27 January 1945
Lt. Col. Harold A. Cassell
116th Infantry, APO 29
U. S. Army
You were asking me about what I knew concerning Major Sours' death on D-Day, since he and I both came in that day in the same landing craft. I remember what went on pretty clearly, and this is the way it was:
Early on the morning of D-Day, after breakfast, Big John and I - he had the bunk next to mine in the same stateroom - got our things together, and he finished sticking some more camouflage material in the netting of his helmet. We also helped each other make some final adjustments in our web equipment, so that all the stuff we had hanging on us would be as comfortable as we could make it. Then we went down to Colonel Canham's stateroom, where we were to wait until time to go over into the small landing craft. When the time came we climbed down over the side of the ship and down the net, which was not any too easy that morning due to the roughness of the sea and the load on our backs. Looking down from the deck of the ship that little LCVP seemed a long way down (and it was, too), and with everybody standing on the same side of the little boat it was leaning 'way over to one side, the lower end of the net hanging into the high side when the boat bounced just right and dangling over nothing between times. The sea was slamming the little boat around like a stick of wood and kept throwing up against the side of the APA. However, all twenty-six of us made it all right, and then we moved away from the big ship, circled around a little, and headed for the shore, which we could see only as a hazy, thin line in the distance.
By the time we were about a third the way in we were all soaking wet clear through from water splashing in great quantities over the bow and sides of the boat. No one I saw became seasick, but later I heard several of them say - and I felt the same way myself - that their throats became very dry, so much so they could hardly swallow. This was due partly to the drying effect of the seasick prevention capsules we'd taken for several hours prior to debarkation, but more, I think, to the excitement of the situation than to anything else. I don't think that fear had anything to do with it, because at that early hour none of us had had time to become afraid. We were doing the very thing that we, as a chosen group, had trained so long to do, and we were both fascinated and eagerly excited about it - although of course we realized that any number of things might happen to us, and knew too that some things we'd never dreamed of might very well be waiting for us on the beach. Major Sours was standing in the boat just to my right rear, and I was on the left side of the boat, second from the ramp at the front end. When we got almost in, where we thought it would be well to duck down from possible machine gun fire, we all squatted down in the boat's bottom. In a tossing small craft with a wet, slippery floor during it's no mean accomplishment to do this and keep one's balance - and many of us did fall over more than once. I remember Major Sours, two corporals (Rosen and Namie ) and myself trying to disentangle ourselves from a sprawled knot on the floor during the excitement of a couple of minutes - which seemed like almost a half-hour instead - when the boat became stuck against the side of a beach obstacle in the form of a large pole (the size of a telegraph pole) sticking up from the ocean's floor and carrying a Teller mine fastened loosely on it's top. Here we were, with about eighty feet of water between us and the beach-sand, bouncing up and down, scraping against the side of a pole so that as t he boat went up with each incoming wave it slid up the side of the pole toward the mine, and then - after bigger wave had come in - a perfectly good possibility - we'd have hit the mine, and the reasonable expectation is that that would've been the end of the whole business for our LCVP. Because of a high spot on the bottom of the sea the Navy couldn't get the boat back off the pole, so several of the men began yelling for the ramp to be let down right there. All this time we were under fire from the beach and high ground over-looking it (artillery, mortar and small-arms fire), so finally the boat crew did decide to lower the ramp where we were. The moment it dropped the whole boat-load of men surged out into the water at once - just at H/60 minutes, exactly as scheduled. As many times as I had done this landing business in practice I still lost my balance in running off the side of the ramp and fell forward into about two feet of water on my hands and knees. But I got up immediately and went on toward the shore. The further I went the deeper the water got, till finally my feet left the bottom. In addition to our inflated life-belts we all wore on our backs gas-masks in rubber carriers, which acted as auxiliary life-preservers, so there was no trouble at all keeping afloat. Across the deep stretch - about forty feet, I'd guess - I paddled along with a small piece of board I picked up from the floating debris. While doing this paddling - which worked pretty well - I looked over to my right and saw Big John coming right along too. When I got up onto the sand, where there were a lot of spider-like obstacles made of about eight-foot lengths of railroad rails crossed on each other at their centers, I flattened out on the sand behind one of them to catch my breath a little and saw Major Sours behind another off to my right a short distance. He saw me looking, and grinning back he called over, "How're you doing, Doc?" I replied that I was doing all right and asked how he was making out, to which he answered that he was doing all right too.
