by Frank Vyn
In the words of Stephen Ambrose, "Why did the Atlantic Wall fail, because of the people who went against it"! Dr. Ambrose also states that 6 June 44, D-Day the invasion of Normandy, was pivotal in 20th century history and the outcome of WW-II in Europe. If a picture of the first amphibious infantrymen to attack the beach shortly after H hour from an LCI represents a focal point of D-Day, then the history of this event becomes significant. This was the beginning of the amphibious attack on Hitler's Atlantic Wall. Transcribed oral history from WW-II veterans is important today to preserve memories that have not come to the surface in the past, or for security reasons have been censored.
The record of a first attack on Omaha Beach of troops from an LCI is the basis of the same story that continues to be told over time. The stories most often include the LCI(L)-91 and 92 but do not mention the names of the officers, crew, or infantrymen involved with this first invasion. Most of the infantrymen did not survive, (remember the first minutes of "Saving Private Ryan"). We have an original carbon copy of LCI-91 C.O. USCG Lt.(jg) Arend Vyn's Action Report for Operation Neptune filed on 10 June 44. Unlike an appealing book written in the 1990's, this action report was written like an understated business report, stating facts without emotion, four days after the event. The sequence of events were written as they happened without concern for their place in history. This letter in all ways reflects the crew members of the 91 when honor is given to their C.O. This report is the basis of his story.
Arend Vyn received a business degree in economics from the University of Michigan and had six years of business management experience at the American Seating Company in Grand Rapids, Michigan, prior to his WW-II military service. "Mr. Vyn" was not a career military officer, but he had already been involved with the LCI's first amphibious combat, the 10 July 1943 D-Day invasion of Sicily, and the 9 Sept 1943 D-Day invasion of Italy. He volunteered for WW-II service on 19 Feb. 1942 and by 19 June 1942, in the "90-Day Wonder" program at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, New London, Conn., was appointed the rank of USCG Ensign. This book of information about his military service, with emphasis on the 91's crew, and their surrounding LCI flotilla is an on going project. Following discharge Arend returned to the world of business. He enjoyed 20 years of retirement after 40 years in the furniture business, and was married for 51 years. He quoted his father in saying, "If a job is worth doing, it is worth doing well". This is what he, his crew, and the troops on board did in WW-II against the Atlantic Wall, starting early in the morning of 6 June 44, and continuing the following day on Omaha Beach. The next document from the C.O. of LCI-91 was filed on 19 June 44 based on U.S. Navy regulations for a "Report the Loss of a Ship". This report is the same as the 10 June 44 report except with several omissions, additions and changes to the text. Item 9 states investigation supports the theory that mines, not an "88" shell, caused the fatal explosion of the fuel tanks below the forward number 2 troop compartment. This demonstrates that memories from the heat of battle did not always match facts from later damage review, and allows similar consideration for 55 year old memories.
Item 10 of the report, talks about a salvage crew on the ship making a survey. They found that 20mm gun barrels and stores from the commissary locker had already been removed by "unknown parties from the beach". This confirms a story on page 484 of "D-Day" by S.Ambrose about an infantrymen beach brigade raiding the pantry of a burned out LCI. Later they "made pigs of themselves" back on the beach, with food from the fatally wounded and abandoned LCI. Judging this story creates mixed feelings. Another less dramatic way of explaining this incident is, the troops on the beach with little to eat utilized the valuable food and medical supplies from the beached 91. This example shows a difference in a report compared to a story. A third document dated 30 June 44 is to the Commander of U.S. Naval Forces in Europe, from the U.S.N Deputy Commander W.D. Wright. The subject is a "Recommendation for an Appropriate Award" for Lt. (jg) Arend Vyn for extraordinary heroism. Following a detailed citation is a copy of the 10 June 44 report. This document eventually is the basis for two awards. Our family records include the original citation for a Silver Star Medal signed in blue ink by James Forrestal Secretary of the Navy, and the original multicolor document awarding to Lt. Arend Vyn, the French Croix de Guerre. Commodore Gordon T. Findley presented the Silver Star medal in Norfolk, Va. on 24 Nov. 1944. Included in the ceremony was the preview showing of the U.S. Coast Guard Normandy invasion color film "Beachead to Berlin." Finding this film is a goal. The second award has the stamp of General De Gaulle, the President of the French Republic, and was presented to Lt. Vyn by Vice Admiral Raymond Fenard, Chief of the French Naval Mission. This ceremony was on 5 Aug. 45 in Washington, D.C. and was attended by his wife Edith and sister Frances. Following the ceremony Arend, Edith, and Frances traveled to New York City, stayed at the Commodore Hotel, and attended the play "Oklahoma" in a Broadway theatre.
