“Like Walking Through A Shower of Rain”
Loyd Barron still remembers that cloudy Tuesday morning seventy years ago today. It was a day which the generals called D-Day. It was a sad, yet triumphant, day which changed his life as well as a critically pivotal day which changed the history of the entire world. Barron still sobs when he thinks about the grueling, horrific minutes which followed after the door of his Higgins Boat dropped open as he jumped into the shallow waters of the English Channel.
He can never forget the corpses, some with their limbs still twitching and stacked like pulp wood in cords all over the blood-red death trap, designated as Omaha Beach. The training sergeants had drilled it into his head that the first thing to do was to get off the beach and fast. And so he did, using every bit of his common sense which he learned in the cotton patches of his native Laurens County, Georgia.
Loyd Barron, a son of Harvey and Mattie Dixon Barron, was born on February 11, 1924. Today, at the age of 90, Barron still lives by himself with the help of his daughter and relatives.
As a youngster, Barron, who like many others in the South in the Great Depression moved around a lot, attended country schools in places they once called New Salem, New Bethel and Harmony, finally graduating from Rentz High School in the spring of 1943.
At the time of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Barron, who is proud of his life working in cotton patches when he wasn’t going to school, was oblivious to what was going on in the outside world. He will quickly tell you that back then, eighteen-year-old kids knew less than a twelve-year-old does today. He knew that was a war going on, but knew very little of the details of what was happening a world away from Rentz, Georgia.
Barron was drafted into the Army in the summer of 1943. After training at Fort McClellan, Alabama, Loyd was assigned to a Winchester, Virginia National Guard company, Company I of the 116th Regiment of the 29th Army Division.
“It was like prison, but I tried to make the best of it,” said Barron of his days of basic training in the United States.
The 29th was sent to England to begin training for amphibious landings. Everyone knew what they were training for. They just didn’t know when nor where they would be ordered to undertake the largest amphibious landing in the history of warfare.
It was on the fateful, sleepless night of June 5, 1944 when Loyd knew that this time it was not a drill. This time he was in the war for real.
“It felt like you would lose everything and that you wouldn’t make it through it,” recalled Barron about the nervous hours before the invasion.
Barron’s company, assigned to the 3rd Battalion, was originally assigned to land at H-Hour plus 50 minutes in the Fox Green, Dog Red Sector of Omaha Beach as the second wave of the 116th Infantry hit the left center of the beach. The first company of the 116th to hit the beach was Company A from Bedford, Virginia. Nineteen members of the company, known as the “Bedford Boys,” were cut down in the first few minutes.
Company I, in reserve, was ordered to hit the beach, pass through the 2nd Battalion and take the high ground. Two assault sections and four boat teams were to move forward in highly overloaded boats. Most of the men, deftly seasick when they hit the beach, were carrying more than their usual load of ammunition, weapons and equipment.
“Everyone was quiet and we had a nice ride across the channel in one of those flat bottom boats until I was dumped into the water,” the twenty-year-old Barron remembered.
Barron recollected the big guns firing over his boat and the door coming down.
“It was so quick, there wasn’t much to do, just to get out,” Barron said.
Barron instinctively abandoned his military training and used his common sense he learned growing up in South Georgia.
“We were supposed to be dressed with our pants legs tied around our legs, but I had been on amphibious training exercises enough to know you didn’t want to go into the water like that. You would get about five gallons of water into each pants leg and with your pants full, you couldn’t do much running,” recalled Barron.
So Private Barron loosened his pant’s legs before they put him in the boat. Those who didn’t were weighted down and were not able to move quickly once they hit the water.
When Barron made it to the beach up to an hour behind schedule, he saw men lying around everywhere.
“They were piled up on the beach like pulpwood logs, some of them had limbs still moving and many were blown to pieces,” sobbed Barron.
Barron continued, “There are some things that you will never forget,” wiping the flow of tears of pain flowing from his uncontrollably squalling eyes.