We could see where machine gun bullets were peppering the water all around us, but particularly ahead, all the time we were coming in, and after we'd rested on the sand for not more than a minute or two there was an extra-heavy spattering of them in the water in a runnel just in front of us. This runnel was a narrow strip of water between the sand-bar we were on and the beach proper and was probably twenty feet wide where we were, and it proved to be a little less than two feet deep when we ran through it. Just as this burst of machine gun fire seemed to die down I jumped up and ran across the sand, through the runnel, and up the rocky beach to a little ledge about three feet (or less) high, where a roadway running right along the beach was built up. I think Major Sours was almost immediately behind me - I'm not sure - as he started getting up at the same time I did. Everybody ran in individually and got there the best way he could, so when I reached the little ledge I spoke of it was hard to tell whether everybody was in or not, as we were pretty well separated. As it happened, I ran up to where Major Jackson was, and just as he was asking if I'd seen Tom Howie up he (Major Howie) ran, all hunched over, and sat down to do as we were doing, loosening our web-equipment and other gear so we could get around better.
While the three of us were catching our breath there we saw two men who seemed to need help out in the water, so with an enlisted man who was sitting next to me I ran back out to them. The enlisted man (whom I didn't know) began helping one of them - a soldier with a wounded leg - and I went over to the other one, who was lying face down in the water about the middle of the runnel. I could tell from his uniform that he was one of our officers, and when I lifted him partly up I saw it was Major Sours. He was already dead when I found him, and although due to the heavy fire on the beach it was no place for any unduly extended examination, I did make absolutely sure that he wasn't either drowned or partially drowned and that there was nothing at all that could be done for him. As best I could tell he'd been killed by a machine gun bullet wound of the head, although at the time I did not actually see the wound. I feel sure, however, that that was what had happened, and this is the reason: A few minutes later, as I was helping the enlisted man I've already mentioned with the wounded man he was trying to get into a better place on the beach, I picked up what I took to be the wounded man's helmet from where it was floating upside down in the water and put it on his head. Then we saw that it had two bullet-holes in it, one where the bullet had entered on one side and the other where it had made its exit on the other side. We took the helmet off again, looked at the man's head and found that he had no head-wound. Then, on re-examining the helmet, we saw it belonged to Major Sours and had floated down from where he had fallen in the runnel about fifteen feet away to where we were working on this man. At that very moment fire on that stretch of the beach suddenly became very intense - so much so that it was impossible to investigate further as to what had happened, but there is no doubt in my own mind as to what caused Major Sours' death.
In a very short while his body had been gotten up onto a place high up on the beach, and while I myself didn't do this I did make it a point to check and see that it had been done before I left the beach for good. His body was carried later on that same day up off the beach proper onto higher ground beside the roadway and was covered, along with many others, with heavy sheeting material brought along for that purpose by the personnel whose duty it was to care for those of us who were killed.
I believe you said something about a diary of Big John's that Mrs. Sours had asked about. I have never seen it and don't know where it could be. Since joining the regiment back in April of 1943 I'd gotten to know Major Sours pretty well, but I've never heard him speak of a diary nor did I know he kept one. I wish I could help. Since I know you're going to turn this narrative over to Mrs. Sours I'd like to add something else here, if I may, and it's this: I just wanted her to know that I share the opinion of all the others in the Regiment who knew Major Sours that he was a fine man - a very fine man, who both deserved and received the respect and admiration of us all.
Major Robert Buckley, Medical Corps,
Surgeon, 116th Infantry.
Back to the WWII Memorabilia Page
Pictures of Major Robert Buckley