At Utah Beach

For this 75th Anniversary of D-Day, this grateful daughter would like to share with American Thinker readers the memories of my father, Gilbert C. “Gib” Frye, a soldier in the 4th Infantry Division, U.S. Army, who landed on Utah Beach on June 6, 1944. The following has been edited only for minor errors in punctuation and was written at the request of his family members in November 2000, eight years before Gib’s passing.

-- C.S. Boddie

Days Leading to the Landing

The Fourth Infantry Division -- including our 12th Regimental Combat Team -- was on its way to spearhead the landings in France.  Where, we knew not, but at least it was a relief finally to get on with the invasion.  Our spirits were high, even jovial, as we considered the prospects.  Much joking and speculating about what lay ahead. Very little, if any, evidence of fear or apprehension.

At first, word was that the landings would take place June 4, next day, my birthday, no less.  But when the weather worsened, with a rough sea to match, we were told that it would be June 5, or maybe the sixth. Judging from the movement of ships all around us, in the thick fog and mist, the flotilla was “marking time.”  We marveled that the navy men were able to maintain any kind of position and avoid collisions. A real credit to them.

Our people made the best of a lousy situation.  With the inactivity, people found diversions, some of ‘em pretty crazy.  For example, just before embarking at Plymouth, I had “grown” a boil on the back of my neck -- first and last time ever. By the following day, it had turned nasty, with the hint of a “head”.  We had a medic aboard, who allowed he could “force it”, or I could let it take its own course.  I chose the latter.  But someone then got the idea of forming a pool, with bets on when Frye’s boil would erupt.  When the hours passed without relief, and with time growing short, it became apparent that it would take the medic’s touch.  With some ceremony, he did -- to my great relief and applause from the troops. Who collected the money I do not recall.

My birthday, too, became a cause celebré.  When word got out that it was, in fact, my twentieth birthday, it became reason for diversive action.  At the urging of a buddy, people deposited portions of their field rations into a round cook pan.  The Navy boys came up with a single altar candle, which they thrust into the center and lit.  Alas, just as people broke into song, the boat dipped into a trough, a wave cascaded over the front with disastrous effect on the ”cake”.  It had turned to glop.  Still, the spirit remained, and I was touched by the effort.  Surely, a twentieth birthday I would not forget.

By June 5 morning, spirits were beginning to sag.  Two days in the open boat, in a rough, wind-blown sea, plowing through continual fog were taking a toll.  The optimism had grown thin. We were beginning to wonder about the landing, when, even if, it would take place. Clearly, the top brass hadn’t reckoned on the miserable weather.  We were wet, cold, and many were seasick (thankfully, I avoided it).  More than ever, people hankered to get on with the invasion.  Dry land, even enemy shells, seemed preferable to the soupy channel.

Happily, during June 5 evening, the time had come; we would hit the beachhead next morning, June 6. By first light, the invasion had begun.  A dazzling display of gunfire lit up the sky over the landing areas.  Our 4th Division infantry -- the eighth, twelfth, and twenty-second regiments -- would be the first on the beaches at H-hour plus one, then drive inland to take up positions.

The view from our boat, as we marked time at dawn, was nothing short of spectacular.  There were the large troop ships beginning to disgorge the infantry, which clambered down nets into small landing craft, which cruised away into a line for the run for the beaches.  There were battleships, destroyers, dozens of smaller craft, like ours.

My thoughts occasionally went to a young man who had become a close friend since the division’s arrival in England.  Paul Mobley was my age, tall, handsome, bright, good athlete, also a college “scrub.”  We’d spent much time together, speculating on where all of “this” would lead. Days before we were to embark, he was “chosen” to join a four-man forward observer team, attached to a front line infantry company.  The job of the team: to spot enemy targets, radio our gun battery, and direct the fire of our guns to designated targets.  It was risky business.  He was at that moment in the first wave of infantry headed for the beaches.

