This article appeared in the Gainesville Daily Register on Sunday, February 10, 2008.  It is used with permission of the writer.

Norman L. Newton

D-Day memories still whisper to Woodbine man

By DELANIA TRIGG, Register Staff Writer                dtrigg@ntin.net

WOODBINE — For 40 years, Mugg Pawless didn’t talk about the day he was wounded on Omaho Beach during the Allied invasion known as D-Day.

He is in his 80s now and said reliving the experience of that day in 1944 is still not easy.

“I kind of lost track of time when I was out there,” he said.

He isn’t clear on some things. Others he remembers too well.

His wife, Hattie said it wasn’t until Mugg was asked to make an audio tape of his World War II experience for one of his daughter’s elementary classes that he finally opened up about his time as a soldier during the European campaign of the war.

“I don’t know how any of them got through it,” Hattie said of the
June 6, 1944 beach landing in Normandy, France.

Those who were not there will never understand it and those who were would not wish such memories on anyone, they say.

“You can ask me about it and I’ll tell you what I can,” Pawless said simply. “I’ve done a few interviews like this.”

Mugg Pawless grew up in
Cooke County and joined the Army because he wanted to. He was not drafted.

His four older brothers had already entered the service and Mugg — because he was under 21 — was compelled to get his parents’ signatures so he could enlist.

He didn’t go in right away. Recruiters held him back and sent him in with a group of draftees, he said.

The delay gave one draftee a chance to stay out of harm’s way for a little longer, he explained.

A buddy from
Cooke County signed up at the same time. The pair believed they might be able to serve together and take care of one another — a youthful, innocent notion that makes Pawless smile today.

“Of course, it didn’t work out that way,” he said.

He went one way. His friend was sent another.

From
Gainesville, Pawless went to Mineral Wells and then to Camp Swift, about 60 miles east of Austin, for basic training.

Then he was sent to Camp Miles Standish in
Massachusetts where he spent five or six days before heading for England. The men traveled by ship, he said.

“I’d never been out of
Texas. Really hadn’t been out of Cooke County,” he said, “except for a time I was working in Houston.”

Pawless said he remembers waking up in
England.

“We docked during the night and everybody was asleep and when we woke up in the morning there was a band playing and people everywhere. It took nearly all day to get us and our stuff off the ship,” he recalled.

After they arrived on land, the men walked three miles in a steady rain to trucks which took them to a tent city camp.

There the soldiers spent several days hauling big flat rocks and making pathways in the muddy earth.

Soon they were sent away again. This time to Barnestaple,
Devon, England.

The soldiers were there for approximately nine months training. In their leisure hours they could sometimes obtain passes to go into Barnestaple.

It was a good place to relax and blow off steam, Pawless said.

During working hours, the men built a concrete attack training center made up of a “pill box” or a large cement structure which usually contained a machine gun.

“Every unit that took part in the invasion of
France had to go through it,” he said.

Pawless said his unit was assigned the task of building and rebuilding the center as various groups of soldiers passed through it.

The rebuilding process took about two weeks, he said.

“This was right before the D-Day Invasion, but we didn’t know the part we would play,” he said.

Not all his memories are bad, he said. For instance, Pawless recalls K-rations.

Developed by
Minnesota physiologist Dr. Ancel Keys, K-rations were light-weight, non-perishable, ready-to-eat meals designed to fulfill just one requirement: the need for food.

“They (individual food packages) were the size of a silver dollar in diameter and about an inch to an inch and half thick,” he said.

Breakfast would consist of scrambled eggs and bacon.

Lunch was typically a package of four crackers wrapped in brown waxed paper, some cheese, and a very small chocolate bar.

“The bar was as hard as this table,” Pawless said tapping his coffee table. “It was so hard you had to suck on it like candy.”

Sometimes the K-ration contained a little can of soup.

“The soup can had a little fuse to light so you could heat the soup,” he said. “But we didn’t see those very often.”

Another thing the ration packages contained was cigarettes.

“There was a little box of four cigarettes...They even added some matches to be sure you had a light,” he said, smiling.

While they waited and trained — still unaware of the impending invasion, Pawless said the men grew suspicious.

“In May we figured out what “attack training center” meant and we began to smell a rat,” he said.

“About May 20 (1944) our labor stopped. There were no more pill boxes to build.” he said.

The days took on a predictable pattern.

“Every morning we’d have our formation, eat and have another formation,” he said.

Members of the group began to be called out to pack up and leave the camp. No one offered an explanation.

“After a while there were 8 to 10 guys left. About four or five others out of my squad were still together,” he said.

Two combat engineers arrived from the second infantry division.

