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Charlton - At 99, World War II Army veteran Dietz remembers days of service, D-Day

Charlton - At 99, World War II Army veteran Dietz remembers days of service, D-Day

Charlton resident vividly recalls D-Day
Charlton - At 99, World War II Army veteran Dietz remembers days of service, D-Day
Lincoln Dietz in basic training at age 20 and Friday at his Charlton home
Photographer: Provided and Peter Barber / Gazette Photographer

Lincoln Dietz remembers the day he rolled his tank destroyer out of the water and into Normandy.

Other people remember, too -- people who revere the history of World War II.

Dietz was part of the massive Allied force that invaded northern France in a series of beach landings. It was June 6, 1944, D-Day.

At 99, Charlton resident Dietz retains vivid memories of his days with the Army's A Company, 802nd Tank Destroyer Battalion, and his days of service to the United States. Americans honor all veterans today, Veterans Day.

Dietz was born and raised in South Hadley, Massachusetts, one of eight siblings.

"We had a good home, my dad never lost a day's work that I knew of," Dietz said. "He worked all the way through the Depression. We had a large garden, it was a rural area."

The South Hadley area was known for manufacturing, and Frank Dietz worked at one of several paper mills in operation. As a young man, Lincoln secured a government position and began work at the Springfield Armory. He was on the job in 1941, when Japan launched its attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7 -- actions that would force America into World War II.

Dietz received two draft deferments.

"They held me out a year," he said. "I don't know why, but they did. They had the authority, it was Army all the way."

Dietz felt he couldn't wait any longer. He told his supervisor he was leaving to enlist and did not receive any good luck wishes. "He said, 'I hope you get shot in the ass,'" Dietz said. "He was mad."

Basic and technical training followed. Dietz had hoped for an assignment with the Army Air Force; at the time, the Air Force was not a separate service.

"I was hoping to get a job as an armorer on a bomber, where they had about 10 guys, different types of guns," Dietz said. "I got into that class, .50-caliber, .30-caliber, 20 millimeter, all that gunnery.

"Here's what happened," Dietz continued. "We studied hard, two of us were at the top of the whole class, I was one of them. But then the government made a decision, they didn't want any more new units. So you could not hold rank until you were assigned to a specific unit."

More travel was ahead. Dietz was one of several thousand soldiers taken to New York Harbor to board the RMS Mauretania, an ocean liner that became a troop transport ship during the war.

"Off we go to England," Dietz said. "They zig-zagged across the ocean so a submarine couldn't put a torpedo in you. We landed in Liverpool three or four days later."

Race track facilities had been converted to shelter soldiers. As England was under blackout rules, superiors told the young soldiers not to try any adventuring.

"They told us, 'Don't go anywhere, you will be lost,'" Dietz said. "But not being too shy, a few of us got together and went out and we didn't go very far. There were no lights anywhere, we couldn't see anything. It was, 'How will we get back?'"

The soldiers eventually were seen by British military, who told them how to get back to their new base. 

Dietz said he couldn't believe that young men with good eyesight could get lost in the dark. "When they say you can't see in a blackout," he said, "you can't."

D-Day was a major secret, but Dietz said soldiers knew something was coming. His group had been sent to the south of England.

"Things started to happen the night before," Dietz said. "The darn skies were lit up with little lights from aircraft carrying in the paratroopers who jumped before dawn. We were to go over the channel at dawn."

Stormy weather was a problem. So were crowded waters.

"There were so many ships bouncing around on that water you could almost walk on the ships, it seemed like," Dietz said. "I never saw anything like it in my life, never will again."

Once tank destroyers and their armed escorts made shore -- and Dietz said escorts were needed because a soldier with a bazooka could heavily damage the vehicles -- the orders were to move inland.

Due to the storm, Dietz and his group missed their target landing spot by several miles. There was opposition from German forces, Dietz added, but not as bad as firepower felt by soldiers at Omaha Beach.

"We didn't have those cliffs," Dietz said. "We had regular terrain."

Dietz's D-Day drama began when a sergeant in near panic ran up to his crew. There was a small barn up a country road; German soldiers were in the hay loft, firing on pinned down U.S. soldiers.

The tank destroyer moved up the road cautiously and Dietz said soldiers saw movement in the hay loft. The decision was made to fire, and the barn exploded.

"It blew the barn to nothing but kindling," Dietz said. "It  wasn't a huge barn like you might find on a ranch or something, but big enough for a couple of cows, maybe a horse or two.

"All this Normandy country was like rural farm country and the Germans treated them pretty well, they tell me, because they got all their fresh fruits and vegetables from them," Dietz added.

The family that owned the barn was understandably upset.

"There was no 'ooh-la-la' or champagne, we got the hell out of there in a hurry," Dietz said. "We were all excited anyway, hopped up on nerves. I guess we just about eliminated them from the farm business."

But Dietz believes the move had to be made. Fellow soldiers were in danger.

Eventually, Deitz and his soldiers began running into American soldiers. At first, there was not a friendly reception.

"We kept a machine gun on them as they approached us, they were paratroopers, they had dropped the night before, and they all got separated so they came to us," Dietz said. "Of course, we had signals like 'snow' and 'flake,' 'base' and 'ball,' something like that. Every day we changed the code. we'd holler out to 'em and they'd answer us back and then we'd know who they were and we allowed them to approach."

Dietz and his group had another mission. Along with many other troops, the assignment was to capture the deep water port of Cherbourg.

"That was a necessity," Dietz said, adding that the port allowed German military to bring in supplies and equipment to a dock.

The Allies succeeded.

"A lot of it was blown up by our Navy, heavy shelling from the ocean," Dietz said. "And some of it was destroyed by the Germans themselves, plus what we damaged."

After the war, Dietz returned home to Massachusetts and reported back to his job at the Springfield Armory. He worked another 20 years in his home state, married wife Margaret and raised son Lincoln and daughter Sheila.

Dietz was transferred to the Watervliet Armory in 1966, and worked for another 15 years. He retired as chief of transportation in 1981.

He believes things have changed in the U.S. During the early 1940s, people just about unanimously supported the war effort.

"Today, it's 'Should we do this?' or 'Shouldn't we do that?' or somebody is criticizing this move or that move," Dietz said. "It's not a total all-out effort like it was then. It's something that had to be done and we did it."

Dietz, in good health, thinks he'll break even in life if 40 years of retirement balance 40 years of work for the government. He accepts complements about his longevity and his service.

"I'll take the longevity first," he said, smiling. "It means you have to try to hang on mentally as well as physically."

Contact Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 518-395-3124 or at [email protected]

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