Dyer WWII vet recalls his service on D-Day
June 21, 2013 3:24PM
Dante D'Apice of Dyer.
Updated: July 24, 2013 6:21AM
“I took a walk along the historic coast of Normandy in the country of France. It was a lovely day for strolling along the seashore. Men were sleeping in the sand, some of them were sleeping forever. Men were floating in the water, but they didn’t know they were in the water, for they were dead.”
— Ernie Pyle
The above quote is from a column written by Ernie Pyle of Dana describing Omaha Beach on June 8 or 9, 1944.
Dante D’Apice of Dyer landed at Omaha for the first time at about 6:30 a.m. on June 6 — D-Day.
D’Apice, 88, and his wife Vera have raised three daughters. He was born and raised Chicago Heights, Ill, and attended Bloom Township High School. His sister, Nadia D’Apice, has been my father’s significant other for more than 30 years.
“When we were kids, we were on welfare,” D’Apice began. “There were 11 of us. Two died when they were 1 and 2 years old. They had what they called a Spanish disease.”
“Yeah, that’s it. I didn’t graduate from high school; I went to work. Vera graduated.”
When there was work for your father, what did he do for a living?
“He was a painter. When I got back from the war, he taught me the trade. I did it for 50 years.”
June 6, 1944?
“I was 19 when we went to Normandy. We were assigned to the (Landing Ship, Tank) 286. It was 325 feet long. We ate breakfast at around 4 a.m. about 2 miles off Omaha Beach. By 6:30 a.m, I was operating one of our six (Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel). LCVPs were made of plywood and could hold 30 men.
“During the battle, we continued to bring in The Big Red One (1st Infantry Division), the 29th Division, the 45th Division and the 101st Airborne Division.”
Dante, I can only imagine what must have been going through your mind and all the rest of the men’s minds aboard that LCVP.
“A lot of guys got sick on the boat. I did, too. It was rough water. The invasion was planned for June 4, but the weather was so bad, they had to postpone it.
“I had one guy who wouldn’t get off the boat. Being the coxswain in charge of the crew, I decided rather than arguing with him while under heavy fire, to take him back so I could pick up 30 more soldiers for the next wave. They probably court-martialed him.”
“The second wave took heavier fire than the first wave. Machine gun bullets whizzed by everywhere; bombs exploded all around us.
“Returning for the third wave, we took the wounded back with us to the LST. Now, the deck of my LCVP was not only covered with puke, but blood as well. As coxswains we tried not to hit the dead floating in the water. But there was so many of them ... I could hear a thumping noise when I hit one of them.”
“After the third wave, the trucks and tanks were coming in and they didn’t want to run over our dead. The beach still wasn’t secure, but we were ordered to land and stack bodies. We’d pick them up like sacks of potatoes and throw them against the wall. I think 4,000 of us died the first day.”
How long did you serve?
“I was in for 33 months. We were a hospital ship toward the end in Europe. We took a lot of guys in; they would operate on them on the kitchen tables.
“Vera’s twin brother, Guido, was a paratrooper with the 101st Airborne. In January of ‘45, the Western Union man came to the door. Like mine, Vera’s parents were Italian immigrants. Her father accepted the telegram, but couldn’t read English. He took the message to the corner grocery store where a woman had to tell him his son was killed in action at Bastogne, (Belgium). Guido’s body was returned to America after the war. He’s buried in Steger, Ill.
“My brother Bill was three years older than me. He was an infantryman with the 4th Marine Division. Bill was at Iwo Jima and Saipan. There were 20,000 GIs killed at Iwo and 23,000 (Japanese). The war pretty much ruined him psychologically. Years later, he sorta snapped out of it.”
What about you, after Omaha Beach?
“I was shipped to Okinawa; where we were preparing to invade Japan. Good thing they dropped that bomb. There would have been a lot more dead people. And nowadays? Everybody buys Toyotas and Volkswagens.”
Have you ever seen the film “Saving Private Ryan”?
“Oh, yeah. They overdone it a little bit, but it’s pretty realistic. Do you ever watch that (former Arkansas Governor Mike) Huckabee on TV? He was a senator. Him and his wife went to Normandy. When he was telling the story on TV, he was crying. He said they saw dried blood in the sand. I believe it.”
Any final thoughts?
“I felt sorry for the guys who didn’t make it. We had one guy who was wounded three different times. And they still had him stay there to get killed. Three Purple Hearts... . It’s been almost 70 years, some things I forget. And some things, I’ll never forget.”
Dante D’Apice was awarded two Bronze Stars while serving his country. The former coxswain carries his liberty pass in his billfold to this day.