by John France 02/17/2018
David Forman was born July 31, 1923. A native of Kings County, New York, he was the son of immigrants. His father Louis was from Latvia and his mother Anna was from Poland. Typical of all young American men in 1942, he wanted to serve his country in the armed forces. His father strongly opposed.
Although David was wary of sea duty, he found a way to support the war effort without further conflict with his father. He joined the Merchant Marine. Sailors of the Merchant Marine were civilians who served on commercial, non-naval ships. They transported vast amounts of war material and troops to all war zones. David did not fully appreciate what he was getting into. The Merchant Marine suffered extreme casualties in WWII. At least 1,614 Merchant Marine ships were sunk or damaged with 67,000 aboard. One out of 26 who served in the Merchant Marine were killed. That was a higher ratio killed than any branch of the U.S. military. An estimated 8,421 were killed and 712 taken prisoner. Those unsung heroes without military benefits did not achieve veteran status until 1988.
David attended an abbreviated Merchant Marine Academy in New York and then set sail in convoy duty. The first convoy was uneventful for David but when part of the convoy split off and entered the Mediterranean, David lost a dear friend when his ship was bombed and sunk.
David’s second convoy was hair raising. They loaded high octane aircraft fuel and 500 lb. bombs off a long pier in New Jersey. They set sail with their volatile cargo and joined the convoy bound for Glasgow, Scotland. In route, they were pursued by a German U Boat Wolf Pack into a dense fog bank. The convoy commander ordered David’s ship to fall far behind the convoy out of concern that a torpedo attack on his ship would result in a massive explosion that could sink or damage other vessels in the convoy. It was a lonely night for David and shipmates who could not see more than a few feet in the fog. In the morning, the fog lifted, and his ship was ordered to rejoin the convoy, in the exposed tail end. Again, they were the lepers of the convoy. After a tense journey, they delivered their cargo and returned home to the U.S. After nine months in the Merchant Marine, David had his fill of high seas.
By the time David returned to New York, his older brother Murray had been drafted into the U.S. Army. David decided it was time to get into the military as well. David presented himself in front of the draft board and requested immediate induction. His request for immediate induction gave him the right to select the branch of service in which he wanted to serve. It did not go as planned. At the draft board there were three lines of inductees; one for the Navy, one for the Army and one for the Marines. David looked at the lines and declared that he wanted to be inducted into the Army. An old Navy Chief, who was probably pulled out of retirement to serve on the draft board, reviewed David’s paperwork. He roughly told David: “You have had sea duty! You don’t get to choose where you are going! I choose where you are going! You are going into the Navy! Now, get in that line!” Thus, December 18, 1943, David was shanghaied into the U.S. Navy.
David completed boot camp in Sampson, New York and then off to Radioman School in Newport, Rhode Island. There, the Navy discovered that David had poor hearing and therefore could not hear Morse Code to the point that he could reliably translate a message. That ended his life as a Radioman. Wondering what the Navy had in store for him next, he was sent to the Philadelphia Navy Yard. There he received additional training while waiting to be deployed overseas. Finally, he set sail on a transport ship for Africa; back to the dreaded high seas.
David was not on terra firma very long in Africa when he was assigned to LCI (L)-36.
He boarded her June 15, 1944 in Bizerte, Tunisia as a Fireman 1st Class. He arrived just in time to sail for the invasion on the Island of Elba as part of Operation Brassard. The operation called for the landing of British Royal Navy Beach Commandos, French Commandos, and Free French 9th Colonial Infantry Division comprising of the 4th and 13th Regiments Senegalese Tirailleurs, and a Moroccan Goumier Battalion. LCI-36 was loaded with fierce looking Senegalese soldiers. Each were at least six feet tall with several lines of scars cut into their cheeks. They sang a beautiful, melodious song onboard that appeared to be part of a religious ceremony. As the newest member of the crew, David was assigned the first watch and was told to be on the lookout for magnetic mines.
On June 12, 1944, Hitler informed German Field Marshall Albert Kesselring that the heavily defended Elba was to be defended to the last man and last cartridge. Unbeknownst to the invading allies, the Germans sent reinforcements to the island on June 14. This set the stage for hotly contested landings of the invasion fleet on June 17. Allied casualties were high among soldiers and sailors. The lend lease HM LCI-132 was sunk. Casualties onboard USS LCI (L)-18 included two killed in action as it was pummeled by enemy shell fire – Robert John Maher, Electricians 1st Class and John William Page, Motor Machinist Mate 1st Class.
David’s welcome to Elba was to be shot at by German small arms fire. He could hear the distinctive “ping, ping, ping!” of bullets impacting LCI-36. This was his first time under fire and he forgot to duck behind cover. The crew of LCI-36 unloaded their fierce Senegalese guests and got the heck out of there. By June 20, the Germans gave up and evacuated 400 troops.
Weeks later, David found himself in Pozzuoli, Italy where many LCIs including LCI-36 established a base of operation. David’s younger brother Sidney had been drafted after David set sail for Africa. Eighteen years old Sidney served with the 3rd Infantry Division and had survived the landings and break out from Anzio. David asked his Skipper, Frederick W. Powell, ENS, USNR, if he could visit Sidney. Powell gave David a pass for a few days and an accompanying letter stating that David was not AWOL. David set out in a jeep with a Red Cross driver and headed for Anzio.
