By Allan M. Morrison