The Landings, Utah Beach

We could see and hear explosions and the constant rattle of small arms fire ahead.  I feared for Mobley and our other men with the first wave.  Then came our turn -- the signal for our boat to make the run to the beachhead.  The young skipper revved the engines and we charged through the surf, toward the beach, with incoming shells exploding nearby.  Suddenly, the worst happened.  The boat ran up on a hidden sand bar and stuck. No amount of revving would free us, and we were still several hundred yards away from the beach. Impatient and fearful of being a target of the German artillery, the skipper tried to drive forward, hanging us up all the more.  Then, apparently in a panic, he simply dropped the ramp and ordered us off.  What to do?  Nothing but try to make it to shore. I was in the lead vehicle, a small weasel, a tracked amphibious-type jeep.  There was the driver and me, with radio, plus duffels and rifles.  We were to be first off, to be followed by the two M-7 tanks. With the engines of the tanks already revving up behind, we in the weasel drove off the ramp, hopeful that we could stay afloat and make progress enough to touch ground. But it didn’t happen. Within seconds water flowed over the sides, swamping us.

Our little vehicle settled below the surface, directly in the path of the tanks (I recall thinking I’d like a talk with whoever designed the “amphibious” jeep).  Fortunately, the driver and I were wearing life preservers, and we bobbed on the surface.  But now we faced another challenge.  The two tanks could not be delayed in leaving the boat and reaching the beachhead.  I was horrified to see the lead tank move forward and start down the ramp -- directly toward me. No amount of paddling seemed to get me out of the way.  The tank drove off the ramp, touched bottom in six feet of water and began churning ahead -- toward me.  To my relief, one of the gunners aboard the tank spotted the driver and me, threw ropes, and managed to pull us up to where we could hold to the side.  It was in that position that I arrived on Utah Beach. With landing craft relieved of the weight of the tanks, the skipper revved the boat onto the beach, dropped ramp and deposited the rest of our crew.

 By now, at H-hour plus one, the Germans, recovering from their initial surprise, had zeroed their artillery on the landing area, and were pounding the beaches.  Soaking wet from my enforced bath, I shook almost uncontrollably from the chill -- and sheer fright, the realization that someone was trying to kill me.  My personal effects -- extra clothing, rations, cigarettes, etc. -- plus my all-important rifle -- had gone down with the weasel.  I picked up a rifle and steel helmet from near the body of a dead GI, and acquired a jacket from a discarded duffel.  As I started across the beach, a murderous barrage hit the area.  I dove into a large shell hole, to find that I had landed squarely on another occupant.  There was a yelp, grunt and curse.  With something like an apology, I disengaged from my new mate, and was startled to see that he wore the silver leaves of a Lt. Colonel.  I think I mumbled more apologies (“Sir!”).  In any case, he made room for me, and, seeing my soaking wet, shaky condition, offered me a cigarette, which I took -- and smoked -- gratefully (one of the few times I truly enjoyed such).  Came a lull in the shelling, and we clambered up and out, he going one way, I another to find our outfits.

By now the beaches were alive with activity -- and confusion.  Most units had been landed some distance from their intended landing zones.  Men and units, including mine, were scattered and searching.  Fortunately, I connected with a few of our people, and together we walked inland.  We found another problem.  Behind the beaches were flooded areas, crossed by roadways.  Most of these roads had been destroyed, so it was necessary for troops and vehicles to “wade” across, making them sitting ducks for incoming fire.  Our group made its way to one remaining road, hopped onto a weapons carrier and rode across.  The German fire was intermittent now, heavy artillery, mortar and small arms fire, with occasional lulls.

By late morning, our group had grown to a dozen or so, and then we spotted one of our battery’s jeeps, driven by a Lt., who directed us to an apple orchard where, sure enough, our CO had set up a command post and fire directions center.  About the same time, two more of our four M-7’s, which had come ashore from a second landing craft, arrived to join the two others in place.  Within the hour, the guns were lined up. There was radio contact with our forward observer teams (including Paul Mobley) with the front line infantry, and we were in business...

Gilbert C. Frye came home to Denver, Colorado, after WWII. He returned to school, married, had four children, and worked in media, including newspapers and his own advertising agency. C.S. Boddie is his daughter and works as a writer and editor for Meadowlark Press, LLC.

