Clifton resident Harry Crouch, 83, participated in the D-Day landings at Normandy on June 6, 1944. Crouch, a private, was assigned to the 357th Infantry Regiment of the 90th Infantry Division as a communications operator. He received five stars during his military career, including a Bronze Star awarded by Gen. George Patton.
Below is an account of Crouch’s experiences during the war, told in his own words.
"On June the fifth is when they started loading us on boats right off the channel. The next thing I knew, I was sitting out in the English Channel, and they said the communication men get off. When I hit the water, I don’t think my feet touched bottom. Being the way I had my field pack, I could float myself, and about three or four of us came to land. Then the shell came in and they pulled the ship back, and they brought it in the next morning, and [the Germans] still hit it again.
I was on land that first night by myself with two of the other boys, and I didn’t even know them. I just knew they came off the same time I did.
The next day the ship hit a mine, and today, the Susan B. Anthony ship is sitting where those boys unloaded off."
"I HAD a full field pack and a 300 radio – about 130 pounds. I got everything to shore, but I lost the field pack because I couldn’t move with that thing. I kept my rifle, my ammunition, and my radio.
As far as I’m concerned, I don’t think any of us got any sleep. I did radio back one or two times to the ships to call them and tell them that there’s Germans coming across a certain area near us. I was calling back to the Navy and the ship before the rest of them ever came ashore.
We went anywhere we could hide. We were almost like what you would call a bunch of spies. Anything we saw move, we would take and notify it back. I was told afterwards, “Did you know the Germans could have picked up your radio signals?” I said if they could understand my radio signals, fine, because I was crying.
We were definitely on our own at that time. You do anything you can to survive. Someone said, “Oh, you’re scared.” Well I was. I ain’t ashamed to tell anyone I was scared."
In the months that followed, the 90th Infantry Division participated in some of the bloodiest battles in the war as the division moved from the Normandy Peninsula. In December, the 90th Infantry Division came to the Saar River in Germany.
"We kind of thought we were pulling in for maybe a few week's break, being that it was snowing so hard. A call came down one morning just before Christmas. The 101st Airborne Company of the 82nd Airborne Division had dropped into Bastogne. They had 36 hours of rations, and their ammunition was getting awfully low.
I was the person on the radio and I didn’t know what the hell to do so I just handed it to the first man who was close that was high up. Gen. Patton answered it himself, and he said, “We will be there, through snow, through blizzard.”
He gave us orders to get dressed in camouflage. He got from someplace a truckload of white underwear and sheets. The men put on underwear on the outside of their uniform, and the vehicles and tanks were covered in sheets. I’ll tell you, when you put long-johns up over the top of your combat boots and leave them on the outside, that is a heck-of-a-lookin’ bunch of men.
All the insignias and everything on the vehicles, all the insignias on our uniforms were either taped over or covered over with white."
"THE 358th INFANTRY men attacked that morning. We went in so close with everything we could, and all the Germans ever heard that morning was the crunching of the feet of the 358th Infantry. All they heard was somebody walking – they thought it was their own men moving around.
They tell – and I wasn’t there myself, but I was told by some of the men – that a German colonel, they patted him on the shoulder, and he tried to get his men lined up for attack, but the ones he was talking to were American boys.
[The Germans] had one heck of a battle after they realized what was going on, but we had a lot of men already lined up coming back behind. I’m glad we got as many as we did before they knew what was going on.
Thirty-five hours from the time we received that call, we were attacking at the place known as the Seven Roads to Hell, the Seven Roads at Bastogne. That was about a 20- to 24-hour hard battle, and I mean hard."
In May of 1945, the 357th, 358th, and 359th Infantry Regiments arrived in Pilsen, Czechoslovakia.
"The next thing I knew, it was May, and that was when the next time I can say I was really scared. That was the day that the Seventh Panther Division surrendered to Gen. Patton at Pilsen, Czechoslovakia. When you put them over there, and [the Germans] are coming in on tanks, and you line them up in a line along sides in the fields, if one of them had shot one gun, I got a feeling a lot of us would have messed our pants. I’m pretty sure of it. And I know I’m one of them.
We were in our positions, and they were coming into us with any white thing they could tie on the end of the canons. They were coming into us surrendering because they didn’t want to surrender to Russia. They traveled for miles on the last two days to surrender.
There wasn’t any ceremony. The only thing I’ve ever heard is after the war was over, an old Russian guy, he said to Patton, “Let’s drink to our victory.” [Patton] said, “As far as I’m concerned, they called us both sons-of-bitches, so we’ll drink to two sons-of-bitches.”
That was just the way he was. It didn’t make a damn who it was. He said what he thought, when he thought it, where he thought it.
I spent about at least a fourth of my time in combat with him, or within talking distance of him. The whole damn time I would be in radio reach of him. That’s the trouble – I was around him too much because I still got a lot of the spunk that he had. I still say what I think regardless of who it is."
Harry and his wife Nina have been married 60 years; they have two children, six grandchildren, and 20-something great-grandchildren. They live off Compton Road in Clifton.