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World War II Veteran: Billy Amos
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Actually we were training like infantry most times with engineering training. At that time of the war the combat engineer was kind of a big, new thing. You were actually an infantryman with a lot of engineer training, demolition work and mine detecting and all that type of thing. So we went to Camp Picket. Then we went up to Chesapeake Bay and maneuvered amphibious training there. We had these little Higgins boat, you’ve seen them probably on TV with the front dropped down and everybody runs out the front end. We trained on those down there for a couple weeks.
What’s that like the first time when that front drops down and you have to run off that boat?
Well I’ll tell ya there’s nothing to it when you are down in Fort Pearson doing it, Florida, if you jump out of there. But during the invasion I wasn’t on that, I was on an LCI which is a little bit bigger boat. But some of our outfit was on the Higgins boats. And the ocean was so rough, I mean the Channel, that when they come out of the landing crafts they lost a lot of their equipment. Of course as engineers, you know, we had a lot of fire power, each squad had a 50 caliber and a 30 caliber machine gun and everyone had a rifle. So a lot of these guys that come off the little boats they lost all that stuff during the invasion. So we were kinda like lost balls. I don’t know if they had, I don’t know if we had anymore, I was talking about the invasion then, but anyway to get back to where we was at… We went back from Camp Picket to Kilmer, [?] camp, and we went just Christmas time in ‘43, we left New York to England. We landed in Liverpool, and I don’t know we were just in Liverpool a few days then we went down to Payton, England. Payton and Torquay was the Miami of England. We lived in private homes there. Another guy from Ottumwa and I lived there. They were guest homes and the army I suppose rented them or whatever they did, and our whole company lived in a certain area in Payton. And we stayed there till the invasion, June the 6th. Of course we left England a few days before that but we were down around South Hampton and, oh what was the other town, Weymouth. That’s where about everybody shipped out from and that whole area it was down on the Channel in the southwestern part of England. Everything was just covered with military equipment. And they had these big camouflage nets that covered like a big parking lot of trucks and tanks and people and everything. You can’t imagine that many people in that area getting ready for the invasion. So when the invasion started, if I remember right it was supposed to have been a little earlier date but the weather was so bad they backed it up for a week or so. And even during the day of the invasion the weather was bad. And the Channel was real rough, and that’s why they had so many mistakes down there you just couldn’t believe. And during the invasion, I don’t know how big an outfit it was but they had a bunch of tanks that were amphibious tanks and they had kinda like a big balloon around the tank and they had a little motor on the back of the tank, like on an outboard motor boat, and those were supposed to be the leading part of the invasion, which the infantry would have shelter behind tanks and stuff. But anyway I don’t think but just one of em was all that made it to the beach. They sank when they run em off the boat and it didn’t work. Now we trained with them down in South Hampton area and they worked pretty good. But the water was real calm then and they didn’t have no problems. During the invasion they were just lost. So that is what caused a lot of problems on the beach because they had no protection you know. First thing I remember about the invasion, most of my outfit was there real early in the morning. But when I got there I was on an LCM and they had a truck on there, 2 trucks, and we were full of ammunition and demolition equipment you know, and landing and mine detectors, so we never got in there until later. But in the morning the Air Force had spread their bombs out and the Navy had 4 or 5 big gun ships in there, destroyers and cruisers, and they fired at the land artillery. The Germans were built in the hills overlooking the beach. I mean, they had homes in there, they had dining areas and bedrooms, they slept right in these, made of concrete and built right in the hill. So you know they were pretty well protected and these big guns didn’t knock out hardly any of their stuff actually. But the small arm fire was all over when I got there. But the thing I remember most about being on that beach was all the dead people. The 90th, the 24th division, the 2nd division, the infantry divisions they were the first ones on there. There’d be all kinds of…I’ll never get over this, you’d see a rifle with a bayonet on it stuck in the ground with a tube of blood plasma hanging on there. Of course they’d pick the people up and they were off the beach then but they just left those there. I think there was around 2,000 killed on Omaha Beach. And one of the best parts of this story is about 25 of us were from Ottumwa in this outfit and there was over 20 some in our company that got killed, and I don’t know, 15 or 20 wounded. One guy, just one guy from Ottumwa got a piece of shrapnel in his hand and no other Ottumwa guy got a scratch. That’s a pretty good story. So we were pretty lucky to be from Ottumwa, I guess, that day.
How many men were with you in that whole unit, with the 25 from Ottumwa? How many of you were together at that time?
Well I wasn’t with anybody from Ottumwa, during the actual invasion, because we were all, they were all split up on different ships, because there would be so many engineers with infantry or whatever. But the early guys, I don’t even recall how many of them were together. But the 23 guys that got killed most of them weren’t on a little landing craft, they were on a bigger one with a whole bunch of guys together on one ship. When they came in they hit a land mine. The Germans had big iron structures in the water and you really couldn’t see them on account of the water being high. And they’d have a land mine attached to those big metal objects in there. And the story I heard with this one ship when so many guys got killed at once, they hit a land mine then the Germans hit them with artillery from the coastal batteries and it just exploded the whole front end of that big landing craft. We was down there a day or so after that and even the mess kits and stuff that were in the front of that compartment were all melted into a ball of aluminum there, it just melted them up. But anyway in the whole battalion there I think there was 24, 25 of us from Ottumwa in the B company and I know there was 8 or 9 from the A company from Ottumwa. So we were pretty well represented. In fact our whole battalion came from Iowa, Missouri and Kansas. And that was out of, we came out of Camp Dodge. Other than that, now we stayed on Normandy there. We cleared mine fields, we did demolition work, I don’t know what all, everything combat engineers do. So they didn’t know for sure after the invasion whether they was going to need us in Japan or not, so anyway we got a bunch of trucks and we started hauling cargo. We’d back out onto the ramp, clear out to the boats, we’d get a load of stuff and we’d take it, wherever we was going, we were hauling artillery, ammunition and food and everything.
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