Times Past

San Luis Obispo native recounts D-Day

Brig. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt Jr., son of President Teddy Roosevelt, in a Jeep.
Brig. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt Jr., son of President Teddy Roosevelt, in a Jeep. Courtesy photo

The “fog and confusion of war” reigned at D-day on June 6, 1944, 70 years ago.

The Navy had landed the first assault wave at Utah Beach about 2,000 yards south of the designated area.

San Luis Obispo native son and future civic leader Peter Andre was there.

“About two weeks before D-Day, we traveled in the middle of the night to Torquay in southwestern England,” he said. “There, we boarded LSTs (landing ship tanks). The first aboard was Battery B of the 981st Field Artillery Battalion. We had been selected as a support group for the D-Day invasion.

“I remember sailing up and down the English Channel for several days before we moved across to France … Eisenhower was waiting for a break in the weather before landing the troops.

“When the big day, June 6, 1944, arrived, off we went. First were the paratroopers. Incidentally, the lieutenant colonel commanding our battalion didn’t get along with me and tried to get me to volunteer for the paratroopers. He wanted to get rid of me.

“Some time previously, when we were making a land march to the moorlands of England, I had gone to buy scones for my enlisted men. Not getting any service on the officers’ side … I went to the enlisted men’s side. The colonel caught me there and said, ‘Lieutenant, if you want to be an enlisted man, I’ll damn sure make you one.’

“This old codger had been a forestry officer in Santa Barbara County, and one of his majors had been a Good Humor (ice cream) man. They were birds of a feather. About the only good guy in our headquarters was a man by the name of Maj. Morrow, who tragically was killed by our own American troops in a hedgerow in France. It was nighttime, and troops, not our own, mistakenly thought they were enemy soldiers. He was walking with Col. Welch when the accident occurred, and I will never forget the chaplain saying, ‘They shot the wrong man.’

“When the invasion came, the fighting was so fierce that our troops couldn’t move onto the shore as scheduled. We were supposed to land at 10 a.m.

“The invasion started at 6 a.m.,” Peter said, but his unit didn’t get off the ship until 6 p.m.

“After severe shelling by our ship and by the paratroopers having landed during the night … I saw lots of dead American soldiers on the ground and some still hanging dead in their parachutes dangling from trees … just outside of St. Mere Eglise.

“Col. Bill Baldwin, a sergeant, a driver and I took a Jeep to see if we could find our position where we were supposed to go and set up our guns. We … stopped at a crossroad to ask directions of a (military police officer). We found that our position was in enemy hands.

“We finally were directed to a hedgerow field where we set up our artillery and started shelling the enemy.

“Trying to find (the rest of) my battalion, which was coming in several days later, was no easy task. The Army headquarters couldn’t tell me which ship was the one, so I did the next best thing. I went to see Gen. Roosevelt, who was standing on top of a sand dune on Utah Beach. He helped me to no end because he got me onto the admiral’s flagship, where finally I located the ship with the rest of my battalion.”

Peter’s contact with Brig. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt Jr., son of President Teddy Roosevelt, has historical connections. Roosevelt had joined the 4th Division shortly before the landing and volunteered to go in with the first wave.

He determined that Maj. Gen. Maxwell Taylor’s 101st Airborne Division, dropped during the night, had captured the causeways over the inundated area behind the beach. Roosevelt decided that to try to move the landing northward would only cause confusion. His decision literally saved the day.