From Louisiana to Sicily to England

Landing on Omaha Beach and Fighting Through the Hedgerows

V-1 Rockets, Rice Pudding and the Battle of the Bulge

Tiger Tanks, Being Wounded, Going AWOL and Occupation Duty

Joining the Army, Learning of Pearl Harbor and the Sicilian Campaign

Omaha Beach on D-Day

D-Day, Aachen and Crossing the Rhine River

Air Support, Casualties and the M1 Rifle

Francois and the Dancing Chicken

The Attack on Pearl Harbor


Roland Chaisson was born in 1924 in Thibodaux, Louisiana. He went to high school there and played football until he broke his leg. He had good teachers, did well in school and graduated when he was 16. He worked two jobs until he enlisted in the Army at 17 years old. Chaisson was assigned to Camp Plauche in Harahan, Louisiana with the transportation corps. Having a high IQ, he was sent to LSU [Annotator's Note: Louisiana State University] to the ASTP, or Army Specialized Training Program. At LSU they took regular courses with the enrolled students. After 90 days they were sent to Camp Maxey, Texas for infantry training. They did a lot of training and even did practice landings on the Red River between Texas and Oklahoma. When they had completed their courses they were sent to Camp Miles Standish, Providence, Rhode Island [Annotator's Note: Camp Miles Standish is in Haughton, Massachusetts] to go to Europe. Chaisson had septic tonsils and almost missed his deployment. He had his tonsils removed and off he went. The trip overseas took about 14 days. He went to Europe aboard the SS Argentina in a convoy with a number of other ships. The trip took 14 days because the convoy could only travel at the speed of its slowest ship and every other day there was a submarine scare. Every now and then they could see a ship in the distance being hit by torpedoes and sunk. Chaisson arrived in Southampton, England. They unloaded there and had an orientation and did some more training. They were then sent to the Mediterranean to join the 1st Infantry [Annotator's Note: 1st Infantry Division] as replacements for guys who had been killed during the fighting in North Africa. They boarded landing craft and landed on the southwest coast of Sicily. Their job was to go up the southwest coast of Sicily to Palermo. For the most part it was a cake walk. They had some casualties but the Germans didn't put up much of a fight and the Italians were glad to give up. They had no heart for fighting. It took about a month to get to Palermo. In Palermo, there was a guy in Chaisson's unit [Annotator's Note: Company B, 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division] named Joe Orendo who spoke Italian. He learned from the Sicilians that there was a German warehouse outside of the city. Inside, there were glass containers that were to be used to make land mines that couldn't be detected by metal detectors. They informed a battalion who sent a shave tail, a young second lieutenant, to look into it. They were in Sicily for six or seven weeks when they got the word that Eisenhower [Annotator's Note: US Army General, later President of the United States, Dwight David Eisenhower] wanted the 1st Infantry Division in Europe. They boarded transports and steamed along the African Coast. German fighters flew over them every day. They [Annotator's Note: the German fighter planes] were attacked by the old P-40s [Annotator's Note: Curtiss P-40 Warhawk fighter planes] that were flying in North Africa. Chaisson saw an air battle almost every day. They got through the Straits Gibraltar and landed in Southampton, England. From there they went to a little town on the south west coast called Weymouth to train for the invasion. They would go out in landing craft every day and come back in and drop the flap [Annotator's Note: ramp] onto the beach. While they were there, about 20 to 30 miles away, a German submarine saw some of the landing craft and torpedoed them. About 700 GIs drowned. [Annotator's Note: Chaisson is referring to Exercise Tiger, the dress rehearsal for the D-Day invasion. German torpedo boats sighted the transport ships carrying the soldiers to the beach they were to land on and sank three of them. The result was that nearly 800 soldiers and sailors lost their lives.] A big thing was made about it by the news media.


