Seventy-three years later, World War II veterans return to D-Day transport vessel
New London — Arthur Hubbard remembers "every detail you could imagine" from D-Day, from the contours of Omaha Beach to the cliffs beyond it.
Hubbard, a machine gunner with Battery B of the the 110th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Gun Battalion said he and his crewmates saw "ships, as far as you could see, and planes in the sky" as they began the invasion of France on June 6, 1944.
As they prepared to arrive on the beach aboard a Rhino Ferry raft, one of the motors became disabled and they were left to drift onto the sand.
He and his fellow soldiers watched as the spot they had intended to land was taken by the men of their fellow battalion, Battery A.
Battery A's first Jeep drove off the raft, and immediately hit a mine, blowing up in a ball of fire and killing all three men inside.
"It was our first encounter with explosions during the war," Hubbard said of their narrow escape.
But he survived and, miraculously, so did the ship that carried him, the LST-510, which now enjoys a second act with the Cross Sound Ferry as the Cape Henlopen, making regular trips between New London and Orient Point.
Hubbard, 93, of West Haven was reunited Monday afternoon with the two other surviving members of Battery B: Leslie Malone, 92, of Little Compton, R.I. and Lindsay Spaltro, 92, of Wallingford, who celebrated their reunion aboard the Cape Henlopen by taking the ferry back and forth to Long Island joined by family and friends.
The Cape Henlopen recently spent time at the Thames Shipyard as its engines were replaced, and its return to service "brought back all sorts of memories," Hubbard said.
Malone, who now walks with a cane, took a seat in the ferry's interior, and looked out through the window panes to the rail along the outer deck.
"I was 20 feet away, 70 years ago," he said, pointing to the deck where he spent the entirety of his voyage across the English Channel.
On D-Day, the ship, "looked like hell," added Hubbard.
The LST, or Landing Ship, Tank, was designed to be driven directly onto the beach, and therefore had a smooth hull to prevent it from tilting to one side. The downside was that, when it was in the water, it did plenty of tipping.
"Many of the men got sick," Hubbard said.
The battalion had spent six months training in England, preparing for the invasion.
Even though it was June, they wore long johns, a wool jacket, a jumpsuit and a life preserver, carrying a submachine gun with many clips of ammunition and a gas mask.
Alongside Malone and Spaltro, who both crewed the 90-millimeter artillery guns in their battalion, Hubbard said the trip was full of anxiety.
"We were saying our prayers until we landed," Spaltro said.
"You just had to do your job," Hubbard added. The battalion went on to liberate Paris, and fight in the Battle of the Bulge.
The men have taken the ferry several times since it was purchased by the Cross Sound Ferry in the 1980s.
During the 60th anniversary of D-Day, hundreds of members of the ship's original Navy crew and Battery B marked the occasion with a party aboard the Cape Henelopen. Of the 154 original members of Battery B, who lived from Seattle to Bangor, Maine, only 10 remain.
But one of them has always gone through the effort to get bring them together again each year to swap stories, said Spaltro.
"I've known them for 70 years," added Malone. "I'm so glad we've stayed together."
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