Living on borrowed time
Marion Rutherford Adams, 95, of the Miami Valley of Ohio, is living on borrowed time.
In May of 1942 he entered the U.S. Navy because as he says, “I don’t like to wear a necktie, and I like to have a dry place to sleep.”
He had two older brothers, Dale and Melvin, who served in the military, and their stories were frightening. Dale was aboard the U.S.S. Wasp when it was blown up, and Melvin flew over the Hump when China and Japan were at war.
In spite of his brothers’ service, Marion signed up over his father’s objections.
Flash forward to the Allied assault on the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944. Marion is aboard LST 491, serving as a radio operator. An LST is a large transport vessel (327 feet, 9 inches) designed to land with no docks or piers.
Marion’s thinking was that he would be trained as a beach master, a coordinator on the beach of military maneuvers and an extremely dangerous job because “this is the first person the enemy wants to knock off.”
As in many situations in the military, plans changed and Marion was switched to be a radio operator because the man scheduled for the role that Marion was assigned was late returning from leave. And Marion’s name was at the top of the alphabetical list as a replacement.
As Marion, age 20, approached Normandy from England on D Day, he reports, “The thing that went through my mind was what I’d be doing tomorrow night at this time. I wondered how I’d be killed. Would I be shot? Would the LST hit a mine? Would my ship be bombed?
“We had been told in training that LSTs would never get away from a beach, that they were good for one landing, one invasion.” At 6:30 a.m. on June 6 he was at Omaha Beach.
On that day at 3 p.m., the beach master from Utah Beach called.
As Marion was the radio operator, he was the first to know everything. The message from Utah Beach was as follows, “Take your LST to Utah Beach. We’ve established a beachhead, and you have equipment we need.” Marion indicates equipment meant tanks, kitchens, ammunition carriers, trucks loaded with men.
To reinforce a sense of impending doom while still in England, Adams says, “Before the invasion, we had been ordered to put all our personal belongings in a sea bag: letters, journals, anything with a home address. They also replaced our American currency with British notes with a gold seal. The point of all of this was that the Germans would not be able to use any personal information. They then took our belongings and offloaded them to smaller vessels and transported them to a safe place in England.”
LST 491, built in a cornfield in Evansville, Indiana, landed at Utah, offloaded vehicles and men, and picked up the wounded from the beach fight, prisoners of war, and any soldiers who needed to get back to England from the USS Rich that sank in 15 minutes after being exploded by two mines the Germans had placed in the area.
At South Hampton, England, Marion observed ambulances lined up to pick up the wounded.
It was then two days later, the LST was back to Omaha Beach. At Omaha, Marion saw an LCI and on the two off-loading ramps were “burnt corpses; the carrier was burned so bad that I couldn’t even read the number on it.” The Germans had been barricaded on the cliffs (Pointe du Hoc) firing an 88, “a big cannon that fired hot.”
At Omaha, men aboard LST 491 offloaded equipment and headed back to England to pick up more men. The approximately 200 men- English, Canadians, Polish, Americans — and their equipment were soon on their way to Juno Beach.
At Juno, Marion observed a cleared beach as the fighting had moved inland, and 200 more soldiers and equipment were needed.
In all this back-and-forth maneuvering, the lives of those aboard LST 491 were in danger as LSTs are “big clunky vessels, always attempting to evade the Germans who were attacking from their position on land.”
When LST 491 arrived in England, Marion observed the English soldiers hunting in the garbage of the fantail of his craft for food (Waste was stored there until it could be disposed of at sea). Marion said to Signalman Hadley, “This is awful. Hungry and going into battle.”
LST 491 took these hungry English soldiers to Sword Beach and then off to Juno Beach where Marion thought his good luck had come to an abrupt end. They had moved the LST up “really close at Juno so the men didn’t have as far to travel when we knew bombs would be coming.” And one did, right toward LST 491.
It missed the LST by 500 feet, but Marion describes the whistling, screaming sound it made. The LST ran over an anchor that tore a hole in its bottom. They offloaded the equipment; the welder made temporary repairs; and they were back to England where they were in dry dock for 31 days while a new bottom was installed and then in early August of 1944 it was back to Plymouth, past the Rock of Gibraltar and into the Mediterranean where more dangers awaited.
Fast forward to the evening of May 27, 1974. Marion had a heart attack and was not expected to live through the night. He did and “After one year of misery, I told my doctors, ‘I’m a mechanic and can fix cars, why can’t you fix my heart?’”
And they found a surgeon, Dr. Dewall, who had been experimenting with oxygenating the blood of dogs. Dewall removed 28% of Marion’s left ventricle and spent one hour and 52 minutes in oxygenating his blood. The procedure worked.
Marion’s mantra now is “ The only thing I’m afraid of is that you will forget.”
Some of us won’t, Marion. Thank you for your service.
The content of this column is as told to me by Marion Adams on Jan. 30, 2018, at Edison State Community College. Contact Dr. Vivian Blevins at firstname.lastname@example.org.