World War II combat diary of J.J. McAndrews: D-Day and saying goodbye

The Great Lakes Coast Guard is sharing the story of Petty Officer 3rd Class J.J. McAndrews on his journey across the Atlantic Ocean into the Mediterranean Sea for the invasion of Italy, then to the shores of Normandy for D-Day, in our five-week series “World War II combat diary of J.J. McAndrews.” This series comes from the day-to-day diary written by the boatswain’s mate while aboard a landing ship during the war.

Editor’s Note: Much of the text that follows was taken directly from McAndrews’ diary. Most grammatical and punctuation errors were retained as they were written. However, slight edits were made to enhance readability.

 

 

LSTs on Omaha Beach, Normandy, 1944. Photo by Ceylon Dearborn

LSTs on Omaha Beach, Normandy, 1944.
Photo by Ceylon Dearborn

 

 

May 19, 1944: Got underway bound for England.

 

May 31, 1944: The other two LSTs and ourselves branched off from the rest of the convoy and are proceeding to our destination at full speed.

 

June 2, 1944: We entered Bristol Channel and dropped our anchors at Swansea Bay.

 

June 3, 1944: We went over to Port Talbot and unloaded trucks and other equipment we brought over from Oran, Africa.

 

Had liberty today. The best I have ever had since I left the states.

 

June 4, 1944: We pulled out of Port Talbot and anchored in Swansea Bay. It is much too rough for us to get underway.

 

June 5, 1944: Got underway for Falmouth. We are sure the invasion is near as we see a lot of ships loaded with troops sailing around.

 

June 6, 1944: We heard the French invasion started. We missed the first wave, but are on our way to be in on the 3rd wave.

 

June 7, 1944: We loaded up with American invasion troops. We loaded up at an island cove at Falmouth.

 

This evening we arrived at Portland and dropped anchor.

 

June 8, 1944: Got underway at 4 a.m., for the coast of France. Arrived at 6:30 p.m., after going slow and zigzagging across the channel mine fields.

 

Had general quarters as soon as we arrived.

 

Tonight at 10 p.m. two German planes were shot down right beside us. One of them hit the water about 150 yards abeam of us. The pilot bailed out and we saw him drop right close to us.

 

Tonight we have had quite a few air raids.

 

My best pal Solie, who is on a 20mm gun and the other two men on his gun were hit by shrapnel. Solie and Martin got hit in the legs pretty bad.

 

June 10, 1944: We loaded on American and German causalities. Prisoners also came aboard.

 

June 11, 1944: We are finally able to beach and get rid of our cargo.

 

Boy, the beach is quite a mess. Small boats are all over, which had wrecked and then left high and dry. They still had dead soldiers and sailors in them. There were also dead soldiers lying on the beach.

 

Just about 10 yards away from our ship after the tide went out a German pilot was found lying in the mud. He probably had been there a few days.

 

From what we hear, we lost quite a few men who went in on the first wave.

 

LST 326 beaches in Normandy during World War II. U.S. Coast Guard photo courtesy of McAndrews' family

LST 326 beaches in Normandy during World War II.
U.S. Coast Guard photo courtesy of McAndrews’ family

After the tide came in again, we pulled off the beach with more American casualties. We had them all on stretchers on the tank deck.

 

It really makes me boil to see our soldiers who are wounded.

 

June 12, 1944: We got underway in a convoy of LSTs bound for South Hampton, England.

 

June 13, 1944: We arrived at South Hampton at 10:30 p.m., unloaded casualties and prisoners immediately and then pulled out to anchor.

 

June 14, 1944: loaded up with English tanks and soldiers to get underway tomorrow.

 

Aug. 4, 1944: Solstin “Solie” and Martin returned to the ship from the hospital.

 

Aug. 5, 1944: Solie and Martin were both awarded Purple Hearts for injuries received during enemy action in June.

 

Aug. 10, 1944: Proceeded into dry-dock. This means that everyone will have plenty of work to do in getting the ship in shape. The deck force is really kept on the go.

 

Aug. 14, 1944: Heard that southern France has been invaded.

 

Aug. 18, 1944: Went to fire fighting school and learned quite a lot about how to control fires aboard ships.

 

Aug. 21, 1944: Heard that Paris surrendered.

