President Donald Trump will join dignitaries from around the world on the beaches of Normandy Thursday to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, the pivotal and bloody military operation that marked a turning point in the Allies’ initiative to defeat Nazi Germany in World War II.
Hastings resident Raymond Rutt won’t be there for the occasion this time around: He says that once was enough. Rutt was among the U.S. Army soldiers who landed on Omaha Beach that fateful day as a quartermaster serving with the 3820th Gas Supply Company. A light truck driver during his tour of duty, he served from 1943-46, furnishing gasoline in 5-gallon containers to the front lines for tank, truck and airplane usage.
Rutt shared vivid details of his firsthand account of the D-Day landing at age 25 with the Tribune in a front-page article that appeared on June 6, 2014. Now 101 and dealing with health issues, he said during a short interview Tuesday at The Villa assisted living facility in Hastings that there is little else to add about the battle that wasn’t included in that 2014 article.
His description of the scene contained in the original story’s headline is perhaps why he has no plans to commemorate the occasion of its 75th anniversary:
“The ocean was red with blood.”
“That was quite a deal,” he said of the experience. “It was rough: Legs, arms, heads, and everything laying all over. I don’t think about it too much anymore. You just forget about it, that’s all.
“I got a cousin and she called me and said they were going to go to where I was. I did make that trip (Veterans Honor Flight) with all the veterans to Washington, D.C., quite a few years ago, (but) I’ve never been back (to Normandy). I don’t think I’d want to. I seen all I wanted to see.”
En route to the front line, Rutt was among 13 men in his division assigned to deliver gasoline to the tanks. Armed with rifles and wearing 100-pound backpacks, they climbed a hill to their destination, drawing heavy machine gun fire from German forces determined to prevent them from delivering their cargo.
“The Germans really walloped the sh** out of us,” he said. “We had to walk through blood and water. I remember going up a steep hill as they were shooting at us and my sergeant said, ‘You’d better go dig a hole and stay in there for the night.’
“After a day I got out of the hole and just prowled around there. Then the ships came in with the gasoline. We had to take all the gas out of there and put it in 5-gallon cans, then drive blackout (to the front lines). After we got them all emptied we’d turn around and go back and get another load.”
Carrying two gasoline cans in each hand, transport was slow-moving and dangerous, Rutt said. The process took months to complete.
“We was the only gas supply outfit over there,” he said. “We did catch on fire one time and burned a lot of gas. The roads were awful narrow.
“Later on, after we got a little better settled, we went to Brussels, Belgium, and there were aircraft carriers there. A train used to come in there with a trainload of gas, and we’d have to take that airplane gas and put it in cans, too. We were there for about six months. That’s about all I can remember.”
Though proud to have been part of the historic landing, Rutt chooses not to dwell on memories he’d just as soon forget. It’s simply his way of coping with the unimaginable horrors that have haunted so many of his fellow soldiers for so long. A scrapbook and baseball cap identifying him as a World War II veteran and D-Day soldier serve as sanitized reminders of his role in the historic invasion.
“I was young, I had a lot of guts,” he said. “I’m glad I got to do it, but I wouldn’t want to go through it again.”