Veterans at Fort Meade ceremony recall D-Day chaos

June 30, 1991|By C. Fraser Smith

As they trained for the Normandy invasion, members of Maryland's Blue and Gray infantry division learned exactly what lay in store. Even as they practiced, German submarines sank two of their landing craft.

Once again yesterday, Sam Krause remembered the chaos of D-Day, June 6, 1944. He remembered the rough water off the coast of France, the sheltering smoke, the ship next to his hitting a mine.

"People flew everywhere," he said. "Some were blown into our ship. Bodies hit the water and just floated face down. They were stacking up like cordwood."

Mr. Krause and other members of the storied 29th Infantry Division were honored yesterday at Fort Meade in ceremonies marking the 50th anniversary of their World War II mobilization.

The division was hailed by Gov. William Donald Schaefer and their commanding generals as exemplars of "American character and willpower."

Mr. Krause, whose son, Michael, was part of Desert Storm as an Air Force ordnance specialist, watched a flyover of A-10 Thunderbolt jets and saw representatives of the current

Infantry assembled on McGlauchlin Parade Field at Fort Meade.

Known as the Blue and Gray, or the "29'ers," the division traces its origin to Mordecai Gist, a young Baltimore merchant. Gist formed volunteer units that fought with George Washington all the way to Yorktown, where they saw the British surrender.

L The unit then fought for a new nation in many other battles.

And, once, its members fought each other.

In May 1862, during the Civil War, a Union regiment -- the 1st Maryland USA -- fought against a Confederate regiment -- the 1st Maryland CSA -- at Front Royal, Va., in a bloody battle.

When it was reunited later, the division's insignia became circle with blue and gray entwined in a close approximation of the Chinese symbols yin and yang.

For Marion O. Graham, 78, of Linthicum, the insignia became almost a family crest.

His grandfather, Abraham Walters, fought at Gettysburg in a blue unit. When Mr. Graham's own 29th Division service ended after World War II, he discarded his uniform but kept the insignia patch as a keepsake.

He carried it in his shirt pocket yesterday, flashing it occasionally as a credential of pride.

The 29th Division has compiled one of the most outstanding records in the history of the U.S. Army, according to Gen. Edwin H. Burba Jr., commander in chief of the U.S. Army Forces Command, who spoke during yesterday's ceremonies. The division's successes, he said, are proof that well-trained citizen soldiers can function as well as regular army units in war.

The former soldiers welcomed what the brass said about them yesterday. But the aging troopers seemed more interested in their own recollections. They sat under the Army's version of shade, a porous net of leaf-sized khaki cloth.

Gen. Edmund Beacham, 75, the division's surgeon at Normandy, wore a silver general's star as a tie tack. When he arrived at Normandy on the second day, he said, half the troops were trying to form up and move forward. Half were wounded and lying on the beach.

Artilleryman Art Flinner landed at 9:30 a.m. the second day. His men got off their first round at a church steeple and almost regretted it.

"We were told there was a sniper there," he said. But a soldier came running up to say, "We got the damn steeple. Don't hit us!"

Jerome Grollman, who served with the 29th for 39 years, 11 months and 17 days, said the invasion went smoothly in the beginning. Then he reached Purple Heart Hill not far from St. Lo, an early objective of the invasion.

"I saw a lot there that you don't normally see in life. Shrapnel cutting trees in half, animals killed, people killed, too," he said.

Sam Krause of Baltimore, now 74, felt like cannon fodder. He had come to terms with it. G.I. humor helped. "Our motto was 'Ever Forward,' " he said. A division officer had observed that forward was the only option other than swimming back to England.

"We survived because brush on the shore caught fire. The smoke came over us, and the Germans couldn't see us," he said.

Instinct and training replaced command -- which had been decimated. Only about 18 of the 167 men in his company answered when, several days later, there was a roll call.

Mr. Krause introduced his friend Felix Branham, 70, of Charlottesville, Va.

"He followed me in," Mr. Krause said with a wink.

"I'll never live it down," said Mr. Branham. "I got wounded and went back. I refused to come home. What was I going to do when my grandchildren asked me what I did in the war? Say I got wounded on D-Day and came home?"

Branham went on to serve another nine months "without a scratch."

Sam Krause was hit July 18 in the right shoulder. It was his 25th birthday. The wound was serious, a ticket home.

"He was lucky," Mr. Krause remarked of his friend. "He went all the way."

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