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NEWS | June 21, 2010

From D-Day to the Pacific, a veteran of two fronts

By 2nd Lt. Susan Carlson Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

This is the third of a three-part series highlighting Charleston Veterans and their contributions on D-Day which will run through the month of June. From a list of almost 60 names of Charleston's D-Day survivors made a number of years ago, a little under a fourth were still living. Of those, only three from the June 6, 1944, Allied invasion in France were able to be contacted. The third and final interview was with Chief Petty Officer (Ret.) Reid Cayce. This is his story.

If a young man of able body and stable mind was not in the service in the early 1940's, he would be wise to join if he wanted any say in his future career. Thus, knowing he would eventually be drafted, Mr. Cayce decided to enlist in the United States Navy in January 1943. After only seven weeks of boot camp, he was sent to the New York Harbor and boarded Tank Landing Ship 375 bound for North Africa.

"I became a Sailor overnight on board an LST," Mr. Cayce said.

They spent 30 days crossing the treacherous waters, zig-zagging all along the way to avoid German U-boat attacks. Upon their arrival in Gibraltar, it was more training for all of the new Sailors. Aboard the new Higgins's landing craft, vehicle and personnel boats would be where Mr. Cayce would spend the next six weeks, just off the coast of Algeria.

"We lived in tents and ate beans three times-a-day," Mr. Cayce said about his time spent during the Advanced Amphibious Training. "For six weeks we practiced running those things up on the beach."

From there, the new trainees sailed to the coast of Sicily, near Gela, to aid in the first Allied move into Europe. Mr. Cayce was part of a crew of four men ferrying Army Soldiers to and from the beaches.

"That was a pretty rough invasion, cause it was the first, and we were all pretty green too," he said.

A few months later, Mr. Cayce and his crew found themselves sailing to England to prepare for the largest amphibious operation in history.

In the interim between the Italian invasion and Normandy, he was transferred from the LCVP to the larger LST 344, and was promoted to quartermaster third class.

During the days leading up to the invasion, the coastline of Spain and France all the way to England, experienced one of the worst storms in 30 years, Mr. Cayce said. Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied forces in Europe, debated whether or not to proceed with the invasion.

"We sat there for five days, loaded with troops and equipment," Mr. Cayce recalls. "Finally, Ike made the decision to go."

In the early morning hours of June 6, 1944, Mr. Cayce's LST, along with 5,000 other United States and Allied ships, sailed across the English Channel toward Normandy, France.

"Our orders were to stay dark and keep quiet as we approached the French coastline," he said. "The beach was shallow and the sea rough, making it necessary to unload using pontoons."

While unloading troops and equipment along the coast of Normandy, the LST's crew had to avoid German shelling, strafing and aircraft fire. At one point, Mr. Cayce's LST saw a German aircraft headed straight for them.

"I can't figure out how that plane came through, we had so much protection from British and American Air Forces, but it did and one of our gunners shot it down," Mr. Cayce remembers. "It went over the ship and landed up ahead, you could smell the gasoline from where it went down."

After unloading 500 British troops with all their equipment, their ship returned across the channel with a load of wounded warriors.

"We sailors were very fortunate in that after unloading we could leave the beaches and return to homeports for another load of troops, equipment and supplies," he said. "I felt sorry for the troops as they were left to proceed after the enemy."

During their 20 trips across the English Channel, the LST crew had to continuously maneuver in order to avoid submarine attacks. Many ships were sunk along with men, equipment and supplies, said Mr. Cayce, the losses were insurmountable and unbelievable.

"There were rough seas, storms, U-boats and the anxiety of not knowing what might happen," he said. "Thousands didn't come home."

Although the invasion of Normandy was complete, the war for Mr. Cayce was not. He was sent back to the United States to board a brand new LST on its way to the Pacific Theater of Operations. There he aided in the liberation of both the Philippines and Okinawa, Japan, surviving the suicide bombers and typhoons off the coast of Okinawa.

When the Japanese Army finally surrendered, Mr. Cayce participated in the occupation of Japan. His LST 1101 steamed into Tokyo Bay to witness the surrender signed and accepted by Gen. Douglas McArthur on the battleship Missouri, said Mr. Cayce.

After the war, Mr. Cayce returned to the South, where he was honorably discharged January 31, 1946. Using the G.I. Bill, he attended college before moving back to Charleston, S.C., with his wife and child. Mr. Cayce joined the U.S. Naval Reserve and served for 30 years, retiring as a chief quartermaster in 1983. Today, at 87 years old, Mr. Cayce lives alone, caring for his house and doing his own yard work, both of which are immaculate.

"When we got back from Europe, nobody ever talked about World War II, we just forgot it," Mr. Cayce said with respect to his time spent overseas. "But now, everybody realizes If you want to know about World War II you better talk to us now, cause we'll soon be gone."