In Anzio, David found an enormous mail tent for the 3rd Infantry Division. Inside was a lone quartermaster behind a desk illuminated by one lightbulb. Stacked against the wall of the tent from floor to ceiling were duffle bags containing the belongings of soldiers killed in action. It was there in that dim lighted tent that David was given the dreadful news that Sidney had been mortally wounded on May 30, 1944 during the push from Anzio to Rome. He had first been removed to a field hospital on the beach and then to a British hospital ship in the harbor. He had died on June 2 from his wounds. Ironically, David found a cable gram with Sidney’s belongings that Sidney had sent to his father five days before his death. It read: “All well and safe. All my love – Don’t worry”. Devastated, David visited the large cemetery near Anzio in search of Sidney’s grave. He spent hours walking through the muddy graveyard void of any blades of grass. As he walked, soldiers were still bringing bodies in from the battlefield for burial. He could not find his brother’s grave.
With the help of the Red Cross, David found out that Sidney had been transported from the hospital ship to an Army hospital in Naples where he was buried on June 5 in the hospital courtyard. David traveled back to Naples with the Red Cross driver to search for Sidney’s grave. There he located his grave and the army chaplain who presided over the burial service. The chaplain told David that he had written to David’s parents and that they knew of Sidney’s death. Depressed, but finding some solace that his parents knew, David returned to LCI-36.
During the following weeks, David and shipmates trained for the Invasion of Southern France. They practiced landings with soldiers of the 45th Division. They also took their turn at gunnery practice with the 20MM cannons. David tried his best to hit the target bobbing in rough surf. By pure luck, he hit the target with a round that skimmed off a wave. That was good enough for his Skipper who was observing the exercise. He declared that David’s battle station would be manning a 20MM cannon. David was incredulous.
On August 15, 1944, the allies invaded the coast of southern France. Commandos attacked key strong-points. U.S. and British paratroopers landed on the high ground beyond the beaches. An invasion fleet of 880 vessels, shelled, rocketed and delivered U.S. soldiers to three beaches east of Toulon. They landed the 3rd Infantry Division at Cavalaire-sur-Mer, the 45th Infantry Division at Saint Tropez, and the 36th Infantry Division at Saint-Raphael. The U.S. landings were supported by the 1st French Armored Division and were followed by several divisions of French Army B. The allies outnumbered the Germans more than two to one. The Germans were stretched thin over 56 miles of coastline. Worse yet for the Germans was that many of their units were second rate troops. Their best troops were moved north to meet the allied invasion of Normandy in June. Only the formidable 11th Panzer Division was in the attack area, but it was at half strength. The allies inflicted heavy casualties on the Germans who did their best to withdraw their best troops north. Operation Dragoon was a complete success.
Much to David’s relief, the invasion of Southern France was not near as exciting as the German welcome at Elba.
Much to David’s relief, the invasion of Southern France was not near as exciting as the German welcome at Elba. LCI-36 discharged troops at Cavalaire-sur-Mer into the tranquil, turquoise waters of the French Riviera. She later retracted from the beach unscathed. Only on the far right of the landing beaches at Saint Raphael did the allies meet serious resistance. LCI-36 served the next 26 days in the invasion area for the remainder of Operation Dragoon, rendering assistance to other vessels. On September 12, 1944, Rear Admiral Lowry, USN, Commander of Eighth Amphibious Force and Commander, Task Force 84, singled out the 36 and crew for a special commendation. So was noted in David’s personnel file and those of his shipmates.
Southern France was secured but not all the French were happy to see their liberators. An allied bomb, which had failed to drop on its target, was finally jettisoned inadvertently over the city of Marseille with devastating results. Warned of hostile natives, David and shipmates, who were finally granted shore leave, decided to dress incognito in coveralls. When queried by locals as to where they were from, David the New Yorker managed to convince them they were from South America!
For the next several months, LCI-36 made many runs between Bizerte to Sicily and the Italian mainland transporting personnel and supplies. As the war ended, LCI-36 crew took on several peacekeeping and humanitarian missions to Yugoslavia. There were warring parties shooting at each other over a contested strip of border between of Italy and Yugoslavia. The U.S. Navy sent the “mighty 36” with its menacing 20MM guns to the area to restore order. A shore party from LCI-36 spoke with the combatants and the shooting stopped. Thus, the war zone was tamed by a lonely LCI.
LCI-36 delivered bags of wheat stenciled with American flags to the starving people of Yugoslavia. Then she was sent to Trieste to collect abandoned Italian soldiers to repatriate in Italy. They had been hiding in the mountains of Yugoslavia long enough for some to marry local girls and have children. David was amazed to see the children climb aboard.
The year 1945 also brought David a promotion to Motor Machinist Mate 3rd Class in March and a return trip to the United States. In July he was at Camp Bradford, Virginia. While LCI-36 was being converted to a gun boat, David and shipmates were granted 30 days of home leave. While home in August, the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The LCI (G)-36 did not sail to the pacific. David’s war was over, but he was still in the Navy.
David was transferred to the submarine base in New London, Connecticut where he served as a crewman on an LCI involved in top secret research. The LCI was full of civilian technicians from General Electric who were developing a new sonar system. From there, the Navy shipped him home to the Brooklyn Navy Yard; one step closer to discharge from the Navy. There he served on an old iron riveted tug boat that had served in the Spanish American War. David believed that you could drop the old tug boat off the top of the Empire State Building without denting the vessel. Its mission was to sail out into severe storms to rescue floundering ships; certainly not a mission embraced by David. He sailed twice into storms on the tug but never saw another ship in the foul weather. He hated the duty, but it was short lived. After about six weeks, on the tug, he was visited by a friend who informed him that his father had died. David was discharged from the Navy shortly thereafter on March 15, 1946. His days on the dreaded high seas were over.
In 1948, David and his family were contacted by the Navy and were asked whether they wanted to bring Sidney home or leave him buried in Italy. David decided to bring his kid brother home and had him buried next to his father in Long Island, New York.
Today, David is 94 years old living in Florida with Naomi, his lovely wife of 63 years. He lives in peace without the slightest desire to return to sea.