Remembering D-Day’s Coast Guard heroes

“The Jaws of Death.” A photo by CPHOM Robert F. Sargent, USCG. A Coast Guard-manned LCVP from the U.S.S. Samuel Chase disembarks troops of Company E, 16th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division on the morning of 6 June 1944 at Omaha Beach. Coast Guard Photo #2343.

Coast Guard Flotilla 10 tied up in the background along with British landing craft, prepare to sail the English Channel and invade Nazi-occupied France. These landing craft landed U.S. troops on Omaha Beach. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

On June 6, 1944, Allied forces began the largest amphibious invasion of all time on the coast of France at Normandy. D-Day saw 160,000 troops land at Omaha Beach thanks to nearly 200,000 naval and merchant marine personnel on approximately 5,000 ships. Among those ships were 60 Coast Guard cutters providing search and rescue operations for the invasion force. Coast Guard personnel also manned the ships delivering soldiers to the beach. Below are the stories of a baker’s dozen Coast Guard heroes honored for their valor during the invasion of Normandy compliments of the Coast Guard historian’s office. While not exhaustive, publishing this list is our way of paying tribute to the heroism and sacrifice of the Coast Guardsmen who took part in D-Day operations, particularly those who gave their lives.

 

Click here to read more stories about the Coast Guard’s participation in D-Day operations on the Coast Guard historian’s website.

Selected combat award citations of Coast Guardsmen decorated for valor under fire during the Normandy Invasion

Samuel W. Allison, Silver Star

Lieutenant Samuel W. Allison was awarded the Silver Star: “For conspicuous gallantry in action as Commanding Officer of LCI(L) 326 during amphibious landings on the French coast June 6, 1944. Displaying superb seamanship and dauntless courage, Lieutenant Allison successfully landed units of the Army, then stood off the beach for salvage duty. Realizing that the services of a control boat were urgently needed, he volunteered for this assignment and, in the face of concentrated shell fire and constant threat of exploding mines, effectively directed boat traffic throughout the remainder of the initial assault.”

George C. Clark, British Distinguished Service Cross

Lieutenant George C. Clark was awarded the British Distinguished Service Cross. His citation reads: “During the landing of commandos at Quistreham by LCI (S) on June 6, 1944, Lieut. Clark’s cutter was detailed to act as escort to LCI(S) HM LCI(S) 524 on clearing the beach after landing troops received a direct hit and blew up in a sheet of flames leaving a mass of blazing Octane petrol on the water. Although his cutter burned Octane petrol, he did not hesitate to steer his craft into the flames and rescue the commanding officer and some of his men.”

Gene R. Gislason, Silver Star

Lieutenant Gene R. Gislason was awarded the Silver Star: “For outstanding heroism as Commanding Officer of the USS LCI (L) 94, while landing assault troops in Normandy June 6, 1944. He successfully directed his ship through numerous beach obstacles to the proper beach, discharged his troops and retracted while his ship was seriously damaged from heavy enemy fire. Ship’s communications, engine telegraph and electric steering were disabled by direct hits on the pilothouse which killed three crewmen, and one screw and shaft were rendered inoperative by beach obstacles. By his coolness under fire and excellent seamanship, Lieutenant Gislason overcame these difficulties and brought his ship off the beach on hand steering and one screw. He later supervised repairs and in four hours enabled the LCI (L) to remain operative in the assault area for three weeks.”

Coit T. Hendley, Silver Star

Lieutenant, junior grade Coit Hendley was awarded the Silver Star: “For heroism as Commanding Officer of the USS LCI (L) 85 while landing assault troops in Normandy, France, June 6, 1944. Lieutenant Hendley successfully landed his troops despite the mining of his vessel, fire in three compartments and a concentration of enemy fire while unloading. His courage and seamanship in directing repairs and retracting from the beach resulted in saving the lives of many wounded aboard.”

George F. Hutchinson, Silver Star

Lieutenant, junior grade George F. Hutchinson was awarded the Silver Star: “For gallantry in action against the enemy as Commanding Officer of the USS LCI (L) 83 while landing assault troops in Normandy, France, June 6, 1944. Lieutenant Hutchinson directed his ship to the beach through heavily mined obstacle while under heavy enemy fire that caused numerous Army casualties, successfully unloaded troops after the ship was mined and remained with the ship effecting repairs that enabled it to come off the beach on the next tide.”

Miles H. Imlay, Silver Star

Captain Miles H. Imlay was awarded the Silver Star: “For conspicuous gallantry as Deputy Commander of an Assault Group participating in the initial invasion on the coast of France, June 6, 1944. Undaunted by heavy enemy fire, Captain Imlay courageously took station close to the shore on the early morning of D-Day and, throughout the most bitter period of the fighting, coolly and promptly made spot decisions on the reorganization, grouping and dispatching of craft to the beach, subsequently relieving the Task Group Commander of his duties when he withdrew his transport from the assault area. Immediately thereafter, he was placed in charge of operations afloat as assistant to the Naval Officer in Charge of one of the beaches and, discharging the duties of this responsibility with distinctive professional ability, contributed essentially to the rapid clearing of the backlog of ships.”

