McKinney Courier Gazette
Sunday, June 5, 1994
McKinney Resident Recalls Sights of Beach Invasion
By Glenda M. Locke
Brothers, Bill and John White, 1942, Casablanca
(click on pictures for large view)
He was there. On the beach.
With the dead bodies of American soldiers floating around him as a battle
raged that would change the course of world history. McKinney resident
John White was at Omaha Beach in Normandy as the Allied invasion, code
named D-Day dawned. It was a day of sights and sounds that will never
He joined the Army engineers in 1940 and for one reason and one reason
only, he said. "I felt there was a war coming on and I wanted the training
to be able to help my country," White, now 74, said.
The prophecy soon came to life-on Dec. 7, 1941, at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.
White was stationed in charge of quarters in Georgia on that sunny Sunday
morning that changed the course of history. He heard of the bombing on the
radio and knew that the war he had anticipated was at hand.
"It was exactly what I was expecting," White said.
After almost a year of shipping from post to post all over the country,
White left the U.S. for Casablanca in North Africa. Although the war was
far away from the hot days and cool nights of the desert city, White said
he was aware of how serious the situation was becoming. Especially after
he was sent to Sicily and the Anzio beachhead in Italy in January 1944.
"We thought this was going to be it- the big battle- and the officers knew
something was up," White said.
The battle at Anzio was a bloody pitched battle that was merely a prelude
to what was coming. The final tally of Americans who died in 1943 and 1944
in the mud of mountains and freezing weather of the Italian Campaign is
While said when he shipped out of Sicily, he was sure he was going home,
but when the carriers crept closer to Scotland, he had an inkling of what
was going on. "Right then I thought, this is it-this is going to be
something big," he said.
When he was sent to Dover and saw the massive build up of troops, he said
he knew an invasion was imminent. As the sergeant in charge of the trucks,
White left Dover with the carrier full of trucks and headed across the
English Channel to Omaha Beach under the cover of darkness before midnight
on June 5, 1944.
"I knew there was going to be an invasion-a big one- and I was worried for
the ground troops. Everybody understood this was the make it or break it
for the war," White said.
White said as the first wave of the 40,000 Allied troops hit the beach, he
was ordered to bring the trucks in. "As we pulled up on the beach, there
were dead bodies floating all around us in the water and washing up on the
beach. We had to get off the carrier with the dead bodies around us,"
White recalled. "There was this one kid with me-a kind of picky kid-who
said he didnít want to get out there with all those dead soldiers and I
told him he better or he would be dead out there with them."
History accounts now say that the day went badly almost from the start.
Thousands of troops weighed down with heavy equipment either drowned or
were shot down by Germans strategically positioned on the cliffs above the
beach. One U.S. Army lieutenant wrote in a letter that D-Day was "a
nightmare I should prefer to forget."
White started to inch one of the Army trucks up away from the beach when
he was stopped by an infantryman whose words sent a chill up his spine.
"He told me the Germans were just 300 feet away-just over there," White
recalled. "I asked him if the road had been picked for land mines and he
said no, but I knew those guys had to have the trucks so I took off."
The noise was deafening, he said. The German artillery whined overhead and
shells rained down within feet of this truck. "I looked up and saw the Air
Force planes above me and I said, "Go get them, boys."
By the time the battle on the Normandy beaches was over, 4,617 young men
would lose their lives-2,200 of them on Omaha Beach.
"I always felt like we would win," White said of that long, long day, "but
I didnít know how much it was going to cost us. Seeing all those dead
bodies around me made me do some real hard thinking. I looked around me
and thought there sure are a lot of families who are going to get a Dear
Whiteís assessment was correct. The tiny town of Bedford, Va., lost 23 of
its 35 soldiers in one company. Nineteen of them died in the invasionís
first 15 minutes. But it was days-weeks-before the folks back home learned
of the heart-rending casualties.
In the days since that cataclysmic day so long ago, the country had moved
steadily forward-in many ways away from the sacrifices made on the beach.
White has never thought of himself as a hero, he said, and admitted that
he has misplaced his coveted Bronze Star awarded to him for his actions
during the war.
"Certain people take what happened on that day for granted-people that
arenít old enough to remember it, but most people appreciate our
veterans," White said. "I know I appreciate our country, after seeing all
the other countries I saw back then and the men who died for this
I am writing you at home for I believe you are by now a
civilian. Hope you and the rest of the fellows had a nice trip home and
you are now enjoying civilian life. Enclosed is an order awarding you the
Bronze Star Medal. Itís for your good work from Casablanca right up to the
end. Congratulations and thins for your swell cooperation. If you donít
hear from the War Dept. in several weeks, I suggest you write the
Decorations Awards Branch, Washington, DC., and tell them your story. Be
sure and enclose the orders awarding the medal. They will then send you a
medal, or make arrangements for you to get it.
In four days I lose all men with eighty five or more points to the 146
Engrs. Looks like the only old timers that will be left are myself and the
other officers. The 20th is now a Class II outfit and soon as
itís refilled with replacements it will be off to the Pacific.
The best of luck and health to you, Sergeant.
Capt. Walter C. Mchaley
John White, back row center
row, 2nd from left
NO. 67 )
Washington 25, DC, 16 August 1944.
The 20th Engineer
Combat Battalion is cited for outstanding performance of duty in action.
The 20th Engineer Combat Battalion was attached to the 16th
Infantry with the mission of clearing the beach obstacles within the tidal
range of the beach from vicinity of Vierville-sur-Mer to
Colleville-sur-Mer under savage artillery, mortar, rifle, grenade, machine
gun, and small-arms fire. Despite persistent enemy activity the 20th
Engineer Combat Battalion, with courageous determination and tenacity of
purpose, cleared gaps in barbed wire and minefields to gain the beach. The
operation was especially complicated because infantry and other troops
were within the danger radius cleared a beach exit through antitank
ditches, road blocks, and minefields subjected to hazards of enemy fire
and sniper activity, and despite heavy casualties and loss of vital
equipment, the battalion, by splendid foresite and technical skill,
gallantly accomplished its difficult mission of clearing the beach,
removing obstacles, and assisting the infantry in a manner consistent with
the highest traditions of the military service. The courageous prosecution
of these extremely perilous tasks in the face of overwhelming odds and
deadly enemy opposition is deserving of the highest praise.