This Coastie crossed the English Channel 10 times on D-Day

Gordon Lease was 17-years-old and living in California when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. The next day Lease was queued up to join the Navy, but the line was so long, the recruiters told him he wouldn’t be able to join that day. Lease joined the Coast Guard instead. But he ended up with the Navy . . . in an unexpected way.

Lease, now 92, told SDPB how he ended up as an amphibious sailor on Navy Landing Ship Tanks (LST), designed to land men and material on beaches.

“The Navy found out we were good in small boats,” Gordon said. “And they needed amphibious sailors … that’s where we went.”

After a few years of guarding the West Coast against another Japanese attack and conducting search and rescue operations, the Navy exercised its authority to appropriate Coast Guard assets. In 1943, Gordon learned LST operations, driving the boats onto the shores of Maryland.

Gordon Lease enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard after Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941. (Courtesy Gordon Lease)

Gordon Lease enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard after Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941. (Courtesy Gordon Lease)

Soldiers, sailors, and Coast Guardsmen trained for amphibious operations in the Chesapeake Bay and then boarded troop convoys bound for Europe and elsewhere. In Britain, Navy and Coast Guard personnel continued training to land men on beaches. LSTs like Lease’s were specially trained to land at certain places at certain times.

It wasn’t long before he was in the fight. Lease trained in February, and, by July 1943, he would land men and tanks on Sicily. He also piloted an LST during the landings at Salerno, Anzio, and Normandy.

A photo by CPHOM Robert F. Sargent, USCG. A Coast Guard-manned LCVP from the U.S.S. Samuel Chase disembarks troops on the morning of 6 June 1944 at Omaha Beach.

A photo by CPHOM Robert F. Sargent, USCG. A Coast Guard-manned LCVP from the U.S.S. Samuel Chase disembarks troops on the morning of 6 June 1944 at Omaha Beach. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

Operation Neptune, the naval assault portion of Overlord, remains the largest single combat operation in Coast Guard history. It was more than just landing on the beaches; the Coast Guard managed boat handling, loading and discharging cargo at sea and ashore,  and directing vessel traffic. These landing craft carried up to 30 men and were also charged with taking the dead and wounded off the beaches under fire.

A Sherman Tank makes its way ashore during the invasion of Salerno, Italy - September, 1943. Gordon Lease describes this assault as worse than what was experienced at Normandy on D-Day. (Courtesy Gordon Lease)

A Sherman Tank makes its way ashore during the invasion of Salerno, Italy in September 1943. Gordon Lease describes this assault as worse than what he experienced at Normandy on D-Day. (Courtesy Gordon Lease)

“It doesn’t do you any good to be scared,” Gordon said. “I’m serious about that. If you want to do your job, forget getting hurt, forget being scared, forget about that aircraft, forget about the guy shooting at you. Just do your job.”

At Normandy, the Coast Guard ran a rescue flotilla, suggested by President Roosevelt himself. Coast Guard Vice Adm. Russell R. Waesche collected dozens of landing craft, small boats, and patrol ships to do the job. Sixty 83-foot USCG cutters made up “Rescue Flotilla One.” This flotilla saved more than 400 men on D-Day and more than a thousand more by the end of 1944.

 Coast Guard Flotilla 10 tied up in the background along with British landing craft, prepare to sail the English Channel and invade Nazi-occupied France. These landing craft landed U.S. troops on Omaha Beach.


Coast Guard Flotilla 10 tied up in the background along with British landing craft, prepare to sail the English Channel and invade Nazi-occupied France. These landing craft landed U.S. troops on Omaha Beach. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

Lease took his LST to the beaches of France 10 times throughout D-Day, trips that included picking up wounded men for treatment in England. For his efforts, he received the Coast Guard Commendation Medal and the French Legion of Honor.

The Coast Guard helped to develop the Mulberry; the artificial harbors used to offload cargo in recently captured ports. Coast Guard Cmdr. Quentin R. Walsh also helped plan the occupation of Cherbourg, assessing the condition of the ports there and accepting the surrender of a German-held fortress.

More Coast Guard ships were lost in the days following D-Day than any time in its history. Four landing craft were destroyed on the beaches while another 85 sank offshore. Their losses were not in vain, however. The wrecks of the Coast Guard vessels served as navigation markers, guiding other incoming ships and landing craft. The Coast Guard also lost 15 among the ranks during the invasion. Six of them are buried at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial.

“I was operating a landing craft. And someone kept count,” Lease recalled. “I brought a-hundred-and-ten people off the beach at Normandy back to our ship to evacuate them to England for treatment.”

Gordon Lease left the Coast Guard after the war and enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve, where he would remain until 1951. Now 92 years old, Lease still fits into the Coast Guard uniform he wore on LST-381 on D-Day.

TOP ARTICLES
That time when the USS Missouri gave full honors to a kamikaze pilot

Kamikaze pilots commonly struck fear in the hearts of allied troops with their choreographed nose-dives right into U.S. ships during World War II.

This is how the Israelis planned to kill Saddam Hussein

Saddam wasn't crazy for using all those body doubles. People were really trying to kill him. Israel never forgot his Gulf War Scud missile attacks.

The 13 funniest memes for the week of Nov. 17

Justice League comes out this weekend but you don't care. You've been waiting for your Justice League enlistment to end for years. These memes are for you.

This is what you need to know about Mark Esper, the new Army Secretary

The new Army Secretary is a retired officer whose service includes active duty in the Gulf War, as well as time in the reserves and the National Guard.

The Army tested its first damage sensors on these helicopters

For the first time ever, a team of researchers successfully developed and tested networked acoustic emission sensors that can detect airframe damage.

The American caught crossing the DMZ wanted to be a negotiator

The 58 year-old US citizen who attempted to cross the border between North and South Korea wanted to help Pyongyang and Washington negotiate.

This is how the 'largest defense bill in history' pushes troops to stay in uniform

The House passed a nearly $700 billion bipartisan defense bill on Nov. 14, boosting what some politicians have called a depleted US military.

6 reasons why Marines hate on the Air Force

The military community houses a massive rivalry, and we hate on each other for various reasons, but at the end of the day — we're still on the same side.

Navy recruits now test their fitness before shipping out

On Nov. 15, the service announced it is creating an initial fitness test for prospective sailors on their first day of boot camp at Great Lakes, Ill.

Now US-backed forces in Syria are on the hunt for ISIS fighters

The U.S.-led coalition to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria supports Syrian Democratic Forces as they pressure ISIS out of former strongholds.