D-Day veteran’s voyage to Normandy a ‘very lucky’ one

‘Raymond Scheuerer Day’ to be held at Kenilworth VFW

KENILWORTH — This time of the year, Kenilworth native and veteran Raymond Scheuerer can be found most days selling poppies in front of the A&P on the Boulevard in the morning and afternoon.

But come Memorial Day, Scheuerer will take center stage at the Kenilworth VFW as his friends, family and fellow veterans celebrate his remarkable journey from the Borough of Kenilworth to the coast of southern England, and then to the shores of Normandy on June 6, 1944, and back again.

Memorial Day 2014 in Kenilworth is being called “Raymond Scheuerer Day.”

In May of 1944, southern England had become a massive staging area for the invasion of German-occupied Europe. Enormous piles of ammunition were stockpiled. More than 50 thousand tanks, half-tracks, armored cars, trucks, jeeps and ambulances were lined up bumper to bumper. Bulldozers, locomotives, construction and engineering equipment, howitzers and antiaircraft guns were all parked side by side. Countless supplies of all sorts – military, medical, and civilian supplies – had been stockpiled and prepared for the invasion.

There were so many soldiers that 54,000 men were needed just to cook for the constant quarter-mile-long “chow line,” and there were roughly 124,000 empty hospital beds awaiting the 30-percent or more casualties expected in the coming weeks. One of those beds would later be filled by Scheuerer.

At H-Hour on D-Day, the soldiers – many of them as young a 18 – would be aboard transport ships for the coast of Normandy to storm the frontlines of “Fortress Europe.”

From Kenilworth to England 

Scheuerer’s journey to the southern coast of England began more than 16 months earlier, in March of 1943, when he joined the United States Army after receiving a draft notice.

“When I was 17, I wanted to join the Navy,” Scheuerer said during an interview last week. “I didn’t want to join the Army. My brother was in the Navy. I took the exam in New York and I passed, and I got a telegram saying the quota for the month was filled. Two times the quota was filled.”

When he turned 18, Scheuerer had to sign up for the draft.

“I told them I tried to join the Navy and they sent me to the Navy, and the Navy said the quota was filled for the month,” he said.

And so Scheuerer found himself joining the Army in March of 1943, marching and riding trains all over the country, training for missions that were beyond his 18-year-old comprehension.

“We went down to Fort Dix in Jersey,” he said. “We were in squad tents there, and it was cold as hell. And then they put us on a train, and we ended up in Georgia, at Camp Wheeler. I spent my basic training down in Georgia. It was 13 weeks.”

Following basic training, Scheuerer spent time stationed at Camp Shenango in Pennsylvania, at which point he recalls a few men were shipped off to join the fight in North Africa. But it was not long before he was sent to Camp Shanks in New York, and from there, he and 15,000 other troops were sent to board the Queen Mary, arriving in Scotland about a week later.

“I slept under a stairwell all the way over there,” Scheuerer recalled. “The lines were incredibly long for the food and you only got two meals a day. So I had cheese crackers and Pepsi cola all the way over cause it was too long to wait in line. It took five days to get to Scotland.”

From Scotland Scheuerer boarded a train for England and arrived at the marshalling areas for what was being covertly referred to as Operation Overlord: the massive, amphibious and aerial invasion of Europe by America and its allies.

“We got sent to Sunny Devon, near Plymouth, England, and that’s when I joined the 29th as a replacement.”

Scheuerer had been assigned to C Company of the 116th Infantry Regiment of the 29th Infantry Division and was housed in a camp of just a battalion of 1,000 men, or four companies.

“I was there a week and there was an air raid,” he said. “The Germans were bombing Plymouth. That was our first indication that we were in the war. We didn’t have bunkers, we had slit trenches. We were right on the edge of the moors there, and we trained on the moors. That’s where we trained most of the time, making amphibious landings on the coast of England. But the Germans came over and sank a troop ship and we lost 700 guys. We made practice landings every month of the year.

“We were training, training, training, and nobody knew when D-day was,” he continued. “We went down to a marshalling area, and they had us fenced in. We weren’t allowed to go anywhere.”

From England to Normandy: D-Day

Scheuerer spent about a week in the marshalling area on the coast of southern England, he said, before Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander of Allied Forces in Europe, gave the order for the invasion via the coast of Normandy to begin at sunrise on the morning of June 6, 1944.

“Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force!” began the message from Eisenhower to the troops on the eve of the invasion. “You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.”

Scheuerer was about to join the 175,000-strong expeditionary force in their effort to capture a beachhead on the Normandy Coast, backed up by 2,876,000 soldiers rallied in Southern England to reinforce and continue the full-scale invasion of the Nazi empire.

