D-DAY INVASION & BEYOND FOOTSTEPS – Utah Beach
Private First Class, James Henry Bunnell Sr.
Private James Henry Bunnell Sr.
398th. Army Corps Engineers
Processed at Ft. Devens, Massachusetts 1942
Troop trains left for Camp Shanks at 2100) on 17 Jul 1943 at Camp Claiborne, Arkansas.
We boarded the silent gray hull of the Queen Mary with 20,000 on board, sleeping quarters were a major problem with shifts set up. Finding a place to sleep was hard. Crossing was smooth, but German subs and planes were always nearby on 23 Jul 1943, docked at Pier 90, New York City, New York.
The Queen Mary docked in Scotland and we traveled through that country to LeMarchant Camp one mile west of Devizes occupying several old buildings for a short while) on 1 Aug 1943 at Devizes, Wiltshire, England, Britain.
We relocated to a hill a mile west of Braunton, North Devon, C & E Co., pitched pup-tents in fields surrounded by stone walls. Many other companies nearby were A Co. was 3 miles SE of Crowcombe; B Co. & 1st. Batt. at Camp Brymore, one mile west of Cannington, all places near shire of Somerset. D Co. was one mile north of Bideford; Co. F half mile south of Croyde; doing many things there till 31 Dec. 1943, mess halls, housing for 4250 men, laid 5000 feet of water line, reservoir for 150,000 gallons of water, sewer for 40,000 gallons, several miles of roads, plus scores of other projects on 7 Aug 1943 at Braunton, North Devon, Britain.
We hosted a Christmas dinner with turkey, sweet potato, cranberry sauce, olives, stuffing to English children at mess hall from GI mess gear. Soldiers saved candy and gum from their rations for the kids. Going home the English children sang Yankee tunes on 25 Dec 1943 at Braunton, North Devon, Britain.
Jim was issued a German Language Guide with John C. H. Lee, Lt. General instructing him to not trust any German's during the occupation of Germany in 1944 at Germany.
We moved 9 miles northwest of town. More construction was ordered on 16 Mar 1944 at Headquarters, Taunton, Somerset, Britain
We completed Naval Supply Depot at Exeter, 10,000 foot runway, 1500 man tent camp with other buildings, Failand Golf Course tented camp for 1500 & buildings, anti-tank range at Kilve Range with roads and buildings at Highbridge POL Depot, and office buildings at Morthoe Camp, roads and parking spaces, 1000 men tent camp at Brymore House Camp with mess hall, sewer lines, The Taunton Shop Detail made 150 timber guard houses and 5000 2-story bed assemblies, 1500 man camp at Alfaxton Park, 1000 man camp at Houndstone and many other locations on 15 Apr 1944 at Britain.
After the invasion of France, the 398th still remained station at Porthcawl, England. Restlessness came over all of us. Moods were high on 6 Jun 1944 at D-Day, Normandy, France.
We were finally alerted, mission not known yet. Morale went higher. Our port construction training in Wales would soon come into play. At last we would do something on 2 Jul 1944 at Porthcawl, Britain.
The 2nd. Battalion less Co. D moved by train & convoy to Melbury Park, Dorest, and pitched tents and waited for the go-ahead) on 3 Jul 1944 at Britain.
We finally were alerted for the crossing the channel on 30 Jul 1944 at English Channel, Britain.
Landed at 1600 hours and hiked 8 miles to our bivouac. One ship that was used was the Queen Emma on the 2 August 1944. This crossing made many soldiers sea sick. Morale was good. Upon reaching Utah Beach many will never forget the hulls, stacks, bows and sterns of ships nosed out of their watery graves. This was once the might of the Nazi stronghold. The hike in was sobering, seeing artillery holes and signs for land mines. Destruction was everywhere. Arriving at bivouac children yelled out to us for gum. That night we all heard front line artillery on 3 Aug 1944 at Utah Beach, Normandy, France.
Morning trucks took us here to board trains for Cherbourg. There trucks took us to a field/hill 1 1/2 miles south of the city overlooking the port on 4 Aug 1944 at Chef du Pont, France.
Andrew Tully newspaper coverage says: "4 hours after the first wave of assault troops had landed on the beaches on D-Day dawn a battalion from this (398th) outfit swarmed ashore through heavy fire, got its bulldozers operating as soon as they hit the beach, and by sunset had carved the first Allied airstrip on French soil, later to be more than a dozen such strips under fire and always under conditions which would try the toughest South Boston civilian contractor. In Cherbourg, they call it a rough town, lively during the day and full of fist fights and gun play during blackout" on 11 Aug 1944 at Normandy, France by the US Army, History of 398th. Engineer Regiment in no series (n.p.: By Its Personnel, 1945).