Other original documents include a citation for the Silver Star signed by Admiral Harold R. Stark, Commander of U.S. Naval Forces in Europe, and similar documents signed by R.R. Waesche Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard. Following the exact path of all documents is difficult because of undated letters. The steps included reporting, recommendation, approval, citation, notification, award, and congratulations. The USCG, USN, and USA Government were all involved the steps prior to the award presentation. Seven other USCG Flotilla 10 Officers received some or all of these medals. Four additional medals awarded to Lt. Vyn include: the American Campaign (1941-1945), Europe/Africa/Middle East Campaign (1941-1945), World War II Victory Medal, and D-Day June 6, 1944. The six medals, his ribbons, shoulder boards, hat pins, dog tags, uniform buttons, and other items are now in a glass faced display box, which will be protected by future generations of the Vyn family. A picture of this display box is available as an example of what my generation can do to highlight the honor of our fathers action in combat. Again when he is honored the crew deserves equal attention. Here is a random list of where information can be found about the USCG LCI-91, or stories similar to the words in the three Lt. A. Vyn reports. It is interesting that the basic information is the same, but many have unique additions to the total story including what A.V. did after leaving the 91.
1. "Omaha Beachhead" by the U.S. War Dept. Historical Division, dated 20 Sept 45 pages 55-6, and in a picture on page 167 showing the 91 in Feb 1945! The remains of the ship are in light surf, listing to port, showing scars from the fire that look like a zebra. You might think the 91 was the first to arrive and last to leave the Dog White sector of Omaha Beach. This book sets an early high mark for accurate D-Day history, and deserves to be on the top of this list.
2. "The Barracks Watch", 20 Oct 44, in paintings by Pete Vestal a USCG combat artist.
3. "Invasion, the Story of LCI-92 in the Invasion of Normandy" by Seth Shepard, PHO. M.3C USCG dated 25 June 44. The 92 followed the 91 by a short amount of time to the beach, was Commanded by Lt. Robert Salmon (who also was awarded the Silver Star). The 92 was beached with the 91 burning for most of D-Day, side by side.
4. A multitude of original newspaper articles, many from Grand Haven, MI.,the hometown of Arend Vyn and his wife Edith Vyn have been saved in a WW-II scrapbook. One article explains that after the 91 was abandon the skipper put four wounded men in a life raft, took them ashore under heavy fire. With help they dug into the beach, and attended those wounded during the day and following night. He could have left the 91 swimming out to sea with his crew to be picked up, who were following his orders. He eventually returned to England and was for one week on another LCI delivering troops to Normandy. Without newspaper articles, the additional historical details wouldn't havebeen recorded.
5. C.Q. Magazine, Mar 1945, page 57
6. "D-Day" by Stephen Ambrose, pub. 1994, pages 171, 340-1, 429, 484
7. "D-Day Landings", by W.B. Carter, pub 1993, pg. 22, shows a picture of the destroyed and abandon LCI-91 produced by the author a matter of days after D-Day.
8. "USS LCI", by Bill Mercer, pub 1995, pages 9, 18-19, 66, and more not yet found.
9. Eisenhower Center, University New Orleans, transcript of Capt. Robert Walker, pages 7-15, and a personal letter to me from U.S. Army Captain Walker.
10. USN Cmdr. Robert Morris retired, former USCG signalman on the LCI-91, has shared with me a multitude of history in diary form, pictures, phone conversations, and a recent six hour oral interview. Bob has provided a majority of my non-Arend Vyn LCI-91 history, and recently sent me 225 pictures and documents from his personal scrapbook, that require review.
11. "The U.S. Coast Guard at Normandy" by Scott T. Price written in 1994 about all USCG activity, LCI-85, 91, 92, and 93.
