70 years later: A Coast Guardsman reflects

Capt. John O’Malley, retired, rests in a suit in his chair at the Churchland House retirement home in Portsmouth, Va.  On his door hangs a sign with just two words: The Captain.  He is a vibrant man that speaks passionately about the Coast Guard.  Coast Guard memorabilia from his career decorate his walls while a Coast Guard blanket covers his bed.  He joined the Coast Guard just days before the attack on Pearl Harbor and proudly wore the uniform until his retirement in 1975.

Capt. John O'Malley reflects on his D-Day experiences, Friday, June 6, 2014.

Capt. John O’Malley reflects on his D-Day experiences, Friday, June 6, 2014.

O’Malley was a mess cook that rose to the ranks of District Commander.  His career had taken him from Africa to Alaska, from the Caribbean to the Mediterranean, to all points of the compass and the land in between.   One trip though is remembered above the rest; it was a trip that took place 70 years ago to a small seaside region on the Northern coast of France.

June 6, 1944.

Petty Officer 3rd Class John O’Malley was the ships cook aboard the 158-foot Landing Craft-Infantry (Large) 91, but on this day he was not in the galley. O’Malley was at a 20mm anti-air gun, the number one gun station located on the ship’s bow. To his side, thousands of landing craft cut through the choppy waters of the English Channel, behind him the guns of battleships and cruisers thundered and roared, throwing a rain of destruction over O’Malley’s head, before him Hitler’s Fortress Europe loomed.

D-Day and the Invasion of Normandy were underway.

Capt. John O'Malley, retired, as a young Petty Officer aboard the Coast Guard operated LCI-91 prior to D-Day.

Capt. John O’Malley, retired, as a young Petty Officer aboard the Coast Guard operated LCI-91 prior to D-Day.

Dodging mines and German sea-defenses, O’Malley’s ship hits Omaha beach, but the troops were slow to disembark, and the rising tide hindered the unloading. German shells sent water plumes into the sky, reaping the lives of the unfortunate. The majority of the troops aboard the LCI-91 weathered the metallic storm and charged up the beachhead. Suddenly, a German 88mm shell slammed into LCI-91’s side and exploded near gun number one, tossing O’Malley and the gun crew around and killing troops still on the ramp. The gun crew was called to retreat from the bow as the order was given for LCI-91 to back up, -the rising tide and the maze of mines proved too difficult to navigate and safely unload the remaining troops. The crew then proceeded to a second and then a third landing spot.

During the third landing attempt, the captain, Lt. Arend Vyn, ordered the LCI-91 to steam forward and make for the beach one last time. It was during this push the ship’s luck ran out and they hit a submerged mine. The explosion ignited the fuel tank, drenching the bow in fire.   O’Malley quickly grabbed fire hoses and attempted to fight the blaze, not realizing the burns he himself was suffering upon his face, upper body, and arms while he attempted to save the ship. Sadly, the fate of LCI-91 was sealed that day and, the order was given to abandon ship, but not before they had unloaded the remaining troops.

After the battle, it took O’Malley five weeks before he recovered enough from his burns to return to duty. He was shipped home to the states and was stationed in Houston, Texas, when the Japanese surrendered and World War II officially ended.

O’Malley reflected on his time with the LCI flotillas, “The Coast Guard LCI group was a mighty fine group. We stuck together; we fought together, and went down together.”

Photo collage of pictures of LCI-91 and the crew.

Photo collage of pictures of LCI-91 and the crew.