Who was Carroll LeFon?
The best description of Lex that I’ve heard is “Imagine Hemingway flew fighters…and liked people.”
To the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese, he was known as “White Feather” for the feather he wore in his cap, and they had a $30,000 reward for him. They sent their own snipers to get him, and he killed them all.
One of their best, named The Cobra, had him in his sights 500 yards away, and Carlos Hathcock, seeing the flash of his scope lens through his own scope, fired a fraction of a second first.
His bullet went through the enemy’s scope, killing him. Five hundred yards and hitting a lens maybe an inch in diameter.
The SEAL’s own Chris Kyle, considered to be the deadliest sniper in military history, credited Carlos Hathcock as his inspiration.
On February 19, 1945, Operation Detachment commenced and the landings on Iwo Jima began.
Seventy-five years ago, U.S. Marines came ashore on a desolate eight-square-mile volcanic island dominated by Mount Suribachi and located roughly halfway between the Marianas and Tokyo. Iwo Jima’s value lay in its airfields. B-29 Superfortresses that were damaged or low on fuel could land there, and Army Air Forces fighters based on the island could escort the bombers to their targets in Japan. Three Marine divisions—more than 70,000 men—had the task of seizing the island. But an operation that U.S. commanders forecast would take a week to complete would stretch out to five weeks, and the Marines’ determination and sacrifice on Iwo Jima would become enduring touchstones for the Corps.
Before that time, the Marines didn’t know that the Japanese would be in a labyrinth of tunnels, bunkers, and caves, prepared over many months in anticipation of their landing. They could wait out the massive bombardments of the Navy ships. One tunnel was 90′ deep.
They had seriously underestimated the Japanese defenses. The battle would last 36 bloody days. For every square mile of that island, more than 800 Marines would lose their lives.
If you drive up I5 from San Diego in a half hour or so you’ll transit the massive USMC base of Camp Pendleton. If you are lucky, looking to the left towards the ocean, you may see some Osprey‘s landing or taking off.
And you will pass a sign on the right telling you that you are on the Gunnery Sgt. John Basilone Highway.
I wonder of the many thousands of people passing that sign every day know who John Basilone was?
In between working on another post, which may take a few days, I was watching a program on Amazon Prime involving that famous trio, Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May.
While I was at lake Louise, our wedding party headed 40 miles east on the Trans Canada Highway and had a dinner at Banff. The Park Distillery is a bit different from the trend these days. Instead of yet another beer microbrewery/restaurant, they make gin. And they are pretty famous for it apparently.
The restaurant – on the same site – isn’t bad either.
After our group finished dinner and we were on the way out ready to leave on our bus, someone on the staff casually mentioned about the fellow in the picture overlooking the bar.
At this precise moment 75 years ago – 9 hours ahead of Pacific time – the first amphibious landings started at Normandy.
By dawn on June 6, thousands of paratroopers and glider troops were already on the ground behind enemy lines, securing bridges and exit roads. The amphibious invasions began at 6:30 a.m. The British and Canadians overcame light opposition to capture beaches code named Gold, Juno and Sword, as did the Americans at Utah Beach. U.S. forces faced heavy resistance at Omaha Beach, where there were over 2,000 American casualties. However, by day’s end, approximately 156,000 Allied troops had successfully stormed Normandy’s beaches. According to some estimates, more than 4,000 Allied troops lost their lives in the D-Day invasion, with thousands more wounded or missing.
He’s been gone about 20 years, but I still remember him stopping by my late father’s office every Wednesday at 1200 for lunch, in that big 70s Lincoln.
I can’t remember him without a smile and some pleasantries when he arrived. Never knew him by anything other than his nickname, which was Dusty. Outside of his family, I doubt that anyone else did, either.
He and my father would then head off for restaurants unknown. They were 2 Army veterans of that era. Neither talked much about those times.
He was wounded in that war and recuperated in a British hospital. As he was recuperating, there was an Army nurse at his side.
And from that time for over 50 years that nurse never left his side.
One Thanksgiving they invited us to their home. I had to decline, having a prior invitation.
It is a dinner I have regretted missing for 20 years. My parents told me that after dinner over desert and wine, the conversation got serious. After all those years, he opened up for the first time and talked about his day on that beach 75 years ago.
Since I wasn’t there, all I have are the few things I was told afterwards.
He was in the second wave.
What he remembered most that day were the drownings. Not all of the Higgins Boats could get to the shoreline. If the feet couldn’t find the bottom with all of the equipment carried – 90 lbs in some cases – you were in big trouble.
And you couldn’t stop to help them.
You were trying to stay alive and get ashore. He watched his best friend drown.
When my mother asked him if he was worried about dying, he replied that “you never think it will be you“.
Allied victory wasn’t certain that day. Walter Bedell Smith, Eisenhower’s chief of staff, gave it 50% odds of success *. Eisenhower had an alternative letter ready in the event of failure.
Winston Churchill went to bed that evening worried that by next morning, he would learn that 20,000 were killed. That was the number of British killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme in 1916. He also remembered the Dieppe Raid just 2 years earlier. After 6 hours and 60% casualties, the British were forced to withdraw.
(Then) Lt. General Omar Bradley was very close to ordering a withdrawal at Omaha.
“…by mid-day on June 6, caused Gen. Omar Bradley, a competent and “unflappable” commander, to fear that his 29th and 1st Divisions had “suffered an irreversible catastrophe.” He came within an inch of ordering withdrawal of the Omaha force — representing the main bulk of the American D-Day effort.”
“…The beaches of Omaha were a real trap for the troops of the 1st and 29th Infantry Divisions. The first assault wave was brutally cut down, while the second left the beach strewn with the wounded, the dead and broken equipment.”
I’ve always kept to a rule of not using people’s names in my posts unless I have their permission, but in this case I’ll make an exception. They’re both long gone now.
He left us shortly after that dinner and she left soon after. I think too of the anonymous thousands who have already left us, taking their own stories of that day with them.
They deserve more than to be forgotten.
They were Dusty and Doris Miller.
* The Secret of D-Day, by Gilles Perrault. (1965 – out of print).
I just had one of the more pleasant and interesting afternoons that I can remember in some time. A few days ago, an ad from the Neptunus Lex Facebook page blipped by – “History Come Alive – a Talk With Bud Anderson and Dean “Diz” Laird at the California Aerospace Museum.
I had to get a ticket.
Until today, I didn’t even know that the U.S. Navy had an aviation presence in the ETO.