Aboard the Cape Henlopen, D-Day vets recall Normandy invasion

As Arthur Hubbard made his way around the new lounge aboard the Cape Henlopen, he remarked on the luxuries that he wasn't afforded 75 years ago.

"It's a damn shame it wasn't like this on the sixth," Hubbard quipped.

The Cape Henlopen, operated by Cross Sound Ferry, which makes regular trips between New London and Orient Point, was built as a World War II landing craft. The ship recently underwent a major overhaul, including a new lounge space, which highlights its involvement in D-Day.

Hubbard, 95, of Reading, Mass., was on the ship, then designated the USS LST (Landing Ship, Tank) 510, on June 6, 1944, D-Day, as it arrived off the coast of Normandy as part of the Allied invasion of then German-occupied France.

The seas Tuesday were nothing compared to those upon approaching Normandy. In fact, the invasion was scheduled for June 5, but the weather was so bad it was postponed a day.

Hubbard recalled being dressed in several layers of clothing; the outer layers were gas-impenetrable so that if the enemy dropped gas it wouldn't penetrate his clothes. He carried a submachine gun, ammunition hung around his waist, and on his back was an 80-pound pack.

"You were prepared to live for two or three days if you had to," said Hubbard, who wore a blue baseball cap, covered in military pins, with the words "D-Day June 6, 1944" on it.

Hubbard, a machine gun commander with Battery B of the 110th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Gun Battalion, arrived on Omaha Beach aboard a Rhino Ferry raft. One of the raft's motors became disabled and they were left to drift onto the sand.

The spot where they had intended to land was taken by the men of their fellow battalion, Battery A. The first Jeep to drive off the raft immediately hit a mine, blowing up in a ball of fire and killing all three men inside.

"That was my first introduction to true death and destruction," Hubbard said.

Also aboard the Cape Henlopen Tuesday was Vincent "Jimmy" Lijoi, 93, of North Woodmere, N.Y., who was part of the original Navy crew. Lijoi was surprised to discover pictures of himself and other crew members on the walls in a section of the lounge. A quote from him — "We actually saved the world, thank God for America" — spans one of the walls.

Lijoi, dressed in a yellow jacket with "Jimmy" on the front, and a picture of the ship on the back, recalled frequent trips between France and England — transporting the wounded from France and picking up supplies in England.

"Back and forth. Back and forth. With wounded, then with supplies, wounded, supplies," he said. "Sometimes we were escorted in the channel with submarines all over the place. We were lucky. Thank God for that."

Hubbard and Lijoi were met with fanfare as they made the trip back and forth between New London and Orient Point. Passengers came up to greet them and thank them for their service.

On the way back to New London from Orient Point, they were met by a group of soldiers with the U.S. Army's 211th Military Police Battalion, based in Lexington, Mass., who were spending the day focusing on World War II history, including a visit to Fort Terry on Plum Island where their unit trained leading up to the war.

The soldiers presented the men with certificates of appreciation and asked them about their experiences and when it hit them that they were part of a major moment in history.

"After seeing all those dead GIs," Lijoi said. "It was the most horrible thing, and I said to myself, maybe this is the end of wars."

Hubbard said it hit him within the first hour of arriving on Omaha Beach.

"I knew things were totally different. Now your mind is war only. Now you have to survive," Hubbard said.

j.bergman@theday.com

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