David Welsh had just turned 20 years old when he drove his truck and trailer, filled with ammunition, off the LST and onto Utah Beach in August 1944.
He wasn’t there June 6 during World War II, but he was on the way. D-Day had been only a few weeks before. At that time, Utah Beach’s casualties were 197, with 60 missing. When asked if he was scared landing on the beach on that day, Welsh said, “Yes.”
Welsh was drafted before he graduated from high school. He was surprised when his dad suggested that he should go into service and finish his education later.
“Joe, Dad’s baby brother, was killed in World War II. In fact, he was the first soldier killed from Decatur County. The American Legion Post here was named in his honor. My great-grandfather and great-uncle, John and James Welsh, are buried in Soldiers Circle at South Park.”
His dad told him to go and “be a good soldier.”
He was in the medium Artillery Division, 772 Field Artillery.
“I was in Battery C, a Service Battery, and we served the whole battalion. The Service Battery supplies ammunition, basic supplies including rations, etc. I was trained and ready to take part in this war. I was assigned as a truck driver to haul ammunition.
“I drove my truck off the boat onto Utah Beach and I was scared. We’d sleep in the daytime and move in closer at night at night because the Germans had the air space at the time. The landing crafts came in and I was the first in line to load up. My front wheels went right off that LST and into the water. My heart was in my mouth, I’ll tell you!”
Welsh said unloading supplies made you a sitting duck. The Germans had pillboxes and Americans had air balloons that were tethered with metal cables. The German aircraft would be damaged by collision with the cables. Those cables were 40 to 50 feet long and they’d hang down different lengths. Some balloons would be 400 or 500 feet high.
“Our planes would have to go under the cables, but if the Germans didn’t know where they were they could get caught in those cables. I can tell you that when you’ve got a truck load of ammo you don’t much want people shooting at you. Once when we were attacked and getting shot at, I bailed out of the truck and made myself as small as possible. Ron Stafford, in the truck with me, was a few feet in front of me. The Germans took his legs off up to his hips.”
Welsh was able to get him to safety so he could get help.
Welsh said they tried to sleep during the day and move in closer toward the front lines at night. The pressure from unloading ammunition was so great it made his ears and nose bleed. Welsh said he learned a lot and did what he was supposed to do, but it wasn’t easy. And it would get even harder.
When the war ended he was sent to assist at the concentration camps.
“There were five camps there. It was awful,” he said. “We couldn’t believe how they treated those people. They just got rid of them in the ovens. Some of the ovens were still smoking when we went in. There were coal cars sitting there filled with dead people stacked up. They had cut their hair off and pulled their gold teeth. Those ovens were run 24 hours a day, and it smelled so bad up and down the valley. You couldn’t have missed the smell if you lived within 50 miles.
“We loaded people up and had to help them in our trucks. Some would scream when we tried to help them. They were just bones and skin. I’ll never forget the smell of the smoke from the ovens burning and box cars full of bodies. It’s like a picture that never erases from my mind, as I have tried for years. I have nightmares reliving those first moments seeing the barbaric scene.”
He came home, married Betty and they had three children: Tom, Larry and Sharon.
Larry died of a heart attack three years ago.
On July 30, he and Betty have been married 70 years.
Through good times and bad, Utah Beach and the ovens at the concentration camps have never left him.
He did get his certificate of graduation from Greensburg High School.
Decatur County resident Pat Smith may be contacted via this publication at email@example.com.