Loaded onto transport ships in the dead of night and hauled across the choppy and frigid waters of the English Channel, the force massed itself ten miles off the coast of northern France and began loading LCVP’s, or Landing Craft, Vehicle Personnel boats. The boats had a flat bottom and held three columns of ten men ready to speedily unload the moment the front ramp hit the ground.

The orders for the 29th Division were to spearhead the assault on a section of beach code named Omaha Beach, with Scheuerer’s 116th Infantry Regiment assigned to a 370-yard portion of Omaha further code named as Dog Green. They were to move off the beach as fast as possible and secure the road inland toward the town of Vierville.

But as the saying goes, the best laid schemes of men often go awry.

Four companies – A, E, F and G – comprised the first wave of the assault on Omaha Beach. Scheuerer’s C Company was in the third wave.

“A company landed where they were supposed to on Omaha Beach,” Scheuerer said. “Omaha Beach is a very flat, low, wide beach. You have a couple hundred yards to cross before there is cover. The Air Force was supposed to bomb the beach so there were craters. But they bombed inland. A company had 50 percent casualties.”

Those who planned the expedition had counted on naval and air bombardment to neutralize the defenses on Omaha Beach just before the boats carrying the first wave arrived on shore, and intelligence suggested the Germans would be using inferior troops to defend the coast and use more skilled soldiers as reinforcements. In addition, troops were told to expect craters on the beaches for added cover. This did not happen.

But just as fate had removed Field Marshal Erwin Rommel — the commander and orchestrator of Germany’s coastal defenses — with a small trip for his wife’s birthday, fate had also placed a crack team of sharpshooters on the cliffs above Omaha Beach as part of a training exercise.

From their position on the cliffs, the German snipers were able to inflict heavy casualties upon A Company, who suffered more casualties than any other unit of the 116th Infantry Regiment. Within ten minutes of hitting the beach, every officer in the company had become a casualty.

Scheuerer’s C Company was due to land 50 minutes after A Company in the third wave and move the regiment inland. They arrived ten minutes early, and didn’t land in the right spot. Few LCVP’s landed in the right spot.

“We didn’t land where we were supposed to land,” Scheuerer said. “There were six boats in C Company. We landed farther down the beach. We were supposed to land right on the beach and go straight inland because A and B companies were supposed to have the beach under control. Well that didn’t work. They got murdered.”

C Company benefitted from landing in the wrong spot and saw greatly reduced casualties over earlier landings, partly due to smoke in the air that provided a screen from enemy sites.

“I was lucky,” Scheurer said of the being in the wrong place at the right time. “I dont know who or how things changed, but we landed farther down the beach.”

When the doors to his landing craft opened, Scheuerer said he immediately took cover by getting as low as
possible.

“Our battalion commander was coming down the beach yelling ‘you better get off the beach or your gonna die.’ When I came out of the boat, the first thing I saw were tracers coming right at us and I ducked. I crossed that beach like a duck and I could hear the bullets going right over my head.”

Having seen the 1998 film “Saving Private Ryan,” Scheuerer’s wife Sally said her husband once said the only thing missing from the D-Day sequence was the smell of gunfire.

After having survived crossing several hundred yards of open beach with little to no cover, Scheuerer joined his company behind a four-foot seawall which provided adequate cover to stage an assault inland, but there were still many obstacles to face.

Just slightly down the beach there was a gap in the seawall protected by a double layer of barbed wire that had to be cleared with a bangalore, an explosive device designed for just such a task. Scheuerer recalled the incident easily.

“There was a guy named Lambert, and he was a wire cutter. He slid a bangalore under the barbed wire. He was 19. He put the ignitor in it, but he got hit by a machine gun. They killed him. A lieutenant got in there and blew the wire, and once you blew the wire, you have to get off the beach, then cross a road, then there was a drop down, then in grass about knee high, following each other. We were worried about mines.”

Pvt. Ingram E. Lambert’s story is documented in official war records, and his image was captured the afternoon before D-Day by Scheuerer in a photograph.

According to multiple sources, Lambert crawled through the gap in the seawall, then raised up, jumped a strand of barb wire, crossed a road and stopped at a barb wire entanglement on the far side. Lambert set a bangalore but was killed by machine gun fire before he could set it off. Lt. Stanley H. Schwartz set off the charge.

The company then moved inland on the run but fell under heavy artillery and machine gun fire. They took cover in slit trenches they found and stayed put for about 10 minutes before the commander decided it would be better to try and cross the swamp ahead of them and make for the hill. And so, led by C Company, the regiment became the first of the 29th Infantry Division to penetrate the first layer of defenses.

