The All Black 320th Anti-Aircraft Barrage Balloon Battalion, VLA
They Landed on D-Day
The All Black 320th Anti-Aircraft Barrage Balloon Battalion, VLA
Bill Davison's Letter to the HistoryNet
The 320th was a part of the D-Day landings, June 6, 1944. The 320th was the first Black Unit to see combat in World War II. They landed on Omaha and Utah Beaches, D-Day, June 6, 1944. The 761st Tank Battalion landed in October of 1944, 4 months after the 320th brought their barrage balloons ashore on D-Day. All African American Units deserve recognition. The 761st deserves recognition but so does the 320th AA BBB, VLA, for they were among the first troops to set foot on the Normandy Beachhead.
Along with the following "bio", I have documents and Stars and Stripes articles. I can send copies of these if you would need them in order to give the 320th the honor they deserve.
Kindly let me know.
Bill A. Davison, son of George A. Davison, one of the "39er's Invasion Group"
1065 Birch Ave.
Waynesburg PA 15370
MY FATHER, GEORGE A. DAVISON, U.S. Army, member of the all Black, 320th AA Barrage Balloon Battalion, VLA (Very Low Altitude) was onboard the LCT 608 with a group of Army Rangers. The job of the 320th was to man and keep flying, those smaller barrage balloons seen in the skies over Omaha and Utah beaches and attached to many ships and boats in the English Channel .
Dad mentions the Rangers in his papers. I am trying to learn more about Dad's experience and those with him in LCT 608. During the trip from England to France , the 608 picked up a downed British pilot, pilot of a B-24 or Halifax (as both are mentioned) that had ditched in the Channel. He also mentioned an altercation... a fight, between two Rangers on the 608, which quickly ended after a couple punches were thrown. Seems the Ranger's CO wanted all accounts settled before the 608 hit the beach and had these two men settle their differences while still in the Channel. Too, Dad mentions the "facilities" aboard the 608 and that one had to be very careful else one fall overboard rather easily!
So, with Army Rangers (at least onboard the 608), members of the 320th were scattered thru the invasion fleet. You see a barrage balloon...there is a 3 man crew of African Americans soldiers with that balloon...to prevent German aircraft from strafing Omaha and Utah Beaches . Also, there was the headquarters unit of the Battalion and it too was on the beach. They stayed as long as they were needed. When the beaches were secured, the balloons, some of them at least, were shot down by the Navy and the soldiers of the 320th were given new assignments…moving inland. Dad has a photo of a group of colored soldiers looking for a German soldier at a farmhouse. On this photo, Dad wrote "Who is this Richie? A note to Richie, his son, that one of the men in the photo was George, his father. Dad did not recall the names of the others in the photo but he did mention that the photographer was "a pain in the _ _ _ !". Dad mentions French civilians with some being part of the Underground. Some time ago, and only once that I recall, he mentioned coming against the SS. Dad talked very little about his experience with me but he did speak at length with another World War 2 veteran. Conversations were always in private and when I got close, both would keep quiet. Having been in Vietnam , I understood!
As the 608 waited its turn to make it’s approach, Dad was witness to the horrors that those ahead of him were facing. He then experienced those horrors while coming ashore. And, on the beach, Dad was to witness more and experience what would haunt him until the 80th year and 6th month of his life when he died.
Dad's recollection of the Rangers he met....professional soldiers who taught Dad and his men a great deal about survival. You see, the 320th was originally formed to protect the U.S. cities from enemy aircraft attacks. Then, someone got the bright idea of protecting Omaha and Utah beaches with balloons. A grand idea on a grand scale and so, the 320th went from non-combatant to combatant, from the States, to Great Britain , to the coast of France . While he and the others trained well for what was coming, the tips and tricks of the trade from the Rangers onboard the 608 would turn out to be additional lifesavers. He said the Rangers had been in the Italy campaign.
Just thought I would share this and hope to find out more about Boat 608 and the others onboard.
Reading thru his notes, Dad mentions crossing the Atlantic on the RMS Aquitania, a ship which carried, by his recall, 10,000 troops and civilians, men and women alike. Dad left the States from Camp Shanks , New York , and aboard the Aquitania , he docked at Forth of Clyde, Scotland. From there, he and his unit traveled to Checkinton(sp), 40 miles from London . With help, I was able to find reference to that ship, one of the Cunard Line.
In England , the English people were told by white American soldiers that Black American soldiers had tails, and reading Dad's memories, at least several of the local civilians checked for themselves to see if this was true. Just thought I would pass along this part of Dad's experience in England .
Regarding the 608 picking up the downed British pilot…the pilot was saved but I am not sure if he was transferred from the 608 to another craft before the 608 landed at Normandy as Dad makes no other mention of the pilot after he was plucked from the Channel. This happened at roughly 0200 - 0300, June 6, 1944 . And it was God's will that the pilot ditched his plane in the path of the 608 and that the pilot's little one cell signal lamp fastened to the collar of his life jacket gave the light that someone onboard the 608 was able to see...and rescue the pilot. Dad's words: "...this day turned out to be a most interesting day and two things happened to make it that way. First, the B-24 pilot who we had picked up came out on deck and expressed his happiness to have the American Navy around. Thank All of you he said, I wouldn't be here if it were not for you. He said he was out and didn't remember anything after ditching his plane. He said the channel should be full of Airmen because they were really trying to make a big hit on certain targets since the Big Show was going to happen. Those targets being shore installations and beach fortifications. He said he had been hit with flak and was trying to make it to the British side of the channel before ditching, there was a lot of English people patrolling shore waters over there for the purpose of rescuing down pilots. He was very happy and lucky and showed some appreciation by the way he expressed hiself." There may have been a great many watercraft in the Channel on that morning but still, the Channel is a large body of water.
My father died in October, 2002, at the age of 80. My thanks to the Royal Air Force for "making it easier of the ones to land on the Normandy Beachheads".
It would be fantastic to learn the name of the pilot.
I hope this part of my father's experience might add a little history to the British library of D-Day, June 6, 1944 .
My thanks too to every Allied soldier, airman, sailor and civilian who liberated France and brought an end to the war.
Three DAVISON brothers, from Waynesburg , Pennsylvania , were serving during World War 2. GEORGE, with the 320th in France, and FRANK, who was also in France and was able to meet his brother George one day. Seems Frank noticed a truck with 320th on it and followed it and was able to spend a little time with George. LAWRENCE, the third brother, was serving on New Guinea in the Pacific. Their parents, Frederick and Dorothy Davison, had three stars in their window. All three came home safely.
I made a promise to Dad to tell his story and the story of the 320th and I appreciate being able to do so here.
Bill A. Davison