“We were told to take demolition training for about two weeks. We got suspicious. They would come up to you and say, ‘We’re gonna blow up some obstacles.’ But they would load us into landing craft and ask us to blow up the obstacles,” he said.

The men faced a row of obstacles about 50 feet long. Their job was to disembark from a landing craft and destroy the wooden anti-boat devices with explosives.

Each day, officers timed the men. Each day, the men completed the task faster. They got good at it.

“After a while, by the time that ramp was down we were already out of that boat,” he said.

The men were called Boat Team 10. Pawless said, at the time, they didn’t know why the name and number had been assigned to them. Later, the reason would be clear when the men realized those who had left the camp had also joined boat teams, many with Navy sailors assigned to their ranks.

The sailors, Pawless said, were usually experts in underwater tactics such as aquatic demolition and would be helpful during the invasion.

Around May 31, officials at the camp announced there would be no more passes to local towns.

“We were put on full alert,” he said.

The soldiers were called out to another camp made up of acres and acres of tents.

“Beside the tent there’d be a pit about three to four foot deep,” Pawless said, adding that the pits were built to protect the men during German bombing raids.

Pawless said the soldiers spent about five days at the tent camp. Twice a day, officers showed them photos of France’s Omaha Beach taken by 8th Air Force reconnaissance planes sent over each morning and again each evening. The men got a view of the eastern portion of the beach in the morning and the western portion in the afternoon. They beach and its landmarks began to look familiar.

When they received the orders for the invasion they were told they would land on the beach at
6:32 a.m.

Pawless said
June 6, 1944 began about 2:30 a.m. when the men awakened and began to prepare for the landing at Normandy.

On the boat ride, he said he and the others felt intense emotions, most were seasick.

“Of course, there were some who cut up a little bit. You’ve gotta have something to relieve the tension. I remember feeling excited. I felt a little bit honored and proud. And I had a lot of fear, of course,” he said.

Pawless would be tested almost from the moment he touched the water.

“We had a problem getting off the landing craft,” he explained. “We landed right in front of a bomb crater and the water was over our head. We couldn’t walk out, the water was so deep,” he said.

Each man had a pack containing his belongings, a satchel of explosives strapped to his chest and a rifle.

Pawless said he got out of the landing craft and fell into deep, suffocating water. Drowning under the weight of his equipment, he said managed to wriggle out of his gear.

He fought to keep his head above the water and ended up surfacing again near another man.

“He saw the top of my helmet and grabbed the bottom and pulled me up,” he said.

Charged with taking out a series of obstacles on the shore, Pawless said most of the men were already exhausted and nauseous before they reached land.

They faced a violent crossfire of German artillery on the beach.

Pawless said he was wounded in the leg around
noon that day.

An officer found him and gave him his own sulfur tabs because Pawless lost his first aid kit in his struggle to get out of the water near the landing craft.

About a half hour later the officer who helped him was killed, he said.

Pawless was evacuated to another landing craft and then to a ship.

Once on the ship, he said he fell into a deep sleep.

“I was exhausted. I guess you could say I was worn to a frazzle. I laid down and passed out,” he said.

When he awakened he said he was in a tent hospital in
England where he recovered for about three days.

He remembers looking up and thinking he had awakened in a circus tent.

Doctors decided against surgery for the shrapnel in his leg. It’s still there and doesn’t cause him any discomfort, he said.

After a few more weeks of rest, he was sent back to his unit.

He was wounded a second time during a battle in
Germany.

When he was struck, Pawless said he pulled some of the metal pieces out of the back of his boot. He didn’t realize shrapnel was embedded in his heel.

He said he didn’t even know he had been hurt until he pulled off his boot about two days later and saw dried blood on his sock.

“I went to the dispensary and the doctor found out I had an infection,” he said.

The doctor treated the infection, but Pawless said his foot continued to swell until another doctor at another hospital ordered an x-ray and discovered the metal in his heel.

Surgery took care of the wound and Pawless said he participated in several more campaigns before eventually being sent home.

He was awarded a single Purple Heart although he was twice wounded in battle.

The second injury was diagnosed as an infection, Hattie said although it was actually caused by enemy fire.

Today he lives in a two-story log cabin on
Pawless Lane with his wife.

The couple built the home themselves on land they purchased in 1975.

Both retired from the
Gainesville State School. Mugg worked in the maintenance department while Hattie was in the accounting offices.

D-day was 63 years ago and memories of that summer morning are still his contant companions. Now and then, they whisper to him.

If asked how he feels about D-Day now, Pawless is thoughtful.

“Do I think about it every day? Of course I do,” he said. “Something like that effects people differently. Some have a harder time (adjusting) than others. But I got through it. I’ve had a good life.”