12. "Mollie," one of the Liebling books on D-Day, page 240. We also have original pages from the July 1944 "The New Yorker" magazines, three weekly articles written by Liebling on his LCI adventures including D-Day.
13. Articles in the USS LCI National Association Newsletters, "The Elsie-Item."
14. LCI videotapes produced by Mr. Bill Brinkley, No. 1 "D-Day Amphibious Landings at Normandy," No. 4 "Amphibious Landings in the Pacific1944," Ph 704-279-2191, E-mail NevadaBB36@salisbury.net high quality work.
15. Historical documents, photographs, LCI crew lists from Richard and Mary Jane Withrow, LCI Flotilla 10 organization managers.
16. "Sailing the Troubled Sea, A Nebraska Boy Goes to War" by Valorie and Herb Nolda
17. Visit www.google.com search for Arend Vyn, Frank Vyn, USS LCI National Association, US Navy 4th Beach Battalion, and Bedford D-Day Memorial. Experiment searching for other words, or images. Google is fascinating, and new information is added everyday. Do a search for your own name.
18. "The Far Shore" by Ellsberg Pg. 240-241.
19. "USS LCI" Vol. I & II, Turner Publisher by the USS National LCI Association.
20. "The Coast Guard at War" Landings in France XI prepared in the historical section, Public information division, USCG Sept 1, 1946 A-1774. Sent from Scott Price.
21."US Coast Guard Magazine" July 1952 issue, article "Losses in World WarII" Page 25
22. USS LCI National Association, Newsletter "The Elsie Item," Sept. 2002 issue, "Baptism by Fire, Flotilla 10 at Normandy," by Editor John Cummer.
23. Text from misc. web sites, Military.com, History.Navy.Military.com.HSU.edu, and others. More exist and will follow in time.
24. "National Geographic", June 2002 issue covers the amphibious invasion of Normandy including NBB= Naval Beach Battalion and LCI action on D-Day. In part history was contributed by Ken Davey, Ralph Gault, and Stewart Bryant.
25. SAND 91 research, contact FJVyn62@webtv.net or FJSCAVYN@aol.com
26. US Coast Guard Historian's Office (G-IPA-4), 2100 Second Street S.W., Room B 717, Washington, D.C., 20593, (202) 267-2172. Website http://www.uscg.mil/history/collect.html Search "LCI" for Flotilla 10 history. Look for this letter with the title USCG SAND 91, Arend Vyn. You will also find Flotilla 10 history including accurate reproductions of original action reports, stories about specific ships on D-Day, and other declassified reports.
Much of the information comes from the hand written 80 page diary kept up to date each week by Robert Morris. He was on the LCI-91 from its first to last day of service. Bob was frequently on the bridge with the C.O., and was the signalman. Communication with other ships was with lights and flags. We suggest that you visit the USCG Headquarters Historian's web site, search for LCI, and read two very well written "Letters Home" by Bob. He adds details from his perspective that deserve a big thank you, regarding the preservation of history. James Mateyack was the first man in my generation who sent information about the ship his father was on, the LCI-92, and a list of books I should read. From his contact a seed was planted that correspondence with sons and daughters of veterans opened new doors, which is now the basis of the SAND 91 mailing group.
John O'Malley is an example of a valuable crewmember, "who went against the wall". At age six John was an orphan. He started on the "91" as a third class cook. He was also a creative barber on the days that civilian hair was exchanged for a crewcut. He contributed in other ways that lead to the recommendation that he consider a career in the military as an officer. John went to college, returned to the Coast Guard, became an officer, worked his way up the ranks and eventually retired as a USCG Captain. His son Dr. Timothy O'Malley is now a friend and is a member of our LCI-91 veteran and family member e-mailing group. Pictures of John and my father together on the 91 are priceless reminders of their accomplishments.
Herb Nolda was the Coxswain on the 91 for action operations in the Mediterranean. While preparing for the invasion of Normandy Herb's experience was needed on the 92 so he was transferred to their roster. Together with his daughter Valerie Vierk, the two of them have produced an 80 page book of Herb's memoirs, recalling in detail his service in the USCG Flotilla 10, and they have been very active producing high quality Sand 91 history.
