“June 5, 1944
Dear family, the weather here yesterday turned out to be a horrific day to head to the beach, but today turned out to be ideal. We go today!”
If not for the extreme secrecy surrounding that moment in time, the cryptic note that “Dub” Brown might have written home was about a beautiful picturesque beach, a beach where perhaps romantic tales could be told – a beach not unlike others in France painted with high plateaus, rocky cliffs, and sandy bluffs.
The French call this scenic beach Cote de Nacre, which means “Mother of Pearl.” The Cote de Nacre beach lies between the mouths of the Orne and Vire rivers, but it was on this particular beach that one of most historic accounts of bravery, determination, and suffering of WWII played out.
On the morning of June the 6th, 1944, the peace and serenity of Cote de Nacre beach shook to hell in one of the deadliest battles of Operation Overlord - the D-Day invasion of Europe by the Allied forces.
From that moment Cote de Nacre beach forever became known as Omaha Beach.
It was here on Omaha Beach that an endless tide of American soldiers primarily from the U.S. 1st Infantry Division (The Big Red One) and the U.S. 2nd Ranger Battalion, moved on shore for their tragic clash with destiny.
At 6 a.m. guided by an inexperienced captain, LCI 487 (Landing Craft Infantry) emerged from the English Channel and became grounded on the Cote de Nacre beach just below Pointe de Hoc, the main objective of the U.S. 2nd Ranger Battalion.
Born and raised in Chamblee, and a former Chamblee mayor, 87-year-old Navy veteran Johnson Wavery “Dub” Brown, vividly remembers the horrific scene that unfolded when LCI 487 landed 200 of the 2nd Ranger Battalion on the beachhead beneath the cliffs of Pointe de Hoc.
Within moments of the low tide grounding, LCI 487 took direct fire from German 88mm guns high above Pointe de Hoc’s bluffs. Rounds from the 88s tore through the port and starboard sides of LCI 487’s bow just above the waterline. Fearing the craft to be lost and unable to move off the beachhead, its captain ordered the LCI to be abandoned, but Brown and five others in the LCI’s engine room never knew of the order and remained behind to save the motionless LCI. The direct fire from the German guns lasted nearly 12 hours. What followed next was nothing less short of heroic.
With gapping holes in the front end of the LCI on either side of the troop loading ramps, Motor Machinist Mate 1st Class Brown had insisted that the holes in the bow could be patched with mattresses and LCI be refloated. Brown did not want to lose his ship and was equally concerned for the mounting number of wounded soldiers who were being brought aboard into the relative safety of the LCI’s troop hold.
Brown shut down the engines rendering the LCI un-operational in hopes the Germans would think the LCI disabled and cease firing upon the ship, effectively “playing possum” according to Brown. The German artillerymen who had first observed the flight of LCIers ceased fire on the seemingly abandoned ship and trained their guns elsewhere.
When not in the engine room affecting repairs to the ship, “Dub” Brown watched in horror while the Germans threw grenades and fired at them from above. He witnessed first hand the intense carnage on the beach that lasted the better part of 12 hours until the Rangers began to take a foothold upon the top of Pointe de Hoc. Dead and dying were all around them. By all accounts those Rangers who made it to the top engaged in bitter hand-to-hand fighting until Pointe de Hoc was securely in Allied hands.
At the 12th hour Brown remembers feeling movement beneath LCI 487 as the tide was returning to the beach. Brown instinctively started the engines again bringing life back to the lumbering LCI. Once enough water had passed beneath the hull and had lifted the LCI far enough above the beach, Brown and his crewmates pulled back on the throttles full astern and moved LCI 487 quickly off the beach. By this time the troop hold was full of dead and injured.
LCI 487 met up with a waiting Red Cross ship close off shore where they lifted aboard in baskets the dead and wounded. Much to Brown’s delight he was reunited with his shipmates who had heard the abandon ship order earlier in the day.
Miraculously all crew members of LCI 487 survived the day – their longest day. Brown and his crewmates steamed back to England where they were immediately dry-docked and within hours of repairs being made, were heading back across the English Channel ferrying medics and much needed medical supplies – back to Cote de Nacre – back to Omaha Beach.
Unbeknownst to many at the time even to Brown, if not for the blunderous miscalculation on the part of the Germans, the Normandy landing could have had a dire outcome with greater loss of life, even those aboard LCI 487. Adolf Hitler mistrusted his field commanders to the point that he felt the Normandy action was merely a diversion from the real invasion that would occur farther to the north at the Pas-de-Calais. Concentrated there was the German Fifteenth Army, which had the capability of shifting its forces to Normandy quickly. For the Germans around Normandy, reinforcements belatedly arriving from Calais and elsewhere were mercilessly blasted by long-range Naval guns and ripped to shreds by American and British fighter and bomber planes.
