Donald Englar recalls experience of landing a Higgins boat on D-Day.
Family of Donald Englar Donald Englar Age: 88 Residing: Blacksburg, Va. Branch: Navy Rank: Petty officer 3rd class Donald Englar saw his best friend cut in half by an artillery shell as he stood beside him on a landing craft. Seaman 1st Class Robert DeLuca, a gunner, was blown into the water, lost forever. Englar was 18 years old, a coxswain who operated a 36-foot Higgins boat delivering troops in the first assault. Some of the men Englar was transporting were killed by German gunfire while in the boat. Others died on their way down the landing ramp, and still others in the pounding surf. Of the 33 men in the boat, Englar said, only six survived that first landing. "I saw so many terrible, terrible things that day," he said. Englar made five landings that day, ferrying soldiers from a troop ship 12 miles off the beach. Of the 22 Higgins boats launched from the ship, he said, only 10 survived. He remembers joking to the men that he'd try to deliver them close enough to the beach so they wouldn't get their boots wet. But sometimes he hit sandbars and the soldiers went into water over their heads. Sometimes he got them to knee-deep surf. And sometimes, he had to maneuver the 10-foot-wide boat around burning Higgins boats and bodies of soldiers. On his fifth return trip, loaded with at least a dozen wounded men, Englar's boat took a direct hit, probably from an artillery shell. Englar's ramp man was badly wounded and Englar knocked unconscious, left bleeding from shrapnel and burned on his face and hands. "A big crack and a flash is all I remember," he said. He said he regained consciousness in time to take control of the damaged boat and make his way to a troop ship. For decades afterward, Englar never spoke of D-day. "I didn't want to even think about, much less talk about it," he said. But it came back to him in dreams. But about a decade ago, Englar learned that a French family had recovered part of DeLuca's remains on a Normandy beach about two weeks after D-day. The remains were buried at the Normandy American Cemetery. Englar later visited Normandy, found the grave site and said goodbye to his friend.