A topic saved for this Memorial Day:
“History books don’t usually show Landing Crafts.” So began Tom Carter’s (no relation) presentation to a rapt Roanoke College ElderScholar audience.
But thorough research and writing by the RC associate professor of communications and English gives due respect to a U.S. Navy craft and crew.
Rightfully, lovingly so: Because his dad served on an LCT vessel during THE big invasion: D-Day, 6 June 1944. Imagine: Hitting Omaha Beach at 16!
At 15 Luther (Luke) Carter had lied about his age to join the U. S. Navy. Upon finding out, his parents were upset: he was their only son (two others had died). But he cried and they relented.
“The LCT’s skipper was only 22, a ‘90-day-wonder’ from Iowa,” said Tom. The skipper’s previous nautical experience? A duck boat! The second officer was even younger: “Age 20, not even old enough to vote back then.”
Tom showed photos of the crew. They peaked at sixteen members during the invasion (two officers; fourteen enlisted men), then dropped back to twelve (two officers; ten enlisted). (As of this writing only two crewmen are alive, Tom wrote via email. Such statistics have lent urgency to the telling of their stories.)
Tom found many such photos — say, of his dad with the huge gun he manned — and a three-page diary in a little brown box at his grandmother’s home. He realized that he had the beginnings of a book.
He started his research in 1993. Thanks to finishing a Ph.D. in journalism and having served in the Navy himself, he thought he “should be able to sort this out.” (Tom was a gunner’s mate on a Navy destroyer, deployed to the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean.)
And sort he did, sharing his dad’s fascinating stories. Just getting the convoy from the U.S. to England (May 4, 1944) was a harrowing tale of storms, torpedoing by German U-boats and even quarantine for scarlet fever. The crew’s “intense thirty days” of preparation was followed by the horrific Omaha Beach landing, coming under heavy fire, rescuing the wounded … and continuing to work on the beaches on into November (“they seemingly fell through the cracks…. Dad turned 17 while still fighting there”).
All this with few supplies and very primitive conditions onboard. A photo of the ship “looks more like a shipwreck than an American fighting vessel,” Tom observed in a later interview. “Dad remembered rust!”
And young Luke wasn’t done yet: “he also went across the Pacific to Okinawa on the last few air raids of the war, just before the atomic bombs were dropped.”
Tom’s father died in 1984.
In 1994 Tom and his two brothers traveled to France for the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Normandy. (Their commemorative shirts and hats brought “much response.”) He has been to the D-Day Memorial in Bedford, and met with some of his dad’s shipmates. And he has attended crewmen’s funerals.
His talk was engaging — rich with stories, photos, a brother’s drawing of the LCT 614 and diagrams of what-ships-were-where-when. He awaits publication of his book on the topic (we’ll let you know the print date; the publishing company was recently sold). “Beachhead Normandy: An LCT’s Odyssey” promises to be a good read.
Here’s to a meaningful Memorial Day. Thank you, veterans and families, for your sacrifices.