Bill Rugh - US NAVY gunloader - USS WALKE (DD-723)I grew up in a little town in Pennsylvania where my dad managed a grocery store and my brother Jack and I worked, Sat. and after school. My mother came from a large family (16) and we always had lots of family around. We all went to church each Sunday and had dinner as a family. Just like everyone else in our little town.
We were all quite shaken when the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor. I remembering my Dad saying ' In 3 months time we'll defeat them' . As we know it didn't happen like that, it was a long hard fought war with the loss of life heavy on all sides. Dad didn't think at that time either my brother or I would have to go.
We were required to sign up for the draft when we reached 18. I was 18 on Oct 31st, 1943 and was called up in Jan. of 1944. I chose to join the Navy, my brother had signed up the year before for the Seebees. I was sent to Great Lakes Naval training school and after 8 weeks of training was sent home on a 7 day leave. I got sick while on leave and was late returning to Great Lakes, so my platoon was shipped out and I was sent to New York City's Pier 92 where I joined other out going units aboard a LST.
In a convoy of over 100 ships enroute to the British Isles. We were in a shipping lane far to the north where the ocean was rough and cold. We were in very crowded conditions and no cigarettes left aboard the last week of our journey. We landed in Milfordhaven Wales, 16 days after our departure from NYC.
I was transferred to southern England, Exeter, to an amphibious base where I was assigned to drive truck for about 6 weeks helping to stockpile supplies all over the English Isles. You can imagine the pleasure of 14 18 year olds having new 10 wheel trucks to drive those trucks sure did take a beating.
On June 2 I was transferred by my superior to Plymouth. In the harbor I was attached to the Destroyer, the USS WALKE DD 723. The USS Walke was at that time one of the newest and largest destroyer. I knew nothing about the ship when I boarded. An officer came up to me and asked me if I had a battlestation. When I replied with "no" he told me that I would be a loader on a 20 mm on the fantail. I replied with "Sir" where is the fantail and what is a 20 MM? On June 5th, one day prior to the Invasion we left port at Plymouth. As we were leaving the Captain announced to the crew that we were proceeding to participate in the greatest invasion in history, the invasion of Normandy. As we all know all our troops on land, sea and air were fully trained. for the job they were about to do.
We started across the channel from Southern England with a huge amount of landingcrafts that evening. however the weather was terrible and we pulled in to port for the evening, next evening we proceeded across the channel .
It is no wonder that having been on the ship for only three days I was not as well trained as the others that participated in the invasion. The weather was so fierce with strong winds and heavy rains that the invasion was delayed for one day. In the night prior to June 6th we proceeded to cross the English Channel. The Captain announced to the crew over the PA system " Attention all hands, you are about to take part in the greatest invasion in history, the invasion of Normandy". The seas remained rough for the crossing. Just at daybreak I heard a really loud noise above us. It was hundreds of C47's each towing a glider. All these planes were together darkening the skies. Shortly after that all hell broke loose when the bombardment commenced of the beach and gun emplacements. We had the element of surprise for awhile but then they retaliated with heavy gunfire. We were constantly on our battlestations. Food was brought to us and we were only permitted ten minutes bathroom leaves. The noise was deafening. Bombs kept landing beside our ships. The bombardment started to soften up the defenses so the troops could land safer. We were no part of the landing party so we gever got close to the beach. We fired non-stop and when we had run out of fuel and ammunition we returned to Plymouth, to refuel and come back and continue the bombardment. We kept the going back and forward to Plymouth up for two weeks.
We were told to go-to Cherbourg and patrol with 2 mine sweepers and give them-protection. We first were quite a distance from shore but each day kept getting closer and on one bright sunny day (the 1st), all hell left loose. Shore battery shells. were exploding all around. the ship and we went to flank speed and steered in front of the 2 minesweepers laying down a blanked of heavy smoke and proceeded out of range with little damage, several days later we were ordered to return to the U.S. for repairs.
We were assigned to two miners sweepers clearing the cannel for the invasion, as protection from subs or any kind of attack. After two days of patrolling we were with in a couple of miles of the beach when we can under heavy shore artillery, with shells exploding close enough to fling shrapnel on to our decks. At this time the captain ordered the ship full speed ahead with rapid salvo fire from all six guns aimed at area of the incoming shells. At full speed we headed toward the shore and passed between the beach and the mine sweepers laying a very heavy smoke screen to protect the mine sweepers. We proceeded out of range.This was probably the most traumatic moment to me so far. We were ordered to escort a battleship back to Plymouth and on the way we picked up a submarine contact. We immediately set course to drop depth charges, after 6 passes we had dropped 42 depth charges and were successful in sinking one submarine. The depth charges were so powerful that when they exploded they lifted you off the deck. We were ordered to proceed to Scotland, after a brief stay we were ordered to return to the States for complete overhaul.
Our time spent off the shores of France was approximately two months. With the beaches being secured there was no longer need for the Navy to be there, so we were sent to the US and then ordered to the South Pacific where we were sorely needed.