 

During our time in dry-dock on our off hours we got plenty of liberty and we all used to go to Penzance, a small town 30 minutes from Falmouth. Yes sir! I managed to have quite a time for myself in that city.

 

Aug. 27, 1944: LST 327 hit a mine on their way back from the beachhead. Twenty-two fellers lost their lives and there were many casualties. The 327 is Coast Guard manned.

 

Aug. 29, 1944: Left dry-dock and went out and moored alongside a dock to complete our repairs.

 

Aug. 30, 1944: Went out and anchored in Falmouth Bay and ship is in tip-top shape and looks great with her new paint.

 

Aug. 31, 1944: Left Falmouth en route to Southampton.

 

Sept. 1, 1944: Arrived at Southampton, and we no sooner arrived when we were ordered to go in and load up.

 

Sept. 2, 1944: We were fully loaded and departed in convoy for Omaha beach in France. We had a very rough trip over. After we unloaded our cargo of troops and vehicles we started to load ammunition aboard.

 

The Army brought 400 tons onto our tank deck. We are taking this cargo up around the St. Michele along the French coast. It is an emergency trip, as the ammo is badly needed for the taking of the Port of Brest.

 

Sept. 4, 1944: We sent out to our destination with our cargo of TNT. In order to get there we have to run between the mainland and the German held islands of Jersey and Guernsey. There we are in range of German shore batteries. We will pass these islands tonight and if they spot us we are in plenty of trouble.

 

Most of the fellers slept on the starboard side but yours truly and seven other lads stayed back in the stern quarter as I believe when your time to go comes, there is very little you can do about it.

 

One place is as safe on the ship as the other.

 

After all these months over here, I don’t think it’s very wise to change at this stage of the game.

 

Sept. 5, 1944: We arrived at our destination and went onto the beach and commenced to unload.

 

Sept. 7, 1944: Got underway for Southampton.

 

Sept. 8, 1944: Had general quarters as the shore batteries spotted us and let go a few blasts. They had poor aim and dropped about 100 yards from us. We traveled with four other LSTs this time. We arrived at Southampton today.

 

Sept. 10, 1944: Loaded up at the dock and after got completely loaded got underway for Utah beach in France.

 

Sept. 11, 1944: Arrived at the beachhead.

 

Sept. 12, 1944: Got underway for South Hampton. Arrived in Southampton at 8:30 p.m.

 

Sept. 13, 1944: Loaded up again.

 

Sept. 14, 1944: Proceeded in convoy to Utah beach in France. Arrived at 8:30 p.m.

 

Sept. 15, 1944: Got underway in convoy to Southampton and arrived the same day.

 

Sept. 17, 1944: Loaded up again.

 

Sept. 18, 1944: Pulled out for France.

 

Sept. 19, 1944: Beached the ship and unloaded. Left for Southampton and arrived at 9 p.m. We had prisoners aboard.

 

Sept. 25, 1944: Loaded up again.

 

Sept. 28, 1944: Arrived back at Southampton after completing another trip.

 

Oct. 1, 1944: We went alongside a dock a commenced loading Army winter gear aboard and canteen supplies. Five new crew members came aboard today.

 

Oct. 2, 1944: We got underway for Utah beach in France. It took us a few days to unload after we arrived at the beachhead.

 

McAndrews poses for a photo while overseas in the European Theatre of War during World War II. McAndrews signed the photo "with love, Jim." U.S. Coast Guard photo courtesy of McAndrews' family

McAndrews poses for a photo while overseas in the European Theatre of War during World War II.
McAndrews signed the photo, “All my love, Jim.”
U.S. Coast Guard photo courtesy of McAndrews’ family

Oct. 6, 1944: We loaded up with 475 prisoners of war. Very rough tonight and a gale is blowing. During the night we stayed on the beach.

 

Oct. 7, 1944: We found that last night 3 LSTs beached themselves right up on the beach during the night. One LST was damaged quite a bit.

 

We got underway for Southampton.

 

Oct. 12, 1944: Arrived back in Southampton after completing another trip.

 

Oct. 14, 1944: The captain told us we are to give our ship over to the British in the near future. Hot Dawg!!

 

Oct. 15, 1944: Made another jaunt to the beach and brought back prisoners with us to Southampton.

