while we couldn't see anything, we could hear other boats in the water. Our rendezvous area was between 400 and 800 yards from the LSTs. We started backing off the LSTs and some backed right straight down. We backed off our LST and after about 1/2 hour of circling we were hit by a huge wave and capsized. I couldn't swim, but we all wore belts with compressed air capsules. I pressed on my capsules and popped right up. I was probably in the water about a half hour before I was picked up by a Navy or Coast Guard boat, I don't remember. Let me tell you, the English Channel in early June is quite cold. I was put to bed and I slept until mid afternoon. I was fed, and they issued me green Navy coveralls, an ill-fitting helmet and a 45-caliber pistol. We spent the night aboard a rhino ferry, which was moored some miles off of the shore. A rhino ferry is a barge with air-tight compartments. We were fairly safe. We were near the USS Arkansas, and their 14-inch guns went off all night over us. We could see the projectiles and feel the heat. At that point, I knew that something big was going on, but I don't think I realized how big. We finally made it ashore at about 10:30 a.m. on June 7 at the Vierville Draw. I was shocked: There were so many bodies and parts of bodies still floating around. We did a little guard duty, but mostly we spent time in our fox holes. We'd only been able to get two of our 12 guns on the beach, and we had to wait for replacements before we could move. Those guns arrived on June 12, and we occupied a position behind the infantry starting on June 13. We worked our way through France, then back and forth between Holland and Germany. We stopped 4,000 to 5,000 yards from the Elbe River, but I never saw the Russians. When the war ended, we went to mass in a German church. We carried our guns, and the Germans were afraid of us. My brother, Clarence Beck, also spent 36 months in the Navy during World War I1. While we were gone, my mother walked to St. Mary's every day from Oakland Avenue for mass. Her praying must've done a lot, because we both came home safely when the war was over. BACK FROM DUTY: 2 21
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