lloyd carter, age 89
The Ployboy who turned soldier
Carter in Europe
His life began simply.
The son of sharecroppers, a plowboy who “didn’t know how to do anything but work on the farm,” he understood right from wrong early and when mama spoke, there was no “no diddly-daddling around”. He “got education” at Hinon Brown in Athens, Georgia., leaving after his seventh grade term to raise cotton, pigs, or anything that would thrive on the family’s 300 acres. He learned early to tell the truth, always pay back debts, and if he worked real fast, he could pick 360 pounds of cotton in one day.
And then, in December of 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked, the country was in mourning, and by June of 1944, Private First Class Lloyd D. Carter of the 1st Infantry Division - Big Red One, found himself in the throes of a choppy English Harbor, on his way to an unknown destination.
Safe at home in Hull, Georgia, he remembers that first night aboard the USS United States and the voice of General Dwight D. Eisenhower.
“He came over the PA system.” Carter’s voice wobbles, and he covers his face with both hands. “You ‘bout to make history . . . the eyes of the world are watchin’, he said, and then he wished us good luck.” Carter withdraws his hands and looks up. “I’m sorry,” he says, tears escaping his eyes.Just as quickly as he chokes up, he recovers and returns to his account; most assuredly, a trained response.
With the weather deteriorating, the powers-that-be questioned the notable invasion. Finally, the forecast improved with a full moon scheduled for the sixth, providing a luminary for the amphibious landing.
“We hit the beach about sun up. The little boat carried one platoon, about 36 men. The whole A-Company was in one wave. When you hit the water, they’d crank it [rear of landing craft].”
Carter’s first glimpse of Normandy was daunting. “All you see is ships, about 600. Guns shooting four at a time over our head, shooting inland, pulverizing the beach. Airplanes were over our heads.“ They told us they were going to put us off on dry ground, but they couldn’t get there.
Dumped us out in water up under our arms. We’d wade out in the water with all our stuff. It [supplies] was in life preservers and was waterproof. Bazooka guns were wrapped, so if you went down, the stuff would float to the beach and we’d still have equipment.”
Orders were to get off the boat quickly. The sooner they reached land, the sooner they would be safe. Carter recalls “bullets hitting the sand, sweeping” as he ran inland. “Lot of people got hit when the thing fell, but I got off there. ”“I was probably pretty calm,” he remembers. “I was trained. You weren’t supposed to stop. You were moving so fast and concentrating where you were going. You’re heavy and loaded down. I had on wool clothes, and all that stuff in the bags. If it got wet, it wouldn’t work. You had to get across there.”
And finally, he “made it. The water turned red they said.”
Once he maneuvered inland 20 feet from the water’s edge, the barbed wire impeded forward movement. “There were men that were prepared to do it [tear it down]. There was a guy angled, laying there, his face shot off. I got behind him for protection. I wiggled in that gravel and was about half-buried. I reached in my pocket and got my knife to cut all that stuff loose, so I’d be free to use it.”
Moving forward, Carter decided he “was in the right spot. The commander (Pence) was in the gravel, urging men to ‘move it’. My platoon leader said, ‘Carter, I can’t count but six men, you and five more’.”
The count only continued to diminish as bullets exploded overhead, “snapping like paper”. “I reached back for ammunition and pulled it up. ‘Bout the time I reached back, I rolled over and it saved my life.” A bullet blasted through his right arm, hitting him with such force that it threw him onto his back, knocking off his helmet. Carter remembers his platoon leader’s comic relief. “He wasn’t supposed to do this, but he took my field jacket off and there was a bullet hole where I was shot. He said, ‘Carter, it ruined your field jacket’.”
To ease the pain, Carter downed the sulfur pills from his supply kit. “I laid there all day, wet and watched people come in. The 4th Division came by me . . . walking on people, dead and wounded.”
By this point, the Allies had pushed the Germans inland. Soldiers couldn’t hear any riffles, only sounds of shells busting and hitting the beach.
The cold ran deep. “My teeth were just a rattling and I couldn’t stop them. I had been wet all day and the sun wouldn’t shine.” Carter recalls a man lying beside him with his ear shot off, “slap against his head. I said [to him], ‘if you’ll help me stand up, we’ll get out of here. They’re going to blast this thing off the map’.”
Together, they waded back across the swamp through booby traps and dead bodies. “It was like a turnip patch, step on one and it would blow you slap up.”“We got to the beach and there was an A-Man [medic]. ‘We’ll have you a boat in a minute’ he said to us. He laid me down on the sand and gave me a morphine shot. He punched one right in there.”
A boat finally arrived with two sailors on board. The driver maneuvered and the other tended to Carter. “He took off his jacket. He put it over my face and spread a blanket over me. My teeth were still chattering. He sat down and started patting me. ‘Relax’, he said, ‘just relax and your teeth will quit chattering.’ He said that over and over again and before we got to the ship, they had done quit.”
Carter still feels the pats on his shoulder and hears the voice of encouragement from this stranger he would never see again. He was transported back to the ship where they “cut my clothes off to see if I was hit anywhere else. They put my arm on a board and wrapped gauze around and put it in a sling. All I had in the world, about three thousand miles from home was a knife, a billfold and a New Testament. About midnight, I felt the ship raise the anchor, and we headed back to England.”In England, Carter departed the ship wearing “worn out sailor clothes.” On his way out, he glanced toward the deck that was covered with bodies in mattress covers, laying row after row. Placed on a military bus, he moved 30 miles inland. “I believe they could run over a matchstick and I would have felt it.”
The station hospital looked like big chicken houses back home in Georgia, and finally, thirty-six hours after storming Omaha beach, Carter was at rest and receiving medical attention. “They put me on a gurney and the nurse buckled me down. She asked, “Where you get that curly hair?” He giggles and says, “My mama give it to me.”
After the Pentothal shot, his countdown ended at 17. He remained under medical care though England, Scotland, Iceland, and New York until he finally arrived home.
Today, PFC Lloyd Carter speaks infrequently about his army days, but he never forgets. He proudly displays his burdensome wool uniform and his medals – a Silver Star, Purple Heart, Bronze Star, WWII Victory Medal and a Presidential Citation – and notes that he has no idea what happened to the men he served with for two years.
He remembers his sixty-four-dollar monthly salary (including a $10 raise for being shot) and how the 16th Division was a “good fighting outfit”. He remembers the invasion of Sicily and being so scared that his gum stuck to his teeth and how he had to walk 120 paces a minute. He says that the Italians were “pretty good people” and they [soldiers] were the blood, and well, General Patton, he was the guts. He tells of a medic from California who couldn’t read or write. Carter would write to the medic’s mother just like he would write to his, and when the medic would receive letters from his girlfriend, while reading, Carter would “gussy them up” just a bit. Another medic from Missouri would go into town and leave Carter in charge; “they’d come in with a headache and I’d give them an aspirin.” He reminisces about his English girlfriend, Joan. He met her in Lyme Regis, France, how he “walked her home and met her mama”. He remembers walking in a pasture of blooming flowers and making her a ring out of a quarter. “I betcha if she’s still living, she’s still got it,” he remarks with assurance. “The last time I seen her she was crying,” he recalls.
The next morning, the plowboy turned soldier was in France.