ANSONIA, Conn. — It was a long 12 days.
When the Allies' massive D-Day invasion fleet got underway, Alfonso Smith and the rest of his outfit boarded a ship in England and set sail across the English Channel. But partway across, while the other ships continued on to Omaha Beach, the ship Smith was on stopped and waited. And waited.
"We sat there for close to two weeks in the middle of the Channel," says Smith, 92. "That was the most grievous time we had, mainly because we watched other parts of Army floating by. We couldn't go back to England, but we couldn't go forward. We were close enough to hear gunfire on the shore."
Smith, a native of Ansonia, was drafted into the Army in 1943. He was trained in small-arms repair and maintenance, mainly for rifles and carbines. Before D-Day, his time in the Army was spent mostly in England.
When the invasion came, the infantry that had hit the beach ahead of Smith's unit had trouble securing a landing point, meaning Smith and his fellow weapons repairmen were stuck waiting. The problem was a winding road leading to the top of the cliffs that overlooked Omaha Beach, Smith says.
"When we did land at Omaha Beach, that's when word came back down: At every curve, the Germans had all their big guns pointed," Smith says. "Any movement of soldiers ... they were blasted away."
When Smith and his outfit got to the top of the cliffs, they found an open field, where they set up their gear. "All of a sudden we heard this plane coming, and I tell everybody to this day: I could see that German pilot smiling. They strafed the area we were in. We lost 59 guys that night, first night on shore."
From then on, Smith and his outfit were always about a mile or so behind the front lines — close enough to often hear shooting.
Many of the guns that came back for servicing and repairs were covered in blood. "You're saying, 'Geez, I wonder what happened to the guy who owned this one,'" he says.
German planes continued to be his biggest worry. Three times, the area where Smith and his outfit had been bivouacked was strafed, but only after they had already moved on.
"Our outfit was pretty much blessed by God," Smith says.
When he returned from the war, "I went to work here, went to work there," he says. He eventually became a U.S. Postal Service letter carrier, retiring close to 30 years ago. He married and raised two children. He also for a few years played on an all-black team in a semiprofessional baseball league in Connecticut.
Smith, the longtime chairman of Ansonia's recreation commission, was made ceremonial mayor for a day earlier this year. "They just gave me a jacket a few months back celebrating 50 years," he says.