Recalling the D-Day Heroism of Navy Radioman Ed Black
During World War II, a Pinehurst boy joined the Navy and was assigned to a ship that would be sunk during allied invasion operations off Utah Beach at Normandy. Many of the crew went down with that brave warship.
Ed Black is that surviving crewman.
The ship, USS Rich, was commissioned Oct. 1, 1943, with Lt. Cmdr. E.A. Michel in command and a crew of relatively untrained 18- and 19-year olds just out of boot camp. After a shakedown cruise to Bermuda, the Rich performed convoy duty from New York to Northern Ireland and back.
On May 10, 1944, the Rich was unexpectedly ordered to Plymouth Harbor, England, to serve as the protective ship for the Battleship USS Nevada BB-36, which had been seriously damaged by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor. The Nevada, brought from the Pacific to fire large shells, would support the two invasions of France.
One of the first American ships off Normandy on D-Day, June 6, the Rich supported the Nevada, cruisers Quincy and Tuscaloosa, and the British battleship HMS Black Prince by laying down smokescreens. Ed Black still recalls looking over the side as the Rich led landing craft filled with GIs toward the shoreline and waving to a Moore County friend in one of the boats.
On D-Day plus 2, the Rich assisted the disabled USS Glennon, which had entered a minefield in range of German shore batteries at Quineville. The after-action report reads, "The Rich's skipper proceeded his vessel with utmost dispatch, with disregard of the danger from enemy gunfire and possible mines, and stood by close aboard the stricken ship to render assistance."
As she neared the foundering Glennon, the Rich lowered a motor whaleboat, which headed for the wounded ship.
The Glennon warned the Rich to beware of mines. Captain Michel turned the DE close under the destroyer's stern and, passing Glennon's starboard side, headed away. Recall was signaled to the whaleboat with seaman at the ready to hoist the craft aboard.
Michel was taking every precaution - slow speed; the ship squared away for emergency; all hands topside, instructed to maintain a sharp lookout for enemy planes and drifting mines. At about 9:20 a.m., the Rich was about 300 yards from the minesweeper USS Staff, which had taken the Glennon in tow, when an explosion burst the sea 50 yards off the Rich's starboard beam. Three depth charges in their arbors were flung from the deck, and two hurled onto the deck but did not explode.
Three minutes later, another mine exploded 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. At the break where the fantail had been amputated, wounded men crawled in a thicket of broken scrap and loose gear.
A third mine detonated two minutes after the second blast directly under the forecastle, throwing the ship's captain off the bridge. The flying bridge was completely demolished, with the mast lying across the debris atop dead and badly wounded crew members while the ship was being shelled by German shore batteries.
Radioman Ed Black jumped from the ship badly hurt, was picked up and remained unconscious for 31 days from serious head injuries.
The captain suffered a broken leg and reported all bridge personnel "appeared dead or unconscious except myself and Ensign W. D. Cunningham, assistant gunnery officer, but upon going to the side a few more could be seen moving on the decks below. The ship immediately began to settle slowly by the bow. The fire rooms abandoned at once. Men were thrown 50 feet or more with heavy casualties."
Life rafts were cast loose. Nearby PT boats, British motor launches and Coast Guard patrol craft were hailed. Assisting craft rushed men aboard to rescue the wounded. The Rich remained afloat only 15 minutes, going down by the bow. Men working to remove the wounded stepped off as the deck went under. All cleared the ship, swam free and were delivered to the LST-491 for treatment and transfer to hospitals in England. Of a complement of 215, 89 officers and crew were lost and 73 wounded.
Edward A. Michel Jr. never mentioned his broken leg in his reports. His Navy Cross citation reads, "Despite severe injuries, he steadfastly refused to leave his ship and directed and assisted in the removal of all possible survivors until his ship sank beneath him. By his action and example, all able-bodied survivors on board were inspired to remain with the ship and assist in the rescue of the greatest possible number of men."
After the war, Black became a professional radio announcer. He lives in Mount Gilead. In 2004, France flew Ed and his late cousin, Charlie Black (a Pinehurst native and Rich shipmate) to Paris where they and 98 other American veterans were presented the Legion of Honor.
Every year, survivors of the Rich, with families and friends, meet to remember shipmates. The broken ship lies forever off the shores of France at latitude 49 degrees 31 minutes north, longitude 1 degree 10.6 minutes west. God bless the Rich's brave heroes.
Paul R. Dunn lives in Pinehurst. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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