 

Oct. 19, 1944: Loaded up again and completed another round trip.

 

Oct. 26, 1944: I heard from a very reliable source that the deal with the English had been called off. The morale of the crew is now very low.

 

Nov. 1, 1944: Set out for another jaunt.

Nov. 3, 1944: Went alongside a dock to have minor repairs made.

 

Nov. 19, 1944: Departed from the berth and proceeded out to anchorage.

 

Nov. 22, 1944: The captain told us we were pretty sure of giving the 326 over to the English.

 

Nov. 23, 1944: Had a swell Thanksgiving chow.

 

Nov. 30, 1944: Got underway bound for Rosneath, Scotland.

 

Dec. 3, 1944: We arrived at our destination after a very, very rough trip. We anchored up the River Clyde. Scotland is a very beautiful country with tremendously high mountains.

 

This completes my diary of combat duty aboard LST 326 in the European Theatre of war during World War II.

After turning over LST 326 to the English in Rosneath, McAndrews sailed to Boston on a freighter. After returning to the states, McAndrews joined the crew at Coast Guard Life-Saving Station Jerry’s Point near Kittery, Maine.

McAndrews was honorably discharged from the Coast Guard April 1, 1946.

He then attended Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Md. There he participated in the All-Catholic Guard and was captain of the football team. McAndrews graduated in 1952.

After college, McAndrews married the love of his life, Anne Sullivan at the Church of St. Francis de Sales in Belle Harbor, N.Y.

Jim and Anne have five children: James Jr., Anne-marie, Siobhan, Jean and John. They also have 12 grandchildren.

Anne passed away after suffering a brain tumor in 1988.

“Dad didn’t really ever talk about what he did during the war,” said Jean. “He was very proud of having served in the Coast Guard.”

“It was not until he saw the story of another man during the war that Dad started to first talk about his experiences. That is when he decided to take a trip back to Normandy.”

For McAndrews’ 75th birthday, his two sons and son-in-law William Koehler took him to Normandy to visit the beachheads, museums and cemeteries commemorating World War II.

What follows are some excerpts from Koehler’s diary about the visit.

 

McAndrews poses for a photo with Martine and his two sons and son-in-law in Normany for his 75th birthday. Photo courtesy of McAndrews' family

McAndrews poses for a photo with Martine and his two sons and son-in-law in Normany for his 75th birthday.
Photo courtesy of McAndrews’ family

April 10, 1999: We were awakened at 7:30 for breakfast and a meeting with our guide. Her name is Martiné. A wonderful woman of about 60 years old. We learned a lot from Martiné about thebuild-up to the war in France, the building of the German complex and France’s response. It turns out she was 6 years old of the time of D-Day and her father, she now knows, was part of the French Resistance. She has been able to piece information together and thinks he was in “intelligence” of some kind. Unfortunately, he was turned in by a Frenchman and was killed about one month before the invasions.

 

At St. Marie Eglise we went directly to the church where the U.S. paratrooper landed, hung from the steeple. It was the first city liberated by the Allied forces in Normandy on June 6th, about 4:30 a.m. The story goes that the paratroopers were dropped at the most unlikely time and spot possible. That evening, a house in the town caught fire and the whole village was working to get it out. All under the watchfull eyes of the Germans. As the paratroopers fell, the men were sitting ducks. It would have been okay if they had fallen closer to their target or if the fire had not started. Not that day. A bloody battle ensued but ended successfully.

 

We also went to a museum in the town that contains a real glider that was used to drop men and equipment during the invasion. It was very simple, largely wood construction with a canvas skin. It looked like they would fit about 10 guys next to the pilot. The skin was easily penetrable by any type of ammunition and the wood construction would be unable to withstand any kind of force, such as tree branches.

 

Jim said it best, “Those guys had balls.”

 

Scene in the Omaha Beach Museum of the D-Day landing on the beach. McAndrews visited the museum during his trip. Photo courtesy of the Omaha Beach Museum

Scene in the Omaha Beach Museum of the D-Day landing on the beach.
McAndrews visited the museum during his trip.
Photo courtesy of the Omaha Beach Museum

I forgot to mention that our very first stop on the way to St. Marie Eglise was a German cemetery about 20 km from St. Marie Eglise. They had about 4,000 buried there, all indentified by dark rock crosses. It include German and foreign soldiers who fought with the Germans and a large mound containing about 250 bodies of unidentified soldiers. A sober sight in many aspects, but more sobering sights were to come when we got to the U.S. and English cemeteries.

