“He faced some tough situations in the war,” Jane Shelhorse, director of the Louisa County Parks and Recreation said. “Seeing that he came through, I think he was one of the luckiest people…because he did make it back.”
Shelhorse gave this introduction about her father, Pharmacist Mate First Class Stephen Cluskey Cromwell. Cromwell was the guest speaker for the Golden Age Club at the Betty J. Queen Center on Friday, April 11 where he spoke about his experiences during his service in the U.S. Navy during World War II.
“I was in combat for two-and-a-half-years and it was,” Cromwell paused, taking a deep breath, “… it was not great.”
The Rockville, Maryland native hoped to one day become a physician. In the spring of 1943, at the age of 18, he enlisted with the United States Navy.
Cromwell started his training in Great Lakes, NY before volunteering for the Navy Medical Corps. He was sent to Long Island to train at St. Albans Hospital in New York.
“I have to say, in fairness, the training we had was fabulous,” Cromwell said. “They taught us how to do everything that we needed to do in taking care of the sick, wounded and the seriously injured individuals.”
After completing training, Cromwell’s orders placed him on a U.S. Navy landing ship tank (LST) to England for the Normandy invasion. This was in February of 1944.
Cromwell said the LST was 327 feet long and was used to take troops right up to the beach and drop them off so they could go ashore with their equipment.
According to Cromwell, it was the corpsmen’s understanding that they would load the wounded and take them back to England to be hospitalized. That was not to be the case.
Cromwell joked about traveling on the LST in the North Atlantic in February. He said the ship only traveled a maximum speed of six knots, which is 6.9 nautical miles per hour, and it took 34 days to arrive on the southern coast of England.
Cromwell laughed and said he spent most of his time either in bed or in the bathroom seasick.
“Unfortunately, they couldn’t cook much food for us, so they gave us K-rations,” he said.
After arriving, the men were able to enjoy the hospitality of the British.
“They were very gracious to us,” Cromwell said.
During the evening of June 5, 1944, Cromwell’s LST was assigned to travel to Southampton with about 300 paratroopers from the 101st Airborne.
The stretch of coast in France was divided for the invasion with American forces taking Omaha and Utah Beaches, while the British had Gold and Sword Beaches.
On June 6, 1944, the ships made their travel to Normandy, Cromwell said.
“We had to wait our turn to go to shore,” Cromwell said. “The attack began at dawn, but we didn’t go in until 9 a.m., and by the time we got to Omaha Beach it was an absolute disaster area.”
To read the entire story, see the April 24 edition of The Central Virginian.