The Great Pinochle Game!
Peter Russo
Peter N. Russo

D-Day minus three, found the crew of this Artillery Battery crammed aboard a Navy landing craft tank. A landing craft tank resembles and is about the size of a sand-carrying barge. Carefully squeezed into its hole were four self-propelled 105mm howitzers, one supply truck and one jeep. Walking between vehicles was next to impossible. Little walking would be done during the sea voyage.

We were barely out of the English Harbor when the greater part of the gun crew succumbed to sea sickness. There was a mad scramble for position on this small craft. The men who were not the fastest and the strongest were to take up topside resting areas. The winners nestled near two toilets, one on the starboard, and the other on the port side of the bow. All but the Pinochle players remained wet throughout the trip. If the drizzle did not keep one wet, the sea spray did.

The great Pinochle Game began as soon as we reached deeper water. Four of us chose partners, ducked under the truck tarp and began the game which was to last three days. We preferred the outdoors and bright lights but the weather, sea spray and vomit kept the game under the tarp.

On the evening of June 5, 1944, a meeting was called. The few able to attend, gathered around to hear of the postponement of the invasion. Word was passed on to the sick men and eventually a rumor was spread about. Some color appeared to return to the faces of the sick when the word of a return to England reached their ears. In short order, the paleness returned along with the sea sickness, regardless of the good news, The Pinocle game continued.

One more crummy day passed into night and the sea was as rough as ever. Another meeting was called during the early morning hours. Again, those able to attend gathered around. This time the word was "Go". The Invasion was on for this day, June 6, 1944. All at this meeting were briefed as to the enemy strength, our landing spearhead force and the beachhead assigned. We were directed to pass this information on to the others when possible. There would be no return to England. The spearhead infantry was ours and we would land on their backs on H Hour. Back to the game for the Pinochle players.

Daylight was now approaching and the volume of planes flying overhead was noticed. Bombs were landing on the beach, in hopes of destroying enemy guns emplacements. The Navy guns joined in pelting the same area. We stopped the Pinochle game to watch the rocket-carrying craft speed in front of us. A few hundred yards off our port side, the rockets were unleashed. We looked on as the tiny lights of the fired rockets created a Coney Island fireworks scenario. Our attention was diverted by a large boom to our left flank and not more than 50 feet to our center. The boom was followed by a huge puff of smoke. B Battery was leading the Battalion Artillery toward the landing site on Normandy. It struck a mine in the water and was gone. We could see very little debris and a few bodies as we rode by. All on our landing craft tanks were up and looking at what was left of B Battery personnel, the landing craft and the equipment. Sea sickness was replaced with horror and fear. We were introduced to our first combat exposure. We focused on the enemy artillery rippling along our landing zone and thought about the losses to be added to that of B Battery.

Not a sound was to be heard on this craft until we landed. We became seasoned veterans before one round was fired in support of our Infantry. The Pinochle game was over.

Note: Peter N. Russo was born in Brooklyn, New York. He was a member of C Battery, 29th FA, at the time of this story. Later, when B Battery was reformed, he was transfered into the new B Battery, as their Chief of the #1 Gun Crew!

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