 

The cemetery included a small information area that consisted of pictures and displays about many aspects of the war. The German, the landings, civilians, children, letters home to families. All from both German and Allied forces. I think the point was to show the human aspects of both sides.

 

It was the first time of a few, where Jim broke down.

 

James was reading aloud a guy’s description of what he saw on the beach as he landed as part of one of the later waves- pontoons, bloody sea, bodies, etc.

 

A plaque on display at the Omaha Beach Museum containg a survivors account of D-Day. The plaque reads: The survivors of the first assault wave landed 400 or 500 meters from the waters edge. The sea was rough, the visibility bad, the currents and German fire dispensed the units. Photo courtesy of the Omaha Beach Museum

A plaque on display at the Omaha Beach Museum containing a survivor’s account of D-Day.
The plaque reads: The survivors of the first assault wave landed 400 or 500 meters from the waters edge. The sea was rough, the visibility bad, the currents and German fire dispersed the units.
Photo courtesy of the Omaha Beach Museum

Jim burst out, “That’s it, that is what I saw!” And cried. He walked out.

 

I think he is a proud man, and didn’t want us to see him like that. I think to another degree he didn’t want to resist it either.

 

Later, he would only say that it was horrible and experiences like that were instrumental in strengthening his faith.

 

At Omaha Beach we ate lunch looking right onto the beach where no doubt Jim’s LST 236 sat unloading men and supplies. We saw the site of the first cemetery where Allied soldiers were buried, but have since been moved.

 

Jim said he was very happy that he came back to this place where he was 55 years ago.

 

From the beach we went to the cemetery. Sobering. White cross after white cross placed perfectly one next to the other. On each cross is a name, rank, battalion, regiment and the date he died. All lined up facing west toward the U.S.

 

I found it a very solemn place.

McAndrews poses for a photo in Normandy with a paque dedicated to the members of the U.S. Coast Guard. The plaque was dedicated in 1994, the 50th anniversary of D-Day. U.S. Coast Guard photo courtesy of McAndrews' family

McAndrews poses for a photo in Normandy with a paque dedicated to the members of the U.S. Coast Guard.
The plaque was dedicated in 1994, the 50th anniversary of D-Day.
U.S. Coast Guard photo courtesy of McAndrews’ family

 

Jim was very quiet.

 

Looked to me like he was having a little trouble with it, but he did okay. He was off by himself a little for most of the time. But when he saw the stone of the boy in the Coast Guard, he got very choked up and walked away.

 

Again, he didn’t want to be there.

 

Martiné was very good here. She encouraged us to do things that I think made Jim feel good.

 

McAndrews stands on a beach in Normandy 55 years after the first time he was there during World War II. Photo courtesy of McAndrews' family

McAndrews stands on a beach in Normandy 55 years after the first time he was there during World War II.
Photo courtesy of McAndrews’ family

First, she suggested that we see the flag ceremony at the end of the day when they play the song for the dead and bring the flag down.

 

Second, she grabbed his hand and led him to the information center and introduced him to the superintendent and asked him to sign the Veteran’s Visitors Book.

 

I think that made him feel good, probably proud.

 

My take is that it made Jim feel very proud of what he himself did. I also think he was trying to help us see the magnitude of what he and his mates accomplished.

 

One additional thought. In a number of places, Martiné made a point to introduce Jim to people at museums and other sites as “a Veteran.”

 

Not everyone, but certainly a lot of people addressed him with respect. In fact, one guy said, “Thank you.”

 

On July 22, 2002, Jim McAndrews passed away at age 78 after a two-year battle, his last, with cancer.

J.J. McAndrews, a Coast Guard World War II veteran and father of five, laughs while playing with a dog. Photo courtesy of McAndrews' family

J.J. McAndrews, a Coast Guard World War II veteran and father of five, laughs while playing with a dog.
Photo courtesy of McAndrews’ family

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One Response

  1. Norm Makoujy says:

    Thank You for your service Jim McAndrews… Fair winds and a following sea…