Bob Watson – Beachmaster Omaha Beach

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A native of Lynn, Massachusetts, Bob was 18 years old when his Company B6 of the Sixth Naval Beach Battalion participated in one of the first waves to Omaha Beach on D-Day.  The battalion consisted of 445 men who served as Beachmasters – those who coordinate traffic, police, medical, communications, engineering, hydrographic and underwater demolition.

On the 6th of June in 1944, D-Day, the weather was drizzly, cold and rainy, complicating a horrific scene of chaos.  About 1,000 yards from the beach, Bob’s landing craft – an LCM (Landing Craft Mechanized) holding 71 Big Red One (1st Infantry Division) troops and four Navy Beach Battalion crew – hit a Teller mine and exploded.  55 men were killed instantly, body parts flying, and Bob was thrown out.  He credits his training for giving him the ability to immediately inflate the flotation device under his armpits.  After submerging for some time due to the heavy kit all soldiers and sailors hitting the beach were wearing, his flotation device brought him back to the surface gasping and in shock.  Quickly he was picked up by a Zodiac ferrying floaters to the beach.

Responsible for 1/18 of Omaha Beach, which is a little over five miles in length, the 6th Beach Battalion lost 25% of its personnel on the way to or on the beach.

When Bob touched the sand it was about 7:47 a.m.  Terror and chaos reigned.  Saving Private Ryan’s depiction of the scene could do only faint justice to the true horror American servicemen were experiencing on the beach.  Everything was on fire. Landing craft were burning, their ammunition blew up, bodies and parts of bodies littered the beach, and the Germans, who had excellent equipment and training, poured on the machine gun and artillery fire.

The young men on the beach, most experiencing their first combat, were devastated, confused, and shocked. These were the designated leaders of the Great Crusade.  They understood that if it the invasion were to succeed, they would have to overcome this traumatic entry into the war.  They had to get up the hill.

Bob’s first mission was to get up to the dune line.  He started on his hands and knees, bullets flying over his head. Wounded all around him screamed and cried for help, for a medic.  Half way up the beach he ran into an army medic who had lost all his first aid supplies except several morphine syrettes draped around his neck on strings.  To help him Bob started collecting pressure bandages from dead soldiers’ first aid kits and giving them to the medic.

Finally reaching the dune line, Bob was exhausted.  An Army captain ordered Bob up to the firing line, even though Bob protested that he was Navy, and a Beachmaster.  The captain was not swayed.  Some Germans could be seen moving around, delivering ammunition, and firing the open field pieces.  Bob shot off 40 rounds of ammunition and went back.  The captain told him to get another belt and get back up to the firing line.

A naval officer turned up and prevented Bob from going back up to the firing line.  Now, well after 9 a.m., the Navy Beach Battalion finally had a chance to start getting their people together.  Ensign Jim Allison took over command from their missing Sixth Company Lt. JG.   Their job was to get and keep everything – troops, materiel, equipment and vehicles – moving up the beach and inland.

Right after 10 a.m.  Ens. Allison sent Bob and his good friend Dick Wayent to put a bulldozer – whose Army driver was been badly hit – into operation.  Hauling the corporal to a medic, they returned and took charge of the running bulldozer.  Dick was a farm boy, and between the both of them they figured out how to work it.

With a crew of six or eight Big Red One engineers who removed the Teller mines, Bob would use the bulldozer to pull the beach obstacles off to the side to make a driveway for the incoming 30,000 troops and 11,000 vehicles.  On one occasion Ens. Allison came to ask Bob to help push an empty LCVP (Landing Craft Vehicle, Personnel) back into the sea with the bulldozer.  Bob agreed only on the condition that it be fully loaded with wounded.

Later, Dick went to push a landing craft out, but only got half-way there before returning.  Seeing an American soldier carrying a wounded man, and then fall to a hail of German bullets, Dick was devastated when the fire then decimated the nearby landing craft and all the wounded already inside.  He returned with tears in his eyes, but there was little time to mourn.

Bob and Dick made an aid-station by pulling timber off the beach and placing it on top of sand bags on the dunes.  When Germans walked their 88-mm artillery fire up and down the beach, Bob and Dick would abandon the bulldozer and run for cover.  Twice they lost bulldozers, which were immediately replaced by the vehicles brought in steady streams by Rhino barges.

With their third bulldozer, they had longer-lasting luck.  They ran it heavily for the rest of the afternoon of D-Day and much of D+1 before almost running out of fuel.  For his tireless good work during the day, Ens. Jim Allison asked Lt. Emmett Hall, head of B Company, to promote Bob to Coxswain.

Ens. Jim Allison, who was married and had a small child, was a very beloved officer with his men.  Working through D-Day and D+1 with no rest, he stayed on the beach directing landing craft with red flags while Bob and Dick left the beach to refuel their bulldozer.  Looking down, they saw Ens. Jim Allison hit by artillery shrapnel.  Rushing back they dragged him to the medics, but there was nothing they could do to save him.  He had been killed instantly

As they returned to their machine and headed towards the fuel dump, they hit a Bouncing Betty anti-personnel mine.  The blast threw the dozer up and sent Bob flying again. This time, he landed on his left side, bruised and sore but luckily without any major injuries.

After waking up on D+2, Bob was assigned to handle the prisoners of war.  Driving a Jeep with an Army corporal manning a .30 caliber machine gun in the back, Bob and some Coast Guard guards would escort 200-300 prisoners at a time to the beach.

Bob stayed on Omaha Beach for 28 days before being sent back to England. Upon his arrival he turned 19 years old.  After an appropriate naval celebration, Bob woke up one morning with a tattoo of an anchor but with no recollection to this day of how he got it.

For their efforts and accomplishments on Omaha Beach, Bob’s naval unit was awarded the Navy and Army Presidential Unit Citations. Bob also has two purple hearts.

The Beach Battalion was loaded onto the USS Monticello and sent back to New York and ten days of leave at home.  Bob then went on to beach battalion school in Oceanside, California, training for the Pacific.  There he met his future wife, Margie, at a USO dance.

Assigned to Oceanside instead of going back into combat, Bob was able to date Margie for a year and a half before they got married and had three boys.  They are still happily married today.

After the war Bob went into the construction business and ran his own successful company in north San Diego County for 30 years. Now retired, he spends a good part of his time giving presentations about Omaha Beach and his experience there to school children and visitors at the Midway aircraft carrier museum in San Diego Bay.

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