For this 75th Anniversary of D-Day, this grateful daughter would like to share with American Thinker readers the memories of my father, Gilbert C. “Gib” Frye, a soldier in the 4th Infantry Division, U.S. Army, who landed on Utah Beach on June 6, 1944. The following has been edited only for minor errors in punctuation and was written at the request of his family members in November 2000, eight years before Gib’s passing.

-- C.S. Boddie

Days Leading to the Landing

The Fourth Infantry Division -- including our 12th Regimental Combat Team -- was on its way to spearhead the landings in France.  Where, we knew not, but at least it was a relief finally to get on with the invasion.  Our spirits were high, even jovial, as we considered the prospects.  Much joking and speculating about what lay ahead. Very little, if any, evidence of fear or apprehension.

At first, word was that the landings would take place June 4, next day, my birthday, no less.  But when the weather worsened, with a rough sea to match, we were told that it would be June 5, or maybe the sixth. Judging from the movement of ships all around us, in the thick fog and mist, the flotilla was “marking time.”  We marveled that the navy men were able to maintain any kind of position and avoid collisions. A real credit to them.

Our people made the best of a lousy situation.  With the inactivity, people found diversions, some of ‘em pretty crazy.  For example, just before embarking at Plymouth, I had “grown” a boil on the back of my neck -- first and last time ever. By the following day, it had turned nasty, with the hint of a “head”.  We had a medic aboard, who allowed he could “force it”, or I could let it take its own course.  I chose the latter.  But someone then got the idea of forming a pool, with bets on when Frye’s boil would erupt.  When the hours passed without relief, and with time growing short, it became apparent that it would take the medic’s touch.  With some ceremony, he did -- to my great relief and applause from the troops. Who collected the money I do not recall.

My birthday, too, became a cause celebré.  When word got out that it was, in fact, my twentieth birthday, it became reason for diversive action.  At the urging of a buddy, people deposited portions of their field rations into a round cook pan.  The Navy boys came up with a single altar candle, which they thrust into the center and lit.  Alas, just as people broke into song, the boat dipped into a trough, a wave cascaded over the front with disastrous effect on the ”cake”.  It had turned to glop.  Still, the spirit remained, and I was touched by the effort.  Surely, a twentieth birthday I would not forget.

By June 5 morning, spirits were beginning to sag.  Two days in the open boat, in a rough, wind-blown sea, plowing through continual fog were taking a toll.  The optimism had grown thin. We were beginning to wonder about the landing, when, even if, it would take place. Clearly, the top brass hadn’t reckoned on the miserable weather.  We were wet, cold, and many were seasick (thankfully, I avoided it).  More than ever, people hankered to get on with the invasion.  Dry land, even enemy shells, seemed preferable to the soupy channel.

Happily, during June 5 evening, the time had come; we would hit the beachhead next morning, June 6. By first light, the invasion had begun.  A dazzling display of gunfire lit up the sky over the landing areas.  Our 4th Division infantry -- the eighth, twelfth, and twenty-second regiments -- would be the first on the beaches at H-hour plus one, then drive inland to take up positions.

The view from our boat, as we marked time at dawn, was nothing short of spectacular.  There were the large troop ships beginning to disgorge the infantry, which clambered down nets into small landing craft, which cruised away into a line for the run for the beaches.  There were battleships, destroyers, dozens of smaller craft, like ours.

My thoughts occasionally went to a young man who had become a close friend since the division’s arrival in England.  Paul Mobley was my age, tall, handsome, bright, good athlete, also a college “scrub.”  We’d spent much time together, speculating on where all of “this” would lead. Days before we were to embark, he was “chosen” to join a four-man forward observer team, attached to a front line infantry company.  The job of the team: to spot enemy targets, radio our gun battery, and direct the fire of our guns to designated targets.  It was risky business.  He was at that moment in the first wave of infantry headed for the beaches.

