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World War II veteran recalls service

Posted: February 14, 2014 6:33 p.m.
Updated: February 17, 2014 5:00 a.m.

Camden resident Marion David, 89, was in the U.S. Army from March, 1943 until January, 1946 and served with the 12th Traffic Regulating Group in Europe during WWII.

“I was born and raised in Kingstree, South Carolina. I started and finished school there. Right out of high school they had a training thing called N.Y.A., National Youth Association, in Florence. I was born and raised on a farm and I saw the training as a way to do something else. I took a course in welding and also battery rebuilding,” David said. “We stayed in Florence. They had a little barracks there.”

He said after the N.Y.A. training he landed a job at an Army depot in Charleston.

“They had all these Army vehicles and they were preserving them, getting ready to ship them overseas. We would take the intakes off them and rig them up with hoses on these jeeps and trucks so they could come off a landing craft into the water and still drive,” David said. “Just a few days (after) my 18th birthday, I had to register for the draft. I had a brother that had just gotten married. When I got my draft notice, one of us had to go, so I said ‘you just got married,’ so I volunteered and I was the first one to go.”

David said he first reported to Camp Jackson near Columbia, then went to Camp Lee, Va. for his 12-week basic training. He then went to Camp Shenango, later called Camp Reynolds in Pennsylvania. Next stop: Camp Shanks, New York. From there David was deployed to the war in Europe aboard the British ship RMS Aquitania, sister ship to the famed RMS Lusitania. He said there were tense moments on the voyage.

“We left by ourselves, without a convoy. They said they could outrun submarines. It took a submarine several minutes to get lined up to try to attack a ship, so every seven minutes we would zig-zag our course. We did that for about eight or 10 days and the fog came in on us. It was one of those thick, heavy fogs. All of a sudden, everything on the ship shut down,” David said. “They came on the loudspeaker and said, ‘Nobody move. Make no noise whatsoever. We’re surrounded by submarines,’ German U-boats. So we drifted for about four hours, but luckily we drifted out of them.”

David said the ship arrived safely in Scotland and he was taken to the seaport of Liverpool, England, where he worked unloading ships for the next eight months before he was assigned to a unit called the Traffic Regulating Group. He didn’t know it, but while there, he set the stage for one of the biggest allied operations of the war.

“My job was to break down all these convoys, the infantry and artillery and all that into landing craft loads. I would tell them how many men I needed for a landing craft. I knew just how many people and vehicles and whatever that each landing craft could carry,” David said. “So we did that for a week or more. When we finished with that, three or four of us were sent to this hill overlooking Plymouth Bay in England, where there were landing craft from one side to the other as far as you could see. Then they put a smokescreen over the bay and we couldn’t see a thing. When I woke up on June 6, 1944, the first thing I saw was there weren’t any landing craft. They were all gone. Then we got notice that they had landed in Normandy, France. It was D-Day.”

David said after the invasion he visited Utah Beach, where the U.S. 4th Infantry Division landed.

“It was amazing how many of those landing craft didn’t make it back. There were hundreds of landing craft just laying there in the water. I’ll never forget my first night there. We weren’t allowed to go back to the ship we came on and we didn’t have a place to stay, so we slept right there on the beach,” David said. “The next morning an MP came up and said, ‘What are y’all doing there in the field?’ He was standing there by the road. We said we didn’t have any place to sleep. He said, ‘Well, you’re in the middle of a mine field.’ Somebody was assigned to go first and we all stepped in his footsteps and we made it out.”

David said the Traffic Regulating Group also directed traffic, making sure troops and convoys were taking the right roads to their assignments. He was then given a special job by an officer named Col. Beverly A. Shipp.

“He said, ‘I need you to do some traveling for me.’ He had a big, brown envelope which was sealed. He told me, ‘I need this delivered’ and he gave me a map and the officer’s name it was to be delivered to,” David said. “He took my rifle and issued me a Carbine, that was much lighter and easier to handle, which I was glad of. He said, ‘You are to try to avoid the enemy at all cost. But if they do catch you, these papers have got to be destroyed before you die.’ That’s what I did from then on. I went all over France, Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, Germany, just delivering papers and sometimes people. During the Battle of the Bulge, I went in there a number of times and I tell you, those boys caught hell up there. There must have been about a month I didn’t even see the ground, it was all ice and snow. I spent a couple of nights there myself because I’d get there and wouldn’t have time to get out. There was no traveling at night.”

David said he was able to follow his order to avoid the enemy, but he came close at times. He recalled seeing many dead and wounded soldiers being transported, one in particular.

“The one that really stuck in my mind and I still see him almost every day, he had no legs whatsoever. He was conscious and talking. They had given him enough morphine to keep him going. I have often wondered, if we had then the things we have today, how many more would have lived through that kind of stuff? Thank goodness as many made it as they did,” he said.

David said he spent the rest of his military service as Shipp’s personal driver until he was discharged. He said he received the best advice of his life from his father, a combat veteran himself.

“My daddy was in World War I. He was a Silver Star recipient. When I started to leave for the Army he said, ‘Let me give you a little advice. I done been through it. Don’t volunteer for nothing.’ I think that saved my life a few times. I’m sure it did because they tried to get me to join the paratroopers,” he said. “At that time I didn’t like to fly anyway.”

David married his first wife, Ethel, in 1947 and married his second wife, Glenda, in 1994 after Ethel’s passing. He has two sons and a daughter. His oldest son followed the family tradition of military service by joining the U.S. Air Force and, later, the U.S. Navy.

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