“I threw down my rifle and all that mess on me. I couldn’t run with it. It was like going through a shower of rain, so remembered Barron about the amount of small arms and artillery fire raining down on him. I didn’t have any trouble getting another rifle. There were plenty lying around,” recollected Barron.
“They (The Germans) were putting fire on the beach line. You had to get through it and when you got through it then it wasn’t so bad except for the snipers in the hills and for a while after the first day.
Although Operation Overlord was an overall success, cloudy conditions, a stiff northwesterly wind and choppy 5-6 foot waves caused the failure of adequate air support and the loss of 27 of 32 tanks assigned to Omaha Beach. Roughly 2000 members of the 1st and 29th Divisions were killed or wounded in the initial assault.
“I give our artillery the credit for stopping our enemy’s artillery,” Barron proclaimed.
Company I landed near the strongest defensive position in its assigned sector defending the draw at Les Moulins. Under relatively light enemy fire, Barron and his fellow soldiers were able to break through barbed wire impediments.
“Once we were safe on the beach that night, we were told that we landed 1-3 miles from our assigned landing zone, so we walked down the beach,” recollected Barron.
“I never saw so many dead and wounded in my life. The tide had come in and washed bodies on the beach. Before it could take them out, the bodies were retrieved,” wrote Felix Branham of Company I.
“When we got back to our designated landing zone later the next morning, I was amazed to see that the army had quickly constructed a harbor and ship facility,” Barron recounted.
The company was instructed to move east toward St. Lo. Once his company arrived at their assigned rendezvous area, they were instructed to wait for replacements and supplies.
“It was there where I got hit by a piece of shrapnel,” the Purple Heart recipient remembered.
Barron well remembers, “I had been there long enough to listen to the sound of incoming artillery. If the sound was the same, it was going to go over you. If it got louder and louder, you knew it was going to hit you or land pretty close to you.”
On a Sunday, June afternoon about 4:30, D-Day plus 19, the newly appointed Private First Class Barron heard the sound of one of those 88mm German shells getting louder and louder.
“There was a foxhole, a nice one, probably an enemy one. I squatted down and tried to jump it, but that was as far as I could get. I couldn’t jump in it. There was an old tree, about 10 inches wide, that was the only protection I could find. I scrunched down beside it, not knowing whether or not, I was on the right side of the tree. I knew it was going to hit close by. And, it did. It hit just opposite the tree. A piece of shrapnel hit me in the leg. By it falling so close to me, it was more of a concussion than anything else,” Barron stated.
“I didn’t know I was hit until I got up. Had I been further off from it, it would have got me in the body somewhere,” recalled Barron of that fateful Sunday.
Barron spotted a nearby farm house and dashed off toward it.
“I made it to the house and jumped into the window and found a bunch of officers there in some kind of headquarters,” Loyd remembered.
“They said watch out for those beams,” chuckled Barron, who looked around the room to see many fallen beams.
Barron was taken to a series of field hospital stations and passed to the rear of the lines at the beach about dark.
“A nurse came to me and told me she was going to give me a shot to make me sleep. I told her that I didn’t need a shot in that I was so tired I will be asleep before you pull that needle out,” said Barron, who had not slept, bathed or shaved for three weeks. After sleeping for nearly a day, Barron woke up to find that his blood had saturated his mattress so much that it was dripping on the ground beneath him.
Barron stayed at a field hospital near the beach for two days until he was shipped to a hospital in England. After three operations, Barron learned that since he had been in an English hospital for six months and it was likely he would be in a hospital for at least six more months, he was going home, home! He was sent first to Staten Island, New York and then to Oklahoma, before his discharge in late 1945.
Loyd Barron returned home to a long career as a mechanic, working for Wynn Pontiac, J.P. Stevens and the VA Hospital before opening his own garage. Loyd married the late Monnie Mae Scoggins. They had one child, Judy Barron Meacham, who helps to look after her father today.
On this 70th anniversary of D-Day, Loyd Barron looks back on the horror of it all knowing that he was a part of history, the day the history of the world began to change for the better.