The Landings, Utah Beach

We could see and hear explosions and the constant rattle of small arms fire ahead.  I feared for Mobley and our other men with the first wave.  Then came our turn -- the signal for our boat to make the run to the beachhead.  The young skipper revved the engines and we charged through the surf, toward the beach, with incoming shells exploding nearby.  Suddenly, the worst happened.  The boat ran up on a hidden sand bar and stuck. No amount of revving would free us, and we were still several hundred yards away from the beach. Impatient and fearful of being a target of the German artillery, the skipper tried to drive forward, hanging us up all the more.  Then, apparently in a panic, he simply dropped the ramp and ordered us off.  What to do?  Nothing but try to make it to shore. I was in the lead vehicle, a small weasel, a tracked amphibious-type jeep.  There was the driver and me, with radio, plus duffels and rifles.  We were to be first off, to be followed by the two M-7 tanks. With the engines of the tanks already revving up behind, we in the weasel drove off the ramp, hopeful that we could stay afloat and make progress enough to touch ground. But it didn’t happen. Within seconds water flowed over the sides, swamping us.

Our little vehicle settled below the surface, directly in the path of the tanks (I recall thinking I’d like a talk with whoever designed the “amphibious” jeep).  Fortunately, the driver and I were wearing life preservers, and we bobbed on the surface.  But now we faced another challenge.  The two tanks could not be delayed in leaving the boat and reaching the beachhead.  I was horrified to see the lead tank move forward and start down the ramp -- directly toward me. No amount of paddling seemed to get me out of the way.  The tank drove off the ramp, touched bottom in six feet of water and began churning ahead -- toward me.  To my relief, one of the gunners aboard the tank spotted the driver and me, threw ropes, and managed to pull us up to where we could hold to the side.  It was in that position that I arrived on Utah Beach. With landing craft relieved of the weight of the tanks, the skipper revved the boat onto the beach, dropped ramp and deposited the rest of our crew.

 By now, at H-hour plus one, the Germans, recovering from their initial surprise, had zeroed their artillery on the landing area, and were pounding the beaches.  Soaking wet from my enforced bath, I shook almost uncontrollably from the chill -- and sheer fright, the realization that someone was trying to kill me.  My personal effects -- extra clothing, rations, cigarettes, etc. -- plus my all-important rifle -- had gone down with the weasel.  I picked up a rifle and steel helmet from near the body of a dead GI, and acquired a jacket from a discarded duffel.  As I started across the beach, a murderous barrage hit the area.  I dove into a large shell hole, to find that I had landed squarely on another occupant.  There was a yelp, grunt and curse.  With something like an apology, I disengaged from my new mate, and was startled to see that he wore the silver leaves of a Lt. Colonel.  I think I mumbled more apologies (“Sir!”).  In any case, he made room for me, and, seeing my soaking wet, shaky condition, offered me a cigarette, which I took -- and smoked -- gratefully (one of the few times I truly enjoyed such).  Came a lull in the shelling, and we clambered up and out, he going one way, I another to find our outfits.

By now the beaches were alive with activity -- and confusion.  Most units had been landed some distance from their intended landing zones.  Men and units, including mine, were scattered and searching.  Fortunately, I connected with a few of our people, and together we walked inland.  We found another problem.  Behind the beaches were flooded areas, crossed by roadways.  Most of these roads had been destroyed, so it was necessary for troops and vehicles to “wade” across, making them sitting ducks for incoming fire.  Our group made its way to one remaining road, hopped onto a weapons carrier and rode across.  The German fire was intermittent now, heavy artillery, mortar and small arms fire, with occasional lulls.

By late morning, our group had grown to a dozen or so, and then we spotted one of our battery’s jeeps, driven by a Lt., who directed us to an apple orchard where, sure enough, our CO had set up a command post and fire directions center.  About the same time, two more of our four M-7’s, which had come ashore from a second landing craft, arrived to join the two others in place.  Within the hour, the guns were lined up. There was radio contact with our forward observer teams (including Paul Mobley) with the front line infantry, and we were in business...

Gilbert C. Frye came home to Denver, Colorado, after WWII. He returned to school, married, had four children, and worked in media, including newspapers and his own advertising agency. C.S. Boddie is his daughter and works as a writer and editor for Meadowlark Press, LLC.