In late April 1944 they [Annotator's Note: Roland Chaisson and the rest of the 1st Infantry Division] were put on special alert. They were put on trucks and were taken through Southampton to an isolation camp. They were informed that they would be invading Europe but didn't know when. They spent their days loading and offloading from ships. The invasion was scheduled to begin on 5 June but a storm came up and delayed everything until the next day. They left the dock around midnight and got to Omaha Beach around 4:30 in the morning. The English Channel was rough and Chaisson was very seasick. They were loaded into the landing craft which were bouncing up and down. He saw a man whose leg was crushed between the landing craft and the ship. The ships anchored about a mile and a half offshore. When the landing craft got close to the beach the German artillery started opening up on them. When Chaisson got off the landing craft he was in chest deep water. He credits this with saving his life because the Germans were shooting over his head and missed him. When they got onto the beach the Germans really opened up on them. They took cover behind anti-tank obstacles. They ran from obstacle to obstacle until they got about 200 to 300 yards up the beach where there was a wash cleared out from the tide going in and out. It was 8:30 or 9:00 in the morning. They stayed in the wash, soaking wet. They stayed there because the minute they stuck their head up they got peppered. To their right was a culvert. Chaisson's job was to handle a Bangalore torpedo. The Bangalore torpedoes were carried ashore in sections and put together on shore. Chaisson was ordered to blow a hole in some barbed wire which he and a friend did. They had no artillery but were able to contact a destroyer offshore that provided cover fire as the men passed through the breach a few at a time. They stayed there until the next morning. When they got inland they ran into hedgerows. The land was formed into plots about two or three acres and these plots were surrounded by hedgerows. The hedgerows were thick and grew tall. By this time, some tanks had been brought ashore but the tanks couldn't knock them down. They never knew if there was a German on the other side. They never stuck their heads out to look through an opening or around the corner of a hedgerow. A guy [Annotator's Note: US Army Sergeant Curtis G. Culin, III of the 102nd Cavalry Reconaissance Squadron, 2nd Armored Division] came up with the idea of putting steel beams on the front of the tanks. When the steel beams were attached to the front of the tanks, they were able to bust through the hedgerows. After that, they were able to start making progress. The objective of Chaisson's outfit [Annotator's Note: Company B, 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division] was to cut the road between Saint Laurent and Colleville [Annotator's Note: Colleville-sur-Mer, France] so the Germans couldn't get reinforcements and armor from the peninsula off to their right along the coast. The British were on their left at Sword Beach. The Canadians were on Juno beach. They started advancing toward a city known as Bayeux. They were only able to advance about 100 yards per day. It took about two weeks to advance a couple of miles inland. Chaisson's outfit was going to head toward Paris and they were looking forward to that. They had lost so many men that they had to get reinforcements. There were only 12 or 14 of the original men left. Squads were made up of men from various units.


They [Annotator's Note: Roland Chaisson and the rest of the 1st Infantry Division] started on their way to Paris but got word that General Patton [Annotator's Note: US Army Lieutenant General George S. Patton] was going to take Paris so he could get the glory. Chaisson's outfit [Annotator's Note: Company B, 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division] went up the coast and knocked down some buzz bomb [Annotator's Note: German V-1 rocket bomb] installations. This took a lot of time. In September or early October [Annotator's Note: of 1944] they crossed into Belgium. They were capturing a lot of Germans at that time. When they reached the Belgian border they were taken off the line to rest. The lines were not lines like they had been in World War 1. They were more like pockets. They moved so fast they out ran their supply lines. An outfit was started called the Red Ball Express. [Annotator's Note: The Red Ball Express was a convoy system created to transport supplies from the Normandy beaches to the front and was in use from 25 August to 16 November 1944.] Chaisson's outfit was sent to a camp with showers set up. There was also a Frenchman named Francois who entertained them with a dancing chicken. The next morning, Francois was looking for his lost chicken. It turned out that a squad down the road had eaten it. The route Chaisson's outfit took didn't pass through any large cities or towns, just small villages with a few houses on each side of the road where they would stop. During one of those stops, Chaisson saw charcoal briquettes for the first time. On the road the men would sleep in barns. The barns were usually part of the houses. At one place, the lady of the house asked Chaisson for some supplies. He was the interpreter for his outfit because he spoke Cajun French. He convinced the mess sergeant to provide a can of milk, some sugar, some rice, and some vanilla for the lady whose barn they were sleeping in. The lady made the men riz au lait, rice pudding. It surprised Chaisson to get Cajun style rice pudding over in France in the middle of a war. The men had a week off where they could shave and shower and get new clothing. They were then put into the line around Liege [Annotator's Note: Liege, Belgium], St. Vith, and Malmedy. They were establishing a line. They had the engineers dig some trenches that they covered with logs, branches, and dirt. They thought that they were camping in for the winter but at 2:00 o'clock on the morning of the 15th [Annotator's Note: 15 December 1944] all hell broke loose. There were artillery shells bursting all over the place. It was the start of the German counter attack, the Battle of the Bulge, the Ardennes Offensive. It was a mess. Nobody knew where to go or what to do. They grabbed ammunition and put on their heavy coats and went out to meet the Germans. They tried to establish communications with other units. Their cook had set up a kitchen about a half a mile up the road. The Germans would get to him first. Chaisson was ordered by his captain to get to the cook and tell him to get out of there. Chaisson could see the tanks coming down the road toward them. Chaisson had to take his M1 [Annotator's Note: .30 caliber M1 rifle, also known as the M1 Garand] and shoot holes in all of the things that were cooking on the stove just to get him to agree to fall back. After that, the cook agreed to fall back.