Work assignments began in Cherbourg with building Regimental and Medical Headquarters and H & S Company moved to Le Mont du Roc 2 miles SE of Cherbourg. The First Batt. took over a former German gun emplacements and barracks on a hill in view of harbor. Second Batt. occupied Fort du Hommet (nicknamed Fort du Vommit) in Cherbourg's arsenal. After total destruction of the harbor by German's, the 398th. brought it back to double function doing a magnificent job, removing all mines and bombs on 15 Aug 1944 at Cherbourg, France.
Lt. Col. Griffith was relieved of command and Lt. Col. Addison H. Douglass became new regimental commander. Here, we received the first orders for construction against Germany on 15 Aug 1944 at Cherbourg, France.
Jim Bunnell was promoted from Private to Private First Class. He was an engineer rifleman circa 17 Aug 1944 at Cherbourg, Normandy, France.
While rebuilding roads and bridges after the allies destroyed them, the 398th was now in the front lines under fire by German’s snipers trying to stop the construction that soon would have USA forces coming over.
A Boston newspaper reporter, Andrew Tully took a photo and article of Jim at a pillbox near Cherbourg, lighting a cigarette for Jim. The article that was going back homed says; "tough builders of Normandy plane strips under hot Nazi fire win high praise. This is the hangout of the bearded, hard cussing gang that made possible the air invasion and air occupation of France. These engineers, few of whom could get a screen test in the hearts and flowers department, are living a life that would have the bobby sock set gasping if it were put on film. They do a job without which the glamor guys of the fighter and bomber commands could not add to their glamor. Later while watching a crew maneuver a line of German tank cars over a railroad crossing, where power lines dropped dangerously, a yank waltzed over to the crossroads pillbox where I was standing to get a light for his cigarette. Yep, you guessed it, he's a Massachusetts boy. Private James H. Bunnell of 6 Boardman Street, Amesbury" circa 17 Aug 1944 at Cherbourg Center, Normandy, France.
German prisoners of war were used for menial work under the supervision of the 398th. The harbor became host to many Victory ships large and small creating a massive construction marvel. Nothing was impossible to the 398th. They could build anything. The salvage of German, American and French equipment was another big program of theirs circa 18 Aug 1944 at Cherbourg, France.
Jim was one of the first participants of the 398th. American Army Soldiers in Western Europe football team playing in the first game circa 1 Sep 1944 at Cherbourg, France.
First call sounded for the "Forty-and-Eight" trip to an unknown destination leaving at 0600 hours which turned out to be Verdun, Meuse, France. Conditions were horrible at the train station. Leaving at 0800 hours they could not lay or sit in the crowded boxcars because of nails coming through the floors. Losing out on the football title back at Cherbourg all they had to eat was K-rations which passed off as coffee on 8 Dec 1944 at 0500 hours, Cherbourg, France.
3 day trip was terrible, smelly, cramped, cold and unforgettable. It was hard shaving before arrival impossible, spilling water and bumping into each other, cuts and bleeding everywhere. We arrived late, long after dark. Headquarters were established at 9 Place du Cathedral across from the Verdun Cathedral, and 2nd. Batt. at Caserne Anthouard. Our assignment was to rebuild and remodel for hospital space circa 10 Dec 1944 at Verdun, France.
German Field Marshall von Rundstedt's breakthrough was an all-out Nazi offensive which concerned all. Many were killed on both sides on 16 Dec 1944 at Ardennes, France.
A carved shield/banner was placed above the Verdun Gate which was adopted to be the shield of the 398th. Words say "Factum est" which means "It is done" circa 20 Dec 1944 at Verdun Gate, Verdun, France.
All work in Verdun was halted. By 1800 hours the advance partly left by motor convoy to an unknown destination in Luxembourg. At 2000 hours First Batt. followed the 398th. was attached to Task Force Reed, XII Corps, Third Army, and advanced with them to Sandweiler. Here is where Jim Bunnell saw General George S. Patton on 22 Dec 1944 at 1500 hours, Verdun, France.
A convoy provided by the Twelfth Army Group left at 2000 hours, assembled near Moutfort, heavy enemy air attacks were everywhere. The 398th. were now attached to the Second Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron Co. A of 808th. Tank Destroyer Batt. Combat Team Costello of 4th. Infantry Div. occupied Ihnen to Mertert to defend crossing by enemy at Moselle River, and later extended 9.6 kilometers between Ihnen and northern Wormeldange on 23 Dec 1944 at Luxembourg.
