West Virginians on D-Day

Coal Valley News
July 5, 2000

Boone native, D-Day veteran remembered in Alabama

By L. E. Keeney
Staff Writer

Heroes are few and far between, but former Boone County resident Pierre "Pete" Gunnoe was, according to all reports, a true representation of one.

Gunnoe, who passed away June 6, was formerly a resident of Bandytown. Gunnoe, who was known as "Dalthin" to childhood friends, recently related his recollections of D- Day.

According to Gunnoe, it was 6:30 a.m. when the 5th Army Ranger Battalion started taking fire from Nazi forces at Omaha Beach.

Gunnoe and his fellow troops went ashore in LCVPs (landing craft, vehicle and personnel) which were made of wood except for the ramps. He remembered the first casualty taken among his group, a ranger who was injured when a piece of shrapnel ripped though the side of the boat and wounded him in the heel. "The captain ordered the wounded man to go back with the small boat after the Rangers debarked," Gunnoe said. Wounded men slowed down the unit, and speed and surprise were the rangers most lethal weapons.

Casualties began to mount as many of the hundreds of landing craft bound for the beach were hit by artillery fire. Those not hit by artillery fire were in danger of destruction from sea mines tied to metal obstacles in the water.

Gunnoe attributed the survival of his team to a very talented coxswain, who is the driver of the landing craft. "We had a coxswain who was the best in the world," Gunnoe said.

The Rangers landed on the Dog Green section of Omaha Beach, which according to historians, was the most heavily fortified section of the beach. The Rangers were tasked with clearing a path through the minefields and destroy the pillboxes for the 116th Regiment of the 29th Division, the main landing force.

The Rangers were supposed to have 3-4 small amphibious tanks arriving with them to knock out the fortified positions, but only one made it, Gunnoe said. Gunnoe turned and saw it rolling out of the sea, and pointed at a machine gun nest which needed to be silenced.

The tank fired but was apparently unable to destroy the machine gun nest. "But we knocked it out with rifles," Gunnoe said.

Gunnoe, with a minor flesh wound counted himself lucky compared to the hundreds of allied troops he saw slaughtered in the most horrible ways that day. "I laid there and watched hundreds of them get knocked off," Gunnoe said.

Gunnoe remembered an incident that slicks in the mind of every Army Ranger that has served since. "We were lying on the rocks, trying to protect ourselves, waiting for the 29th," Gunnoe said. "And here came this brigadier general. He stood over me and asked me what my outfit was."

Gunnoe told the general he was a sargent and this was the 5th Rangers waiting to spearhead for the 29th Division.

"He raised his arm and said, "You SOBs get up and off the beach. Rangers lead the way." This later became the official motto of the U.S. Army Rangers.

Rangers led the attacks on various dangerous positions during the invasion. The 5th Rangers cleaned out a pillbox that was responsible for the lives of many invading troops, while the 2nd Ranger Battalion was scaling the cliffs of Point du Hoc, a 117 foot cliff between Omaha and Utah Beaches to the right of Gunnoe's group. The 2nd Rangers mission was to knock out six 155 mm guns that could endanger the assault.

His Ranger unit paid a heavy price that day. Gunnoe's 10-man section had five men killed or wounded. His company of 65 Rangers had 75-80 percent casualties.

Gunnoe received a second wound, a bullet through the forearm while probing a village to gauge enemy strength. Medics loaded the wounded Gunnoe on a jeep. But the driver accidentally drove the jeep through a mine field, hitting a mine, which shot shrapnel through his shoulder. Gunnoe carried some of that shrapnel in his body for the rest of his life. Gunnoe was shot later in the bicep, and suffered a concussion from friendly fire that landed in front of his position.

That made for a total of five war wounds for the soldier. "I guess God was with me," he later said.

Gunnoe met Rosetta, his wife of 54 years though a mutual friend who had a French class with her in her home town of Hartwell, Ohio.

They exchanged letters, and the friend introduced her to his friend Pierre.

The friend brought Gunnoe home with him on furlough several times, and the couple began to date. Before he was to be shipped overseas, Gunnoe asked Rosetta to marry him, but she refused.

After his return from the war, they later married and moved to Huntsville Alabama when Gunnoe got a job at Redstone Arsenal. Later, he worked for NASA in quality control. Rosetta said his wounds adversely affected his physical and mental health in later life. He underwent psychiatric therapy in later life for a number of years after his discharge. His lungs were burned when he was part of a unit that had to decontaminate a mustard gas storage depot. Gunnoe also suffered from severe heart problems for his final two years.

Gunnoe passed away on June 14, but he will never be forgotten according to his niece, Dianne Adkins. "He was an absolutely amazing man," Adkins said. "Kind, smart and just a good man."

Military and Wartime