They [Annotator's Note: Roland Chaisson and the rest of the 1st Infantry Division] retreated about eight or ten miles before they decided to put up a fight [Annotator's Note: during the Battle of the Bulge]. They dug in on Elsenborn Ridge. The ground was frozen solid. There was snow up to their belts. It was hard to dig in. Chaisson was in a foxhole with a guy from College Town, Maryland [Annotator's Note: possibly College Park, Maryland]. The Tiger tanks [Annotator's Note: German Mark VI heavy tank, also known as the Tiger] were coming down the road. All Chaisson could see was the tank's gun sticking up above the ridge. The tanks were firing point blank into them. One shell hit right next to the foxhole he was in. A piece of shrapnel hit the guy he was sharing the foxhole with, Eugene Hollman [Annotator's Note: unsure of spelling], in the head and killed him. The blast knocked Chaisson about ten feet. Something flew into Chaisson's eye. His eye ran for days and bothered him to the point that he was forced to fire his rifle left handed. This was a problem because he couldn't see the magazine eject indicating that the weapon was empty. Chaisson went to the aid station. They saw something in it but couldn't do anything for him. He was placed on a hospital train and sent to Paris. In Paris, they removed the piece of shrapnel. They did not have to remove Chaisson's eye, but he has no sight in it. After ten days they sent him to a replacement depot. He was to be reassigned to a road building outfit. He didn't want to go to a road building outfit so he hopped on a truck with an outfit headed to the front. When they got to the Belgian border, Chaisson jumped off the truck and began trying find his old outfit [Annotator's Note: Company B, 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division]. While hitch-hiking along the road, he met up with an old high school buddy. They spent some time catching up and then Chaisson moved on looking for his unit. After about four days he found them. Chaisson went through the rest of the war with his outfit. They went through Remagen where they saw German rocket planes for the first time. The planes were very loud. While some outfits raced toward Berlin, Chaisson's outfit was sent toward Vienna. When they got to the Danube River they were told to halt. There was a lot of fighting there. That was the first time they saw P-47's [Annotator's Note: Republic P-47 Thunderbolt fighter aircraft]. They saw a lot of P-47's shot down by German Messerschmitts. The P-47 had a lot of firepower and speed but was not maneuverable. A few days after Chaisson's outfit got the word to halt, the armistice was signed. Even before the war ended, Germans were surrendering in masses to Chaisson's outfit. They wouldn't even bother sending guards with them; they'd just send them back on their own. After the armistice was signed in May [Annotator's Note: May 1945], MP's [Annotator's Note: military police] showed up looking for Chaisson because he was AWOL [Annotator's Note: absent without leave]. He was sent to a prisoner of war camp which held half German prisoners and half American prisoners. After three or four days, his old First Sergeant showed up with a letter ordering his release in grade to a new outfit. By that time men were going home on the point system. Chaisson was single so he volunteered to stay with the Army of Occupation for six months. He was billeted in Würzburg, Germany and remained there until April 1946 then went home.


Roland Chaisson volunteered for the Army when he was 17. He didn't like the Navy and the Marine Corps sounded too tough for him. He loved airplanes but was afraid that his stomach couldn't take flying. He went into the service around April 1942. He was sent to Camp Plauche which was located where Harahan [Annotator's Note: Harahan, Louisiana] is today. The lakefront was a naval base. [Annotator's Note: Chaisson is referring to the New Orleans Air Base which was renamed Camp Leroy Johnson in 1947. The facility was shared by the Army and Navy.] Chaisson was at a bowling alley in Thibodaux, Louisiana when someone ran in yelling that Pearl Harbor was being attacked. Throughout the day, people would enter the bowling alley and state that another Japanese plane had been shot down. He tried to keep track of the number of enemy planes downed. Chaisson knew that he would be drafted when he turned 18. He didn't want to wait so he enlisted. Sicily was a cake walk for him. He walked across Sicily for almost a month. Sicily was the top of a mountain that was sunk into the ocean and was dotted with caves that the Germans would hide in. When they passed some of the caves, people would come out waving to the soldiers and beg for candy. The Germans were in the process of getting out of Sicily but they did leave pockets of resistance. Chaisson's outfit [Annotator's Note: Company B, 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division] didn't have many casualties. The relied on artillery to blast them out, then they would go in and clean up after. They were patrolling the Mediterranean with old P-40s [Annotator's Note: Curtiss P-40 Warhawk fighter aircraft] and Chaisson's outfit got some support from them. As they advanced up the coast they would see B-24 Liberators [Annotator's Note: Consolidated B-24 Liberator heavy bomber] flying north toward Italy. The planes were never attacked. They very seldom saw any German fighter planes in the Italian campaign and never saw any German bombers. Chaisson did not see the friendly fire incident in which many American paratroopers were killed. He did not see it but they were told that many men from the 82nd Airborne Division had been killed by friendly fire.


