Marvin A. Geyer, veteran of D-Day invasion, dies

He was a decorated gunner with the 29th Division

  • Marvin A. Geyer
Marvin A. Geyer
March 24, 2011|By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun | Baltimore Sun reporter

Marvin A. Geyer, a retired U.S. Department of Agriculture meat inspector who landed on Omaha Beach with the 29th Division on D-Day, died Sunday of heart failure at his Arbutus home. He was 91.

Mr. Geyer was born in Baltimore and raised in Morrell Park. After graduation in 1937 from City College, he went to work at the Esskay meatpacking plant in East Baltimore.

An accident at the plant severely burned his feet. While cleaning out a tank car transporting lard that had to be heated to be removed, Mr. Geyer jumped down into the car to force out the lard that had settled on the bottom. He did not realize that it was still very hot, seriously burning his feet.

Mr. Geyer received his draft notice May 1, 1941, and was inducted into the Army six days later.

"He said he wanted to join the military but didn't think they would take him due to the serious injury … to his feet," said Charles Bury, a retired Baltimore County police officer and 23-year Maryland National Guard veteran, who interviewed Mr. Geyer in 2000.

After completing training at Fort Meade, Mr. Geyer was assigned to Company H, 2-115th Infantry, 29th Division. He was promoted to private and trained as a 30-caliber machine gunner.

"During the buildup in 1941, everyone knew war was on the horizon. Mr. Geyer said that he was on leave in Clarksburg, W.Va., when he learned the Japanese had just attacked Pearl Harbor," said Mr. Bury, who is a CSX police officer and a member of the 29th Division Association.

"He said he wasn't really scared because they would always say 'we could beat 'em in two weeks,'" Mr. Bury said. "A message flashed over the radio that all U.S. servicemen were to report immediately to their duty stations."

Fully expecting to be sent to the Pacific, Mr. Geyer and H Company were loaded aboard the Cunard Line's RMS Queen Elizabeth on Oct. 5, 1942, and sailed for England.

Mr. Geyer and the 29th Division received two more years of training at Oxford, Tidesworth Barracks, and later amphibious warfare training at Salcombe, Dartmouth and the infamous Slapton Sands.

Mr. Geyer said in the interview that troops had no idea when the invasion would occur and it was only after they were moved to staging areas in the south of England and later loaded aboard troop transports on June 5, 1944, that they began to think that the invasion was on.

"He said they were halfway across the English Channel when officers told them the target was Normandy, France," said Mr. Bury, who asked Mr. Geyer if he recalled being afraid.

"He said they were not scared because the officers kept reassuring them that the Air Force was going to bomb the beaches so much that the defenses would be wiped out and craters offering protective cover would be everywhere," said Mr. Bury, who has spent years interviewing and recording 29th Division veterans from World War II.

"He said he slept most of the way across the Channel, but remembers hearing thousands of aircraft flying over the fleet to France," he said.

In the early hours of June 6, 1944, as the Allied armada steamed into view, German coastal defenses sprang to life. It was then that Mr. Geyer and his buddies in H Company were loaded aboard landing craft and prepared to head for shore.

By the time they reached Omaha Beach in the second wave, enemy fire had largely ceased, and he related to Mr. Bury that he arrived onshore hardly wet.

What did remain in his memory for the rest of his life was the enormous number of dead GIs on the beach.

Mr. Geyer and his fellow soldiers moved off the beach quickly and started to advance toward St. Laurent-sur-Mer and were slowed by German troops, who had flooded a field to bog down vehicles and then opened fire.

Mr. Geyer remembered Gen. Norman Cota, who was second in command of the 29th Division, walk by and say, "Tough, ain't it boys," of the difficult conditions caused by hedgerows and the flooded field.

Three nights later, the 2-115th Infantry and the Germans unexpectedly met at Le Carrefour, causing the 115th to be routed. Exhausted and hungry after marching and fighting for more than 20 hours, the men had bivouacked for the night in a field when the Germans came upon them by surprise and launched a firefight.

"Many men fell where they had stopped and slept," Mr. Geyer told his interviewer.

As German tanks came through the hedges, Mr. Geyer and his gun crew were able to jump to another field and began returning fire.

After the battle, Gen. Charles H. Gerhardt, commander of the 29th Division, came upon the scene and was furious at the sight of 150 dead men.

"He said, 'What the hell happened here? No damn outposts,'" Mr. Geyer recalled in the interview.

"Marvin said he never told anyone this, but he and his assistant gunner fired all the ammo they had and somehow managed to survive as the Germans withdrew from the field. He said he felt better when daylight revealed that his gun had made its mark on the enemy," Mr. Bury said.

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