LUBBOCK. Texas — Harold Schultze was living in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1943 when he enlisted at age 17 for service in the Coast Guard.
After basic training, he became a sailor on the attack transport USS Bayfield APA 33. He was in time to drive a landing craft to Utah Beach for the D-Day invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944.
The invasion that marked the beginning of the end for Nazi Germany will have been 70 years ago on Friday.
Schultze, now a resident of Lubbock, remembers he liked military service.
“I never had been around a lot of people like that. The excitement built up in me a little bit. The training part was fun — we didn’t take it seriously. The time we started to take it seriously was when we were going in to the beach and they would shoot those big 88s out there.”
He recalls seeing a smoke ring, yellow in color, when the German army would fire one of the big guns.
“When you saw that, you knew something was coming this way.”
But it wasn’t the only weapon being fired at the Americans as the men headed to shore.
“You’re trying to get on the beach, and you hear the bullets hitting all around you and hitting the ramp and everything. And then you begin to realize, hey, a guy could get hurt out here.”
He remembers some men in the invasion force drowned before getting to shore because they had unknowingly stepped into deep water.
“You’ve got 50 pounds on your back, and you’re trying to hold your rifle up over your head, too. You drop off into water like that and you can’t find anything to put your feet on,” he said.
That could have happened to the 32 men aboard the craft that Schultze was on.
“It was early in the morning, and raining lightly. It had rained all week, and they didn’t know if they were going to bring it off on the 6th. It was cold from the rain.”
He recalls, “We were the first landing craft at the beach. But we hit a sand bar, and the lieutenant said, ‘Drop the ramp.’ And I said, ‘We don’t drop the ramp right now.’
“He was giving me a hard time, and I said, ‘We are on a sand bar — if we drop the ramp here, you will step out in about 10 to 15 feet of water.’
“That had happened — we had a lot of men do that. They drowned before they ever got to the beach. So, I kept the ramp up. When the lieutenant realized that, he apologized.”
Schultze excuses the rash order: “You are excited, and you’re trying to get on the beach.”
After the landing craft was worked back and forth until it was off the sand bar and nearer the beach, the men were let out into knee-deep water. It was a decided advantage, but for some not enough.
“They tried to run to the shore. Some of them couldn’t make it. They would get out in the water, and before they could get to good, solid ground, they were shot.”
In that first wave, Schultze remembers seeing the beach area after the ramp was lowered.
“It looked like a strip of tangled wire and cement and everything out there because that wasn’t a good beach to land on, actually. It had all the barriers up there to block you from getting on the beach. And you couldn’t see any Germans at all — they were up on a hill looking down at you.”
He remembers, “I saw a lot hit. They were kids. I went in at 17, and I was 18 at that time in 1944. It made you realize, this ain’t no fun and games. You’ve got to be careful about what you’re doing.”
By the time Schultze had returned to the ship and picked up another load of soldiers, others had already landed.
“We had been the first ones on the beach, then we went back and we were about 12th or 13th next time out.”
He recalls, “We took the wounded back on one trip — at least we thought they were alive. But when we got back to the ship, they were dead. We were told, ‘Take them back out to the beach.’
“ ‘Take them back to the beach?’
“ ‘They’re dead — we can’t do anything with them here.’
“That irritated us.”
Sailors also were assigned to take dog tags off dead soldiers. “About the second or third day, they had us out to the bodies that were floating around out there, and taking off their dog tags.
“That kind of got to me a little bit. One guy still had his head phones on — their ship had been blown up.”
Schultze was awake for 72 hours during the invasion. By the end of that time, a storm was preventing them from returning to the ship.
“We pulled up alongside some concrete barges, and everybody got outside the boat except me. They went up on the shore and were looking around for stuff — we were hungry, we had been out there 72 hours, and we were hungry.”
The men ashore, who had found a food line and got a box of something to eat, said later they had walked back to the craft. “But they never came back to my ship, because I was starving to death — I never saw them,” Schultze said.
Schultze may have been running on an energy source he wasn’t aware of at the time. “I didn’t ever get sleepy, even though I had been out a long time. You’re excited, the excitement has built up in you, and you’re moving all the time except when we were tied up to the barges, and it was raining like crazy that day.”
He recalls, “They had us ushering in the LCLs and the LSTs.”
Schultze was quiet for a time in sorting out the chronology of other memories of 70 years ago.
When he spoke again, he said, “I was thinking the other day, I can’t remember, you know, what I did then. But I get lost walking into the kitchen every once in a while. I get in the kitchen and I think, ‘What the heck am I in here for?’ Then I get back and remember what I went for.”
He continued, “When I got to where I could get untied and go back out and look for the mother ship, I had no idea where that thing was. I knew it was out there in that channel somewhere. I tied up to another landing craft and took it back with me — and I saw the boat out there. When I got close to the ship, they dropped people down to take over.”
Schultze has the Purple Heart Medal for a serious wound received at his ship on Aug. 15, 1944, a little more than two months after D-Day.
“It was called an anti-personnel bomb. The Germans did a lot of that. I was fixing to lay a smoke screen because the admiral was aboard a ship that was under attack. I was about to go over the side, and it dropped in there.”
The bomb fragments hit the lower part of his body, breaking a leg and causing other wounds.
“I knew I was hurt, but I wasn’t hurting. I guess I was under shock. But as I was lying in a hallway, the chaplain came and said, ‘I think we ought to say a prayer.’ I told him, ‘I already said one.’ He said, ‘Well, we ought to say another one.’ And then I got to thinking I may be hurt worse than I thought.”
He recalls, “I don’t think I ever felt like I was in pain. I could have been, but I didn’t feel like I was in pain.”
Schultze ultimately was offered a discharge because of the injury, or the option of being a driver, but wasn’t allowed to return to ship duty. He chose the discharge.
“Sometimes it doesn’t seem like it’s been that long ago,” he said.
“And at times it seems like 70 years ago.”