By Land & Sea
Greenwood Veteran Covers Vast Stretches during World War II
By Ronald P. May
The battlegrounds of World War II encompassed vast stretches of real estate across parts of three continents. Walter Dreyfus knows that all too well. The Greenwood veteran served both on land and at sea along two of those continents.
Dreyfus joined the Navy in June 1942 and became a radio technician. Following his schooling, he was shipped off to North Africa where he was assigned to the USS Samuel Chase, a Coast Guard Assault Transport that had been converted into the headquarters ship for Admiral John Hall. The ship, which had a crew of 400 and could transport 1,200 troops, was used in practice beach landings in North Africa as American, French and Algerian forces trained for the coming invasion of Sicily and Italy.
The Allied invasion of Sicily began in July 1943. Dreyfus’ ship spent several days floating two miles from the beach as the troops departed in waves for the landing. “You feel like you are a sitting duck out there,” exclaimed Dreyfus, referring to his ship coming under frequent air attacks by the Germans night and day.
By November, Dreyfus was in England installing radio equipment on minesweepers, LVTs (Landing Vehicle Tracked) and LSTs (Landing Ship, Tank). As D-Day approached, he frantically went from ship to ship, changing out the radio crystals (which controlled the frequencies) so that German forces would not be able to intercept radio communications.
Two weeks after D-Day, he was at Omaha Beach, tasked with gathering the dead that were still floating in the water and strewn along the beach. “We would retrieve the bodies, take the dog tags off and then put a weight around them in a canvas bag and bury them at sea,” he recalled sadly.
Dreyfus began his land excursions on July 19 as he linked up with an Army unit in Cherbourg, France. His unit of radio technicians went to abandoned German fortifications to recover and repair German radios that had been left behind.
A month later, he had a narrow escape with death as the Germans ambushed his reconnaissance party. The convoy had unknowingly proceeded ahead of the Allied Army and found itself in a pocket of German forces, outnumbered 50 to 500. “It was a very scary situation,” Dreyfus remembered. “I hugged the ground as closely as I could!” It took several hours for an Army unit to find and rescue them.
Dreyfus rose to the ranks of a Chief Petty Officer before getting his discharge in 1946. Five years later, he was recalled to active duty during the Korean Conflict. This time, he didn’t have to go overseas. He spent 16 months at Naval Air Station Glenview near Chicago helping to train Navy Officers in the use of radio equipment.
In his civilian life, Dreyfus was a sales representative for a book publishing business in Chicago and later worked in the insurance industry, retiring in 1993.
His wife, Catherine, died this past August. They enjoyed 67 years of marriage and were blessed with raising two sons and welcoming two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren to their family.
Ronald P. May, USN (Ret.) is founder of “Your Life-Your Story.” He helps veterans share and preserve the stories of their military service. For more information or to tell your story, contact May at 317-435-7636 or by email at YourLifeStory@live.com.