Several years ago, I wrote a book about my World War II experiences on the destroyer USS O’Brien DD725 from its commissioning in Boston to the end of the war. I called it “A Destroyers Life” and had about a dozen copies made for my family.
After reading Stephen E. Ambrose’s book called “D-Day,” I found out that a lot of the men that served on Omaha Beach on D-Day were looking for the name of the destroyer that came in first at Omaha Beach and destroyed the German Tunnel and machine gun points coming out of the tunnel at Omaha Beach.
I knew it was our destroyer, the USS O’Brien DD725, but since my book wasn’t published only my family knew the story.
I now have rewritten my book and it should be published by the end of this year by a publishing company in Pittsburgh.
I changed the name of the book to “D-Day Hero Destroyer Identified After 68-Year Search.”
I am now 89 years old. I was the chief financial officer of St. Rita’s Medical Center from 1965 to 1986.
We reached our standby location between 8:30 and 9 a.m. We were about 4,000 yards off Omaha Beach. There we watched the annihilation of the first wave. Bodies were floating in the water throughout the beach. We then watched the second wave try to land some landing craft, were hit, and some turned away from the heavy fire going in circles. This went on until sometime after 9 a.m. when our skipper, W.W. Outerbridge, took it upon himself, without orders, to head the O’Brien straight toward the beach and the cliffs near Omaha Beach. At about 500 yards, the captain swung the O’Brien hard right parallel with the cliffs and began firing all our six 5-inch guns at the top of the cliffs where the pillboxes and machine guns were located.
I was told later that two other destroyers did the same thing without orders. After our first salvo, we heard radio cries from the cliffs. It was our own men, the Rangers, who had made it to the bottom of the cliffs but could not move being pinned down by the German guns above. Our skipper asked over the radio, “Did we hurt anyone?” The answer came back quickly, “No, but raise your fire a little.” The reason I knew this was the fact that I was monitoring the radio in our radar room at the time. …
We did raise our fire and moved right up the beach delivering salvo after salvo at the top of the cliffs. As we reached a point near Point du Hoe, we saw German soldiers running from the cliffs to a lone building that was set back from the beach. The captain waited until the Germans entered the building and then he gave orders to destroy it. We did with one salvo.
After the bombardment D-Day afternoon quieted down for the O’Brien, we patrolled the beach until between midnight and 1 a.m. I was operating our SC Aircraft Radar and picked up a contact at 100 miles. Because of the distance, I thought it might be the whole German Air Force, but as I watched the images close on the screen, the back of the images began to fade. Remembering my schooling at Virginia Beach, I suspected the Germans were using jamming, done by dropping foil. I still did not know the number of planes approaching. It turned out to be just one junker German bomber.
Orders were given to all ships to hold their fire. The next thing I heard was two loud blasts and the O’Brien rocked. I called the bridge and asked what we were firing at. The answer came back, “Firing? Hell, we’ve been bombed!” Although this is hard to believe, the next night at almost the same time, the same thing happened again. The German junker bomber laid a string of 250-pound bombs up the starboard side of the O’Brien. The ship leaned right about 45 degrees and then righted itself. I didn’t have to call the bridge this time; I knew what happened. We had been bombed again.
For years, I could not figure out why, with all the ships lying off Omaha Beach, the O’Brien was picked out and bombed two nights in a row by possibly the same German bomber. Some time later, I was talking to Lonas “Lonnie” Frey who manned a 20mm anti-aircraft gun on the fantail of the O’Brien at Omaha. Lonnie was from a neighboring town to my hometown of Ottawa. He was from Pandora, and we met again as members of the Ottawa VFW Post 9142. I asked him, “Did we have any light showing or why were we picked out as a target?” He said that the German bomber dropped flares and it was like daylight out there. The O’Brien, being a 2,200 ton destroyer, looked like a cruiser to them and an excellent target. This finally settled my worry for the rest of World War II that we might have a light showing from above our ship at night making us a target for night air attacks.