Note: Imlay also earned the Legion of Merit for his actions at the invasion of Sicily and a gold star in lieu of a second Legion of Merit for his role during the invasion of Salerno, Italy.

Gene E. Oxley, Silver Star

Seaman 1/c Gene E. Oxley was awarded the Silver Star: “For gallantry while on the USS LCI(L)-85 during the assault on the coast of France June 6, 1944, and for extraordinary courage in volunteering and twice taking a line ashore, in the face of heavy machine gun and shell fire, in order to assist troops unloading from the ship to the beach through chest deep water.”

Robert M. Salmon, Silver Star

Lieutenant Robert M. Salmon was awarded the Silver Star: “For gallantry as commanding officer of a U.S. LCI (L) while landing assault troops in Normandy, France, June 6, 1944. He pressed the landing of troops despite the mining of his vessel, a serious fire forward and heavy enemy gunfire. He supervised the unloading of troops, directed the fire fighting despite the loss of proper equipment and exhibiting courage of a high degree remained with the ship until it was impossible to control the progress of the fire until it was impossible to control the progress of the fire and it was necessary to abandon ship over the stern. After abandoning he directed a party searching for fire fighting equipment and subsequently fought the fire on another LCI (L) and assisted her commanding officer until she was abandoned.”

William F. Trump, Silver Star

Motor Machinist’s Mate 1/c William F. Trump was awarded the Silver Star: “For gallantry and intrepidity in action in the assault phase of an LCI (L) which landed troops in the face of severe enemy fire and despite a profusion of beach obstacles on the coast of France June 6, 1944. Having volunteered for the assignment he waded between the heavily mined beach obstacles and dragged an anchor and anchor-line to shallow water, thereby providing a safety line for troops to follow.”

Aden C. Unger, Silver Star

Commander Aden C. Unger was awarded the Silver Star: “For outstanding services as a deputy assault group commander in the assault on the coast of France, June 6, 1944. He took his station close to the beach under heavy enemy fire on the day of the assault and remained under fire during the most bitter period of the fighting, when with great coolness he made decisions on the spot, reorganized, grouped and dispatched craft to the beach, and made the weight of his judgment felt in a manner which contributed materially to the success of the operation.”

Arend Vyn, Jr., Silver Star

Lieutenant junior grade Arend Vyn was awarded the Silver Star: “For gallantry in action as Commanding Officer of USS LCI 91 in the assault on the coast of France June 6 1944. Lt (jg) Vyn beached his ship and discharged the Army elements therein in the face of murderous fire and a labyrinth of obstacles and mines. In spite of the fact that his ship was mined and repeatedly struck by artillery fire and small-arms fire, he continued to land the army load in the face of certain loss of his ship. His determination to put the Army ashore was in keeping with the highest traditions of the offensive spirit of the United States Naval Service.”

Quentin R. Walsh, Navy Cross

Lieutenant Commander (later Captain) Quentin R. Walsh was a member of the Logistics and Planning Section, US Naval Forces during World War II. Prior to the Normandy invasion, he planned the occupation and operation of the ports that were to be captured from the Germans, including Cherbourg. He was awarded the Navy Cross for: “Heroism as Commanding Officer of a U.S. Naval party reconnoitering the naval facilities and naval arsenal at Cherbourg June 26 and 27, 1944. While in command of a reconnaissance party, Commander Walsh entered the port of Cherbourg and penetrated the eastern half of the city, engaging in street fighting with the enemy. He accepted the surrender and disarmed 400 of the enemy force at the naval arsenal and later received unconditional surrender of 350 enemy troops and, at the same time, released 52 captured U.S. Army paratroopers.”

Robert G. Ward, Silver Star

Seaman 1/c Robert G. Ward was awarded the Silver Star: “For conspicuous gallantry in action during the landing operations against the enemy on Cotentin Peninsula, France, June 6, 1944. While acting as coxswain of a landing craft in the first wave, Ward successfully landed his troop personnel despite enemy opposition. Upon retracting from the beach he observed the stranded crews from two other landing craft whose boats had been destroyed by enemy mortar fire. Ward returned to the beach, took off both crews despite continued shelling, and returned safely with them to his ship.”

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  • Ron Lopez

    Good stories, just to bad there weren’t many of enlisted men. This sounds like nearly all the landing craft were coxswained by lieutenants. And, we all know better than that. The phrase “as Commanding Officer,” is repeated constantly throughout this presentation. Let’s hear some stories from the deckies and snipes that actually manned the vast majority of those craft. ronljl

  • Joseph Kleinpeter

    There is no mention of our shipmates left behind, interred at the Normandy Cemetery or listed on the Wall of the Missing. Coast Guard Combat Veterans Association has visited the Coast Guard graves at Normandy and other overseas cemeteries, imbedding medallions into the soil at the base of each head stone signifying they are not forgotten.Their families gone, our shipmates who made the supreme sacrifice are now their only family and should never be forgotten. Any mention of WWII always puts Normandy in the spotlight. Coast Guard blood has been spilled all over the Pacific and should be emphasized as well. Coast Guard graves can be found in Cambridge, Normandy, Sicily-Rome, North Africa, & Manila. Semper Paratus