Brown’s devotion to duty and bravery for saving his ship and providing safe shelter to the wounded while under fire was nothing less than heroic. From his own account, “we were all too young to have anything called fear.” By nightfall at the end of the first day 150,000 Americans, British and Canadians had come ashore against all odds, amid 9,000 casualties. Within a week the Allies landed over a half-million men.
A unique esprit de corps exists among all American sailors, soldiers and airmen; a code followed without question or hesitation – “Duty, Honor and Country.” In war not much time is afforded to thinking of life and loved ones left somewhere behind. In times of battle our thoughts are more toward the mission at hand and getting out alive.
Brown was fortunate to survive WWII, fortunate to return home to reclaim his life, fortunate to return to his wife Doris, to whom he’s been married nearly 70 years now. They raised two children, five grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.
“I was extremely concerned about getting back home," Brown said. "I took every precaution I possibly could to stay safe. I was in the engine room most of the time, and every time in was in the engine room I was safe, because they’d have to blow up the whole ship up to get to me, to hurt me. We were stuck on the beach and couldn’t get off from one tide to the other, and in that time I managed all the repairs to the ship to make it seaworthy again.
"I had to stay. I never had a thought about moving myself from the ship. I was needed to operate the engines and everything for the ship. I felt real blessed to come through this alive but I felt I needed to stay busy and didn’t have much time to stop and think about anything else. With everything running through your mind you relive your life over and over.
"My second oldest sister raised me, I was the youngest one in the family, and she was the next to the oldest. Being born and raised on a dairy farm we were used to getting up early in the morning and milking cows and making milk routes. I went to Chamblee High School; all my brothers and sisters went to Chamblee High School. I just wanted to make it home alive.”
Brown, who now lives in Cumming, entered service at the age of 19 in 1942 and married Doris the same day. After receiving training running the engines of an LCI he was eventually stationed at Little Creek, Va.
On Christmas Day 1943, he departed Little Creek knowing only that they were headed for England. During the Atlantic voyage LCI 487 joined up with what Brown describes as thousands of other ships headed for the same destination.
Brown recalls that even to this day it was the largest flotilla to ever cross the Atlantic Ocean. In reality what Brown saw consisted of 4,000 troop carrying vessels and over 2,000 American warships. For a young sailor on his first ocean voyage, seeing these thousands of ships that dotted every point of the horizon was an incredible if not unbelievable sight, but not fully knowing why was a daunting question for this young sailor.
Brown left the service in December 1945 and like so many others returned to life. Brown eventually went on to serve as Chamblee mayor from 1980-1998. Not unlike many WWII veterans he never much expressed his emotions about his experiences from the war.
Eight years ago, daughter Melanie Brown Curtis started a campaign to get her father his due recognition. In April of this year at Cumming City Hall, Brown finally received eight medals of bravery he should have received years ago for his noble actions during World War II. In addition, he also received an American flag for his service and bravery and was awarded with the Navy Commendation Medal, the Bronze Star and World War II Victor Medal.
During Melanie’s long quest to see that her father received the proper recognition he was due, she received a letter in 2005 from a 35-year-old Frenchman. In it he eloquently writes:
You don’t happen to know me. I am 35-years-old Frenchman, extremely keen on anything about the Landing in Normandy on June 6, 1944. I try to go to Normandy every year to pay homage to our Liberators and for me to collect one’s thoughts about graves in the Omaha Beach cemetery.
Two of my greatest remembrances are of the 50th and the 55th anniversaries commemorations of D-Day on June 1994 and 1999, (could not go for the 60th) and one of my greater pride is that I could even shake the hands and get a dedication to the Veterans.
If the Americans were not come in 1944, for liberating a land and people that they didn’t know, I’ll don’t certainly be here like many people. I owe you my Liberty, and I take great pride in write to you for to tell you all my gratitude and for Freedom, that men like you and the sacrifice of those who didn’t return home have given back to us.
Maybe you have in your relationship other Veterans, if so, can you send me their names and addresses, or their email, in order that I write to them too all my gratitude and which will enable me to obtain, on this occasion, your dedication (and perhaps a photo?), which I will take in pride.
God bless America, God bless you.
Thanks to his daughter Melanie’s continued efforts, “Dub” Brown has also been recommended for the Legion of Honor Medal - the highest military award the French can give.