By 1800 hours the 4th. Infantry were relieved; every position was watched by the enemy. All the 398th. weapons gotten at Cherbourg; machine guns and rocket launchers were taken by Normandy Base Section. All they had here was what was left by the 4th. Infantry. Ten days later we were finally supplied with M-1's to replace our 03's on 24 Dec 1944 at Christmas Eve, Luxembourg.
We spent day improving defense lines between Ihnen and Ahn because of heavy artillery fire. On the first 398th. patrolling mission, one engineer was wounded by an exploding booby trap near Syre on 25 Dec 1944 at Christmas Day, Luxembourg.
We started pushing back enemy troops, heavy artillery and mortar fire. Patrols went out from Mertert on 26 Dec 1944 at Moselle (near), Luxembourg.
Pinned down by heavy gun fire, a patrol manages to escape. 398th assigned to booby trap area for enemy patrols out of Grevenmacher-"Moselle Ghost Town." on 27 Dec 1944 at Machtum, Luxembourg.
Germans sent out night patrols for US Army info. from these areas and the east bank of the Moselle River coming within their lines. The 398th. and Second Cavalry invaded German held positions on 28 Dec 1944 at (Early hours), Machtum/Mertert/Grevenmacher, Germany. The 398th. & Second Cavalry attacked German positions and returned at 2345 hours with enemy positions on the Moselle's (River) east side near Wincheringen) on 29 Dec 1944 at (1900 hours), Machtum/Mertert/Grevenmacher, Germany.
A 12 man patrol crossed the thin ice of the Moselle River going 3 miles into enemy territory (Wincheringen). They encountered a nest of 5 enemy machine guns. Four men, 3 from the 398th. were cut down. Rescue was impossible and later only one was found alive. Friendly artillery fire came down on Machtum followed by the Second Cavalry Tank attack. A 398th. platoon occupied a hill overlooking Machtum at 1630 hours where a German prisoner was taken for interrogation. Another platoon of the 398th. attacked another hill and removed an enemy strong point. The Germans through a 3 hour attack of 88mm mortar barrage on 31 Dec 1944 at (1900 hours), Machtum/Mertert/Grevenmacher, Germany.
The 398th. withdrew because of lack of tank support with no wounded. At 1140 hours a 10 minute air attack began on Wecker, about 30 500 pound bombs. The 398th. quickly repairs all access areas. It was later found to be American B-17's attacking by mistake. Heavy fighting throughout the day, by air and ground. Many Germans were killed. The 398th. took over their positions with only 9 wounded) on 1 Jan 1945 at (0300 hours), Machtum, Germany.
Now on German soil a Nazi patrol attacked our outpost and wounded 2 from the 398th. while in their foxholes. The Germans quickly retreat on 2 Jan 1945 at (night) Moselle River Area, Germany
Regimental Headquarters moved from Biwer to near Bucholz. Col. Douglass slipped on ice and hurt himself. Lt. Col. William S. Kingsbury Jr. assumed command. One Sunday service by our Chaplain cause quite a sight when everyone was singing "Old Rugged Cross" and looking over the Moselle River to the enemy side several saw a Nazi kneeling and praying with us all on 3 Jan 1945 at Bucholz, Germany
German patrol attacked and killed 2 from the 398th at their machine gun position. The ground was now covered with snow and the detection of the white clad German troops were difficult. We wore table cloths and curtains, "Any damn thing just as long as we can remain unseen" on 6 Jan 1945 at (night) Moselle River Area, Germany.
Another attack was made at Machtum by the Second Cavalry and the 398th. With friendly fire they entered the town from the east and were pinned down in cellars by mortar fire. Other platoons were held up on hills and near a river just south of town. By daybreak the Germans pounded us from Nittel. We had to retreat on 9 Jan 1945 at o200 hours, Moselle River Area, Germany.
This town finally fell to our forces on 10 Jan 1945 at Machtum, Germany. On this day we were relieved by the 1252nd. and 1258th. Engineers Combat Battalions. We were no longer "green" thanks to the Second Cavalry. Highlighting Luxembourg can only bring to mind Champagne and schnapps because of the poor water. We learned how effective the German artillery was at Oberdonven, Manternach, Bucholz, Grevenmacher and the lines from Mertert to Ihnen, as far back as Lenningen, Niederdonven and Syre. During the past 31 days snow fell giving many positions away. It was a brave attempt to divert the 11th. Panzer Division who were at Saarburg. The crossing of the Moselle River was a victory on 23 Jan 1945 at Moselle River Area, Germany.
