By John France
In the year 2000, I was a new member of the USS LCI National Association and I was eager to research the landings of my father’s LCI Group 34, Flotilla 12 and his LCI (L) 540 on Omaha Beach, June 6, 1944. Early on in my research, I was frustrated because the LCI hull numbers I encountered in writings of one of America’s most prominent historians about D Day appeared to be incorrect. I discovered that the LCI hull numbers he listed were only assigned to the Pacific theatre of operations. I noted other historians, copied the same LCI hull numbers because after all, they got their information from a prestigious historian. He could not be wrong. Or could he?
Frustrated, I contacted Howard “Tiny” Clarkson, then Secretary of the USS LCI National Association and he in turn referred me to Laurent Lefebvre, a French historian with an excellent web site – www.americandday.org. Mr. Lefebvre informed me that during the planning of Operation Overlord – the invasion of the Normandy coast, Army planners assigned fictitious “Army numbers” to LCIs and other amphibious vessels scheduled to deliver troops to the beach because they had no idea at the time of the planning what actual Navy and Coast Guard vessels would be available come time of the invasion. With this information, I continued my research in earnest but with a wary eye.
I was determined to be error free in my writing, yet I too have been guilty of mistakes. I wrote my first story for the Elsie Item, April, 2008 reference LCIs 93 and 487. In that Issue # 63, I referred to the Coast Guard Attack Transport USS Samuel Chase as the “Samuel B Chase”. My apologies to the Coast Guard.
I wrote a story for the Elsie Item April, 2009 D Day. In that Issue # 67, I wrote that my father’s Skipper of LCI (L) 540 – Benjamin Van Blake survived the first sinking of a U.S. Warship by a German U Boat in WW II – the destroyer, USS Reuben James. Wrong again. Actually, Van Blake survived the first U.S. warship torpedoed (It was damaged but not sunk) by a German U Boat in WWII – the destroyer USS Kearny. The event occurred October 31, 1941 when the U.S. was officially neutral. The Kearney, sailing off Iceland responded with other U.S. destroyers to assist a British convoy overwhelmed by a German U Boat wolf pack. Hitler used this U.S. aggression as one of his excuses to declare war on the United States. I remember apologizing to Skipper Van Blake’s widow for this error.
In our last Elsie Item – Issue # 95, I wrote the Story of LCI Group 35 on Omaha Beach, D Day and the heroics of Arthur Virgil Shields of LCI 415. After years of research, months of writing and editing, I submitted the article for publication. Closing the story, I wrote that Shields was one of only three men awarded the Navy Cross for actions at Omaha Beach. Wrong again! There were actually 20 Navy Crosses awarded for action at Omaha Beach. These are well documented in “Appendix III – Navy Cross Citations” in the excellent book authored by Phil Nordyke – “American Heroes of World War II, Normandy June 6, 1944”. For my error, I apologize to those heroes and their descendants.
Now that I have fallen on my sword, I return to my writing to preserve the legacy of the LCIs and their crews. Please join me in this endeavor. Please submit stories. Strive to get it right but don’t be afraid to err and don’t be afraid to admit your mistakes. We who make mistakes are in good company.