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By Rod Mickleburgh With Rudyard Griffiths
Random HouseRod Mickleburgh With Rudyard Griffiths
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It took thirty-eight days to capture Sicily. There was some very heavy fighting. The Germans just didn't want to give up. We lost quite a few boys. Then we had to meet up with our Canadians, take them across the Strait of Messina to Italy. But along the way, I had an attack of malaria and dysentery. I was sick as a poisoned pup. I spent a couple of weeks in a hospital in Tunisia. When I was released, I had nothing on but my battledress. No flotilla. No nothing. But what the hell, I was young and I recuperated quickly. I went to the colonel, and he said, "I've got something for you, young man. Here's a jeep. It's only got two cylinders, but it's working." So I took the jeep, drove to Algiers, and I was able to hitchhike on a ship back to England. I was told to join hmcs Prince Henry in Glasgow. She was an lsi troop ship, Landing Ship Infantry.
The Canadian Scottish Regiment from Vancouver joined us and a few days later came a New Brunswick regiment. We knew we were going to land somewhere soon, but we didn't know where. Finally we were told the landing was going to be Normandy. On the night of June 5, we gave all the boys a hot dinner. I didn't get any sleep that night. I was excited. As I walked up and down, officers were in our cabins, writing letters to their loved ones. In the morning, we had breakfast at four o'clock.
Finally, the boys were up on deck, opposite their landing craft. We issued them all vomit bags, because we knew some of them would be seasick. We boarded the craft, loaded them in the water, and, was it ever rough. It was awful. We were about four miles from the beach. All of a sudden, every battleship, destroyer, every ship that had a gun, started to bombard the beaches. The smoke and the flames and the roar were overwhelming. And the boys on the craft said this was going to be a picnic if they were going to bombard the beach like that. But we knew damn well from experience that whenever we got to a beach, there was enemy fire to greet us.
The landing craft were only about three feet above the water. They could toss about a lot. They had a half-inch steel plate around them. The boys were loaded on the deep side of the landing craft under the deck, so they wouldn't get wet. But it was very, very choppy. Fear and seasickness from the rich dinner the night before and everything else all accumulated to make them sick as could be. They were so happy to have the vomit bags. There were thirty soldiers to a craft. Some had machine guns. They all had rifles and sixty-pound packs. They must have been terrified, but you know, they were trained for this. They were soldiers.
On the way in, a wonderful thing happened. A young sergeant got up on the deck beside me and started to sing a song, "Roll out the Barrel." Everyone joined in. It was one of the most moving experiences I had during my almost five years in the service. There was fear on everyone's faces, and he tried to brighten up their spirits. I was in the same fix. I was human too. And it worked. The fear left our faces.
Then we saw these nasty spikes that came up out of the water. They had mines on the ends of them. We knew if we touched one we'd be blown to smithereens. We wanted to get the boys landed on dry sod, but the craft got stuck on an obstacle under the water. Just think how the boys felt: seasick, packs on their backs, being splashed from machine-gun bullets beside the craft. I hesitated to order "down doors," but it had to be done. They jumped into the water. Some were up to the waist. Two of the shorter lads jumped in and didn't come up. Terrible. They only had twenty feet of water to go through, but it was deep. And there was not a damn thing we could do, because our orders were to get out of the way and back on the ship as quickly as possible. Those thirty guys got out in one heck of a hurry. They dashed across the beach. Some fell from machine-gun fire. Some were hit before they even made the beach. We could see all this. Imagine training in England for three years and not even being able to get to the beach before being killed. I don't think people realize what our boys did.
Excerpted from Rare Courage by Rod Mickleburgh With Rudyard Griffiths Excerpted by permission.
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