But crossing the swamp came with casualties of its own.

“I was running behind somebody else, and the next thing you know I was on the ground. I got hit with something,” said Scheuerer. “One of the guys called a medic, and the medic came over and put a bandage around my foot. And then they took off and I stayed there.”

Scheuerer was shot in the foot, and it was here that his offensive actions ended. He was now on the defensive.

In the crossing of the road and swamp, the company suffered four casualties in total, including the deaths of Pfc. Ralph Hubbard and Pvt. George R. Losey by machine gun fire while crossing the road, and injuries to Sgt. Ottowa O. Fore and Scheuerer while crossing the swamp.

“So I stayed there, and I could look back down on the beach and see how they were shelling the beach, and all the sudden a shell landed behind me,” Scheuerer said. “And I still had my pack on, but I didn’t have a shovel. I had an axe. A piece of shrapnel hit my axe, and I figured it was time I get out of there. I crawled all the way up to the top of the hill and I laid up there all day long. And I looked back down and I could see the beaches and what was going on down there.”

“Going on down there” was the hard fought, deadly and horrific conflict come to be known as D-Day by its code name. It is the largest seaborne invasion in the history of warfare and included 5,000 ships and landing crafts, 50,000 vehicles,11,000 planes and 156,000 Allied troops from the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, France and Norway. In total, there were 6,603 casualties of American troops, with 1,465 deaths. There were more than 3,000 more casualties from other countries.

In the whole of World War II, there were 16,112,566 U.S. service members suffering casualties, with 405,399 of them losing their lives. Countless soldiers and civilians from countries all over the world suffered both physical and mental casualties. In total, over 60 million people are estimated to have lost their lives due to World War II.

Scheuerer sat for the better part of the day on the top of that hill, miraculously undisturbed until two German soldiers came marching toward him over the horizon with their arms in the air. Luckily, two American soldiers followed behind them, taking them prisoner and marching them back to the beach. They helped Scheuerer make it off the hill.

“I got to the beach where they have lined up all the dead,” he said. “An LCVP pulled up bringing in ammunitions, and the captain said he was bringing casualties back. I got on the boat, and in the pitch black, after a while, we pulled up alongside an LST, and they started taking all the casualties. I was leaning up against the back of the boat, and all of the sudden, the whole sky lit up with tracers over the top of our boat. The navy was shooting across and over our boat. I thought it was the 4th of July. They must be trigger happy I thought.

“Two German dive bombers came out and were dive bombing the boats,” he continued. “All the sudden, the planes just left. You couldn’t shoot them, they were too low. I can’t remember how I got up into the boat. I wasn’t on a stretcher. The boat hadn’t unloaded, and so that night was quiet. They took all the wounded guys and put us on the navy bunks. The next day was all quiet, too, but next night all the sudden we hear the machine guns going. We could hear all the shells hitting the floor of the boat. The guns were right over us. Those planes came back and left just like the night before. The third day, we went back to England.”

“And that’s what happened. The rest of it I was in the hospital for a long time.”

‘It’s an honor to have him with us’

From England Scheuerer was off for home and more medical attention, and he criss-crossed the northeast and midwest of the United States having many surgeries. He was wounded on June 6, 1944, and was in one hospital or another until January of 1945, but spent many more trips and days in hospitals across the country for many more months, including in Atlantic City, Oklahoma and Texas.

“I’m alive,” said Scheuerer last week at home with his wife in Kenilworth. “I’m very, very lucky because I got out of it alive. I’m very fortunate. A lot of things could have happened. And I was just lucky to get out of there.”

Since D-Day, Scheuerer has visited Omaha Beach in Normandy on three separate occasions, including for the 50th anniversary, making it four total trips to France. This coming June 6 will be the 70th anniversary.

Memorial Day in Kenilworth will be called “Raymond Scheuerer Day” by the local VFW. They will hold their tradition Memorial Day services at 11 a.m. followed by a barbecue, with soda and beer, at which time guest speaker, historian and author Walter Boright will speak.

“I’ll be talking about Ray as a friend, an old time Kenilworth resident, and a patriotic American,” said Boright. “He is a phenomenal resource about local history, and a very patient and kind person.”

“It’s an honor to have him with us, still,” said Sgt. Robert Jeans, retired, and commander of VFW Post 2230 in Kenilworth. Jeans was grand marshall of the 2014 Union County St. Patrick’s Day Parade, and is a decorated Vietnam veteran and retired Kenilworth Police Department lieutenant.

“He is still an active member,” Jeans said last week. “Yesterday I had to send him home when he was selling poppies. It was getting too damp out there for him. I wish I had 100 more like him. He is a magnificent gentleman.”