A recent telephone call to Mount Gilead confirmed that Ed Black, who served on the USS Rich DE 695, is alive and well.
He and M.H. Green of Raleigh are the only remaining survivors of the Rich, which was blown up by German mines off Normandy on D-Day plus 1.
Ed and his younger cousin, Charlie Black, grew up in Pinehurst, went to school together, worked at the A&P, drove a Willys Whippet car, dated girls as a team, and enlisted together in the Navy in 1943.
After boot camp in Bainbridge, Maryland, they graduated from Destroyer Escort School as radiomen and were assigned to the USS Rich.
The Rich performed convoy duty in 1944 between Newfoundland and Northern Ireland. On May 10, it proceeded to Plymouth, England, and was assigned to protect the USS Nevada, which had been brought from Pearl Harbor to support the invasion with its powerful 14-inch guns.
The Rich was one of the first ships off the invasion beaches on D-Day. It supported the Nevada — and also the HMS Black Prince and cruisers Quincy and Tuscaloosa — by making heavy smoke as it sailed back and forth, shielding the larger ships from the view of German shore batteries.
In “The Last Voyage of the USS Rich,” Ed recounts looking over the ship’s side as it led landing craft filled with GIs toward the beach, and waving to a Moore County friend in one of the boats.
The friend was Archie Sullivan, from Carthage. After the war, Archie became police chief in Vass.
On D-Day plus 1, the Rich steamed to aid the disabled USS Glennon, which had sailed over a powerful German mine, and was dead in the water. Both ships were under heavy fire from enemy shore batteries at Quineville.
The Glennon’s skipper warned the Rich to be aware of mines. When it was about 300 yards from the minesweeper — USS Staff AM-114, which had taken the Glennon in tow — an explosion occurred directly under the Rich. Men on the bridge were thrown to the deck. A 50-foot section of the stern was blown off.
Sailors thrown into the water clung desperately to floating debris. Wounded survivors crawled in a thicket of uprooted gear. Then another mine detonated under the forecastle, blowing the captain off the bridge and throwing the mast atop the dead and wounded. The ship was shelled during the entire action and went down within 15 minutes by the bow.
Charlie had serious head wounds and a broken back. Ed was blown straight up in the air, suffering a fractured skull and a broken leg.
Spotting Carlie Black, a friend from Thomasville (no relative), Ed shouted, “Carlie, we’ve got to get out of here.” They locked arms and jumped into the water, where Carlie pulled Ed onto a life raft. Of the four men clinging to it, four died, including Carlie.
Ed and Charlie underwent long medical treatments in London and Charleston, South Carolina. Out of a crew of 215, 89 officers and crew were lost and 73 wounded.
Lt. Cmdr. Edward A. Michel Jr., the skipper, never mentioned his broken leg in his reports.
His Navy Cross citation reads, “Despite severe injuries, he steadfastly refused to leave his ship and assisted in the removal of all possible survivors until his ship sank beneath him.”
On the 40th anniversary of D-Day, Ed was at Utah Beach. On his jacket’s back he’d written, “Ed Black, USS Rich.” Frank Calvo of Connecticut came over and said to Ed, “I got you out of the water after the Rich sank. You were more dead than alive.”
Later, Ed visited his savior, who handed Ed his 40-year-old diary. It had fallen from Ed’s clothing when Frank had to cut them off.
Frank had written, “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.”
Ed sent Frank a Carolina country ham in gratitude. The diary now resides in a French D-Day museum.
In 2006, the people of France flew Ed and Charlie to Paris on the Concorde, where they and 98 other American heroes were presented with the Legion of Honor.
Charlie died in 2009. The broken ship lies forever off the shores of France at 49 degrees 31 minutes north, longitude 1 degree 10.6 minutes west.
God bless the brave men of the Rich.
Paul R. Dunn, a former Naval person, may be reached at email@example.com.