Roland Chaisson was in the 1st Division [Annotator's Note: US Army's 1st Infantry Division] in Company B, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Squad, 1st Platoon. He names some of the men he served with and where they were from to show the mixture of people. Chaisson saw and spoke to Ernie Pyle while on his way to Palermo. They called Pyle the Little Guy. The men loved Pyle. Pyle would line up with the men in the mess line. He was a good guy and the soldiers loved him. To train for the Normandy invasion they went to Weymouth, England. Every day they would board landing craft and go out into the channel and practice landing on the beach. When they got to Normandy, however, there was a big drop off when they got off of the landing craft. Chaisson landed on Omaha Beach on the Dog Red sector between Colleville and Saint Laurent. He has not been back to Normandy since the war but he would like to. As he approached the beach he kept thinking about what he had been taught in Weymouth. Chaisson carried three K Rations in his pack. He wondered if the rations would still be edible if they got wet. Going to the bathroom was a problem the first day on the beach. If they had to go, they went in front of everybody. The men were wet the entire day on the first day on the beach. Chaisson was the company joker. He has a good sense of direction so he was always the lead man on patrols. He had a knack for finding his way. When he first landed on the beach, Chaisson noticed all of the anti-tank obstacles looked like children's toy jacks. They would hide behind those or behind the sloping sands on the beach. When they came up against German bunkers they would call in destroyers that would come in and provide covering fire. Chaisson's outfit did not have any flamethrowers so they would run around behind the bunker after the ships had fired on it and would throw in satchel charges. Chaisson would not have wanted to carry a flame thrower because if it was hit it would explode. The big thing on the beach was finding a safe place from machine gun fire. After getting off of the beach, the men formed up into mixed units. Somehow, Chaisson's company was able to form up together.


There were a lot of cases where there were no NCOs [Annotator's Note: non-commissioned officers]. Roland Chaisson says jokingly that when he got to the first anti-tank obstacle, he was shaking with patriotism, not fear [Annotator's Note: during the D-Day invasion of Normandy on 6 June 1944]. They had been trained to stay low and make themselves as small a target as possible. On the beach they dumped their packs. They kept their K rations and bandoliers of ammunition. By the second day, they were getting good supplies ashore. Bill Mauldin drew cartoons of two characters named Willie and Joe for the Army newspaper Stars and Stripes. Chaisson and the other GIs looked forward to the cartoons more than the news. Thanksgiving 1944 they were dug in along a road near the Belgian border. Chaisson heard a horse coming down the road. When it got to him he saw a woman who promptly propositioned him. During the battle for Aachen, Chaisson's outfit [Annotator's Note: Company B, 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division] was on the outskirts of the town. They took part in a lot of house to house fighting. At one point, a German observer was using a church steeple. Another platoon went and blew the steeple down. Aachen was the first major resistance met in Germany. The Germans had blown a big dam causing the area creeks to swell making them difficult to cross. While they were trying to cross they were being shot at so their mortars set up to provide some cover. They would locate the machine gun nests and the mortars would take them out. They crossed the Rhine River on a pontoon bridge. The pontoon bridge had been constructed by the 291st Engineer Combat Battalion. German rocket planes made a lot of noise.


The Hurtgen Forest was thick so they [Annotator's Note: Roland Chaisson and the rest of the 1st Infantry Division] didn't get too much tank support. The men had to go tree to tree. The Germans took advantage of the thickness of the forest and set up at open spaces and would mow down the GIs trying to cross it. They were able to use their mortars and also call in air support. The men wondered why some days they could get air support and some days they couldn't. On D-Day [Annotator's Note: the D-Day invasion of Normandy on 6 June 1944], they got very little air support, mostly B-25s [Annotator's Note: North American B-25 Mitchell medium bomber] going to hit the rear areas. During the Battle of the Bulge they got no fighter support because of the fog. When the fog cleared, they got air support. In the Hurtgen Forest they got no air support and took a lot of casualties. Chaisson didn't get close with the men in his outfit. He wondered if he was a coward or just lucky for making it through the war without being seriously wounded. He did get a Purple Heart in Belgium. The hardest part about the fighting in the Hurtgen Forest was getting across the open spaces. He didn't realize how heavy their rifles were. A friend who lives across the street from Chaisson has an M1 [Annotator's Note: .30 caliber M1 rifle, also known as the M1 Garand] and when Chaisson held it again he doesn't know how he carried one throughout the war. They [Annotator's Note: the Germans] were good about setting up machine gun nests. If they got close enough to throw a hand grenade into them, they could knock them out. When the Germans set up on the high ground they could be picked off.

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