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Man fights for D-Day award long forgotten

By LOUISE ANDRYUSKY

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 19, 2000


This is a story that involves two people: Ken Davey of Hopewell Junction, N.Y., and Arthur Hart of Spring Hill.

Davey contacted the Hernando Times recently to tell about his efforts to obtain the unit citation recommended for the 6th Naval Beach Battalion, which fought on Omaha Beach in the Normandy invasion on June 6, 1944. Davey's father was a doctor and a member of the battalion, as was Arthur Hart.

Davey's father died shortly after World War II came to an end, but Davey is determined to obtain the citation, mentioned in records but never issued. He's been corresponding with officials inWashington for a long time, and the last letter he received stated that the Navy needs more time to search its archives.

I went to visit Arthur and Madeline Hart on June 6, the 56th anniversary of the invasion. They are a delightful couple, both raised in New York City. They had six children and have weathered all of the ups and downs of married life for the past 55 years.

Hart, 76, never talked about the war when he came home from Europe. "I buried my memories," he said. He was only 18 when he enlisted, and he felt that the post-war years were for starting life as a civilian, getting married and raising a family. "I didn't want to bring all the horror back," he said.

Life went on. The children grew up to be very successful. Hart's mother reached the age of 96, and family members all began urging Hart to write down some of his war story. He finally did in 1999, and when his mother read them, she wanted to know why he never mentioned any of his escapades, and why she had never seen any of his medals.

Madeline had the medals framed. They included the Croix de Guerre with Palm given by the grateful nation of France, the European-American Campaign with two battle stars, Naval Expeditionary Force, Occupation of Germany, Defense of America, WWII Victory medal and the U.S. Navy Good Conduct Medal.

Hart was trained for months in England as an amphibious sailor. In Davey's research, he learned about the job of the 400 men in the Naval Beach Battalion.

They were to clear the beach of every obstacle confronting the troops, mark sea lanes, transport the wounded to hospital ships and keep everything moving as hundreds of landing ships came ashore.

Each platoon commander was called a beachmaster. Some people said the beachmaster's job was like being a traffic cop on a busy intersection in hell; others said it was one rank above God.

Davey said one member of the battalion told him he will always remember the heroic sight of a Navy beachmaster calmly walking along Omaha Beach, under fire, issuing orders through a bullhorn. One of the most horrendous sights of the war was a beach battalion bulldozer moving bodies to make roads off the Easy Red sector of the beach.

Hart said he came over from England on the USS Dorothea Dix. "To come ashore, we boarded small craft in rough seas. We were third in line to land. If it hadn't been for the Navy guns from battleships, cruisers and destroyers continuously firing over our heads, we never could have gotten ashore."

Once landed, the battalion sailors began blowing up every obstacle in sight. "We blew up land and sea mines, barbed wire and jumping jacks (crisscrossed bars laid down in the water and on land )."

Hart's outfit not only accomplished its own mission, but went to the aid of other units in accomplishing theirs. He remembers the 150-foot wall facing the infantry.

"Some of those guys never had a chance," he said. "The Germans were firing right down on them. For some of the wounded, however, all we could do was to get them shelter right up against the wall until the medics could get to them. When it was safe, we got them to a hospital ship, but sometimes that took two or three days.

"I remember helping wounded men aboard an LCI (landing craft infantry) and picking up soldiers who couldn't swim away from their sinking tanks. There were bodies and body parts floating and being pushed in and out by the water."

In an account that Davey wrote about the role of the 6th Naval Beach Battalion, he recalls reading about amphibious sailors, under catastrophic conditions on Omaha Beach, assuming combat roles in support of the assault, establishing shore-to-ship communications, directing infantry landings and providing medical and seaward evacuation for the wounded and dying.

Hart stayed on Omaha Beach for three months. The Americans took the hill, and the fighting moved inland.

"We dug foxholes and ate K rations until we were finally able to change to C rations. At least (the C rations were) warm food," Hart said. "I heard we had lost 40 percent of the men in our outfit by the time D-Day was over. Later I learned we lost about 2,000 men altogether in the first hours on Omaha Beach." The Encyclopedia of the War Years gives the total number of dead and wounded in the invasion as 15,000.

Hart was sent back to England for a short period of rest, received a whole new set of immunization shots, and was given some liberty and leave before he was sent to Belgium to rejoin his unit. Once again, he was in the thick of the fighting. But one of his proudest moments came when the 6th Naval Beach Battalion was among the first to cross the Rhine River into Germany.

Davey said Vice Adm. Alan G. Kirk, commander of the Western Naval Task Force in France, recommended the unit citation for the 6th Naval Beach Battalion, and Davey will not give up his research and contacts in the Navy Department until this historical oversight has been corrected.

While I was talking to Hart, his wife answered the phone. She came back to the dining room to give him a message from his daughter, Kathleen.

"She said to tell you: "I know you know what day this is, Dad. Thanks, I love you.' "

Once again, I felt privileged to meet these fine people. Yes, it was June 6, 2000, and I wondered how many people paused to say just a plain "thank you" for the men who died and those who survived the Normandy invasion.

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