While at the Moselle River area in Germany, Jim was frighten by two fast flying objects that buzzed overhead. Thinking it was some German V2 Rockets, they later found out that they were some very rare Jet planes that the German’s were just beginning to put into the air, luckily, a little too late.
Jim was issued a German Language Guide with John C. H. Lee, Lt. General instructing them not to trust any German's during the occupation of Germany
Once deep into defeated Germany, Jim was assigned guard duty at a prison camp for captured German’s. Standing close to one German soldier who stood on the other side of the fence, the German gave Jim some wish words to live by. He leaned close to Jim and said; do you see that Russian soldier over there; who was guarding at the opposite side of the prison grounds. Jim said yes. The German continued in his broken English, said, ‘he is now your friend in this war, but tomorrow, he will be your enemy.”
Our mission here was complete and we were sent back by motor convoy and train to Sissonne, France where our work orders originated on 24 Jan 1945 at 0600 hours, Luxembourg.
From 25 Jan. to 5 July 1945 we built camp and hospital and prepared to return to the United States on 25 Jan 1945 at Sissonne, France.
Our most respected ceremony by Col. Kingsbury and the Chaplain Jones giving honor to all the men in the 398th. and to pay homage to all free-loving people. Galen F. Ebie played taps on his trumpet while our flag was lowered half-mast on 4 Feb 1945 at Sissone Post Theater, Sissone, France.
Over 500 men from the 398th. were recruited (as they called it, "Infantry Draft") and sent to the shrinking front lines in Germany to help end the war quickly. New blood from the states came into the 398th. and cautiously took the place of old ones who left. Tensions were high with the original 398th members left behind with the new rookies. Vailly-sur-Aisne served as a major place for our ceremonies. French turned out in large numbers for appreciation before May 1945 at Sissone, France.
The 398th. was included in the redeployment plan for shipment to the Pacific front by way of a 30 day furlough in the United States. We were homeward bound on 15 Jun 1945 at Camp Chicago, Sissone, France.
Drank allotted two bottles of beer and hung around for the next 6 days, played Baseball and had close order drills on 5 Jul 1945 at Camp Chicago, Sissone, France.
Boarded French troop trains at St. Erme and the next day arrived at Camp Herbert Tarreyton. Thoughts were that we would soon leave on Liberty ships for the United States, but after a week wait, we boarded the Marine Wolf and crossed the English Channel to Southampton, England) on 8 Jul 1945 at St. Erme, France.
We waited here for nearly two weeks. Gave us opportunity to visit London and old friends, and travel circa 15 Jul 1945 at Camp Barton Stacey, Southampton, England.
Upon arrival we boarded and at 1700 hours began our journey home. 15,000 GIs were on board. It is not known that Jim was on board because he served in Japan and never made it home on this trip. His ship was re-routed to the Panama Canal headed for Japan on 28 Jul 1945 at Queen Mary, Greenock, Scotland.
August 1945 14,833 troops plus 1,000 crew transported. Total: 15,883 from France via England to Japan.
August 14, 1945 VJ DAY (Victory Japan). The end of the war in Europe in May 1945 meant that there was an urgent need to redeployed thousands of US combat troops to the conflict in the Pacific and Far East. The Queen Mary sailed to New York to be refitted and then began the long process of repatriation. In January 1946 it began transporting GI brides to their new homes. By 3 May it transferred to Halifax to repatriate the wives and children of Canadian servicemen, which continued until September in Aug 1945 at Japan.
We arrived in the area of Japan and was issued a restricted Japanese Phrase Book and also given an Army issue (green) Soldiers & Sailors Prayer Book) before Oct 1945 at Japan.
After returning home, Jim’s classification card from the service after his discharge said: Order #10,748, classed at 1-C Discharged on 30 Oct 1945.
Jim passed away on 29 May 1996 at his son Paul and daughter-in-law, Leslie’s home in Marstons Mills (Cape Cod), Massachusetts.
He was buried 31 May 1996 at the National Cemetery, Otis Air Force Base (Cape Cod), Bourne, Massachusetts with “Full Military Honors.”
My dad was a quiet man who like many war veterans, didn’t say much about their experiences, but dad final year was spent living with us and though stricken by a crippling and paralyzing stroke leaving him unable to speak, he opened up about his service years as best he could. And that was the time I realized how proud he was to serve his country during a trying time.
I love and miss you dad.
Chief Paul J. Bunnell, UE
God Bless my Brothers, A Company, 4th. 47th, 9th Infantry Div. U.S. Army