Two Cousins Were D-Day Heroes
A granite memorial at the entrance to the Pinehurst Country Club honors Gen. George C. Marshall, the brilliant architect of America's war against the Axis powers.
This weekend, when we mark the 65th anniversary of the 1944 D-Day invasion, reminds us that there is no monument in the village honoring the Black boys, who were Naval heroes in the massive operation and its aftermath.
Cousins Ed and Charlie Black grew up in Pinehurst, went to school together, worked at the A&P and Pender's in Southern Pines, drove a Willys Whippet car, dated girls as a team and in 1943 enlisted in the Navy.
After boot camp at Bainbridge, they served as radiomen aboard the USS Rich. The Rich's crew was mostly made up of kids who'd just graduated Norfolk's Destroyer Escort School in Virginia. Initially, it performed convoy duty between the U.S. and Northern Ireland. On May 10, 1944, it was unexpectedly ordered to Plymouth, England, to protect the USS Nevada, brought from Pearl Harbor to support the invasion with her deadly 14-inch guns.
One of the first ships off Normandy on D-Day, the Rich supported battleships by laying down smokescreens. Ed saw landing craft filled with GIs headed toward the shore and waved to a Moore County friend in a passing boat who survived the ordeal.
"The USS Nevada is shelling a town with big guns," Ed wrote in his diary that evening. "If we come through this OK, we'll be lucky. Our trust is in God to take us through safely."
It was the last entry he wrote in his little black book. The Rich had run out of luck.
On D-Day plus 2, the Rich steamed to assist the disabled USS Glennon in a minefield within range of German shore batteries at Quineville. As she lowered a motor whaleboat, which headed for the wounded ship, the Glennon warned the Rich to beware of mines.
She was about 300 yards from the minesweeper USS Staff AM-114, which had taken the Glennon in tow, when an explosion occurred directly under the ship. Men on the bridge were thrown to the deck. A 50-foot section of the stern was blown off and set adrift.
Survivors clung to this floating wreckage and swam desperately in the debris-strewn water. Where the fantail had been blown away, wounded men crawled in a thicket of broken scrap and uprooted gear.
A third powerful mine then detonated directly under the forecastle. It threw the captain off the bridge, propelling the mast across the debris atop dead and badly wounded crew members. German shore batteries repeatedly shelled the ship. After 15 minutes, the Rich went down by the bow.
Charlie received a serious head injury and a broken back. Ed was blown straight up in the air. His skull was fractured, his jaw shattered in five places, his leg broken.
Spotting a friend from Thomasville, Carlie Black, Ed yelled: "Carlie, we've got to get out of here." Carlie locked arms with him and they jumped into the water.
"Carlie pulled me onto a life raft," Ed remembers. "There were six of us on it when I passed out."
Four of the six, including Carlie, died. Ed and Charlie both survived, undergoing long medical care in Charleston, S.C.
Ed forgot all about the diary. On June 6, 1984, the 40th anniversary of D-Day, he was standing on Utah Beach looking out over the waters where his friends died. On the back of his jacket he'd written, "ED BLACK, USS RICH."
A man came over and said, "I got you out of the water after you sank on the Rich. I can't believe you're alive. You were more dead than alive when I pulled you out."
Later Ed visited his savior, Frank Calvo of Connecticut who surprised him by handing him his 40-year-old diary. It had fallen from Ed's clothes when Frank had cut them off him.
Calvo had added a final page to the diary: "USS Rich, 2 PT boats picked up survivors and brought them to our LST 57. We worked like mad taking care of them, and the fellows appreciated it very much. Some weren't so lucky."
To express his gratitude, Ed sent Frank Calvo a Carolina country ham. The diary now resides in a French D-Day museum.
Of a ship's company of 215 men, 89 officers and crew were lost and 73 wounded. In 2006, the appreciative people of France flew Ed and Charlie to Paris, where they and 98 other members of the "Greatest Generation" were awarded the Legion of Honor for their contributions to France's liberation.
Charlie rejoined his lost shipmates when he died this past March 31. Ed returned to France to attend this weekend's observances and revisit the scene of so much pain, sacrifice, liberation and ultimate triumph over evil.
The Rich lies forever 40 feet down off Utah Beach.
Writer Paul R. Dunn, who lives in Pinehurst, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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