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By Dave Boyce
Almanac Staff Writer
In the 4 a.m. darkness on the morning of June 6, 1944, about 67 years ago, Woodside resident Floyd Carley, a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy, stood on the deck of the destroyer USS Satterlee, waiting, along with soldiers and sailors on 5,000 other Allied ships, to begin the coastal bombardment of Normandy and the invasion of France.
Above them, Allied gliders ferrying invading paratroops did not escape the notice of German anti-aircraft guns. "Some of them exploded in mid-air. It was a terrible sight to see," Mr. Carley said in a recorded interview. "Brave men up there dying. Two of those were hit and they lost everybody."
Mr. Carley, now 89, related his experiences on D-Day in a 1998 DVD recording provided by his daughter Linda Rosen. (For health reasons, he was not available for an interview for this story.)
As radar officer, Mr. Carley recalled spending much of D-Day inside the Satterlee's command information center (CIC), the inner sanctum of a combat ship. His role: help coordinate the shelling of shore defenses in support of Allied soldiers scaling the 100-foot cliffs of Pointe du Hoc with the assignment of neutralizing the German guns overlooking the key invasion points of Omaha and Utah beaches.
On July 1, 2011, at the French consulate in San Francisco, the government of France, by decree of the president of France, will recognize Mr. Carley as a Chevalier of the National Order of the Legion of Honour.
The award is "a sign of France's true and unforgettable gratitude and appreciation for your personal, precious contribution to the United States' decisive role in the liberation of our country during World War II. ... The French people will never forget your courage and your devotion to the great cause of freedom," Francois Rivasseau, a charge d'affaires in the French Embassy in Washington D.C., said in a Dec. 27, 2010, letter to Mr. Carley.
With a college degree from Columbia University behind him, the Navy inducted Mr. Carley as an enlisted man in 1943 and immediately sent him to midshipman's school, followed by radar school and an assignment to Norfolk, Virginia, to board the Satterlee as its radar officer.
"To get on a capital ship, to be an officer on a fighting ship" was a great privilege, Mr. Carley recalled on the DVD. "You're 21 years old and you're an officer and there are guys going around saluting and you really think you're something."
The Satterlee and destroyers of its class measured 348 feet long by 36 feet across, carried a crew of 276, and had armaments that included four 5-inch guns and four 40-millimeter anti-aircraft guns. The Satterlee escorted two convoys to Casablanca, and in April 1944, escorted the battleships Texas and Arkansas to Northern Ireland, according to an official history of the ship from the Naval History and Heritage Command.
On D-Day, on station off Pointe du Hoc, Satterlee officers watched as soldiers from the U.S. Army Second Ranger Battalion began scaling the cliffs. "As they went up the cliffs there, the Germans came out and started throwing hand grenades and shooting down on them," Mr. Carley recalled.
In response, the Satterlee, a couple of hundred yards offshore, trained its anti-aircraft guns on the cliff top "and just swept the Germans off," he said, allowing the soldiers to continue their climb.
When the Rangers reached the top, the Germans were waiting for them with a machine gun nest, which the Satterlee then destroyed with a couple of rounds from the 5-inch guns, Mr. Carley said.
"We blew that thing right into the water," he said with a big smile. "The whole machine gun nest, by the third salvo, was hit and fell off into the water."
The shore-fire crew on board the Satterlee would relay map-grid coordinates to the ship's command information center, which would give range and bearing information to the gun-control crew "and they'd throw the salvo," Mr. Carley said. "And we did that all day long, all day long, just supporting them."
"Those poor fellas," he said of the Rangers. "They suffered great losses, about half of them were killed or wounded."
"German resistance was stiff" and the Satterlee stayed just off the Normandy coast for 40 more days, the ship's historical account says.
Next stop was southern France, where the Satterlee joined another invasion force at St. Tropez, the account says. Mr. Carley concurred in the DVD, with his report of the sinking of a German torpedo boat and the Satterlee's crew picking up the 10 or 12 survivors and tending to their medical needs in the ward room.
Back on the East Coast in October 1944, the Satterlee escorted President Franklin Roosevelt in the cruiser Quincy from Norfolk to Bermuda, the first leg of Mr. Roosevelt's trip to Yalta in the Ukraine to confer with Allied leaders Winston Churchill of Britain and Josef Stalin of the Soviet Union. During the Satterlee's two or three week layover in Bermuda, the crew had the golf courses to themselves. "(It was) just paradise," Mr. Carley said.