Leo Scheer was a Hospital Apprentice in the 7th Beach Battalion. Leo crossed the English Channel on the LCI-91, and has shared a well-written 15-page story of his D-Day memories. He was among the first to start saving the lives of injured troops on Omaha Beach. Leo has given me graphic pictures of the terminated LCI-91 sinking into the beach. He is standing next to the large hole in the hull from the detonated German teller mine.
Elmer Carmichael from the LCI-85 has sent me pictures of the 3 Flotilla 10 LCI's abandon on the beach, various stages of the "85"s sinking and other very graphic LCI combat images. Elmer and other veterans have enjoyed the friendship's started in the 1940's by having USCG LCI Flotilla 10 Reunions since 1986. Last years reunion on Oct 11, 2001 in Oklahoma City. The 2002 reunion will be in Daytona Beach, Fl.
Bob Grajek is the nephew of a crewmember on the 91 Stanley Wilczak who did not survive D-Day. As a member of the SAND 91 group with communication by e-mail, their family finally knows the details of his action giving his life to his country, paying the highest price for our continuing freedom. Doing the same for other crewmembers, officers, and passengers on the 91 is the mission of the SAND 91 group. We need to find them, or help them find us. Every veteran or family member's story helps to honor those who challenged the wall.
US Coast Guard LCI Flotilla 10 Veteran Ralph Gault presented a model of the LCI-91 made by USN Captain John Cummer to the Eisenhower Center. To preserve the memories, a book of LCI history joined other similar documentation at the Eisenhower Center. Now in October 2001 this letter is included with other Flotilla 10 documents in the best possible home, the U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters Wash. D.C. Historians web-site, with thanks to Mr. Scott T. Price.
The success of the SAND 91 group has brought us the following story from a veteran and his son who found us. Joseph S. Ajdinovich was a passenger on the LCI-91 on D-Day, a squad leader in the 147th Engineer Combat battalion, and was fortunate to survive. In October 2002 Joseph and his son Joseph shared with us this information.
U.S. Army 147th Combat Engineers, twenty two men did not survive the landing of the USCG LCI(L)-91 on Omaha Beach at 0740hr, June 6, 1944. This is a list of their names:
1st Lt J. R. Harrison,
1st Sgt Alexander W. Marszalek,
S/Sgt Ambrose A. Scott
S/Sgt Earl C. Ford
Sgt Ray C. Bybee
Sgt Maurice L. Crabtree
Sgt Elmer J. Matta
Sgt Julian E. Smiley
T/4 Clarence J. Gerber
T/4 Joseph E. Tomberlin
Cpl Hyman Miller
Cpl Lewis J. Murray
Cpl Warren E. Koontz
T/5 Carlton E. Harris
Pfc Irvin G. Joiner
Pfc Edward Krutil
Pfc Edward Voyles
Pvt Alford E. Cramblitt
Pvt Francis L. Payne
Pvt Thomas E. Reid
Pvt Alfred T. Thompson
Pvt William E. Wade
Their loss was caused by a rain of artillery shelling, teller mine explosions, ignition of flame thrower chemicals, and a raging fire covering the well deck with flames. If you touch this highlighted title "LCI-91, D-Day + Days" the severe damage to this abandon ship is very graphic. The large hole ripped through the starboard bulkhead is adjacent the forward troop compartments occupied during the landing by at least the Combat Engineers. The men from Company B and 5 USCG LCI-91 crewmembers were KIA not at sea or on the beach, but rather close to the midpoint of high and low tide on the "Omaha Beachhead." To honor their loss the first memorial of its kind was dedicated in October 1944 at the Chateau Englesqueville, Calvados, France. This image shows the "Memorial Setting" at the Chateau, followed by the "Memorial Structure," the "Roll of Honor Plaque," and a close up view of the "Company B." 147th Combat Engineers lost on the LCI-91. Joseph S.Ajdinovich did survive the landing as a passenger on the 91. The hostile beachhead became his home for many weeks after D-Day, and he was an Honor Guard during the dedication of the Chateau Englesqueville Memorial.
With growth of the SAND 91 group a primary objective, this addition of 22 passengers KIA on the ship is very significant. The names may now lead to family members who are searching for how a father or uncle lost his life on D-Day. We hope they will find us or the opposite will happen sometime in the future.
Franklin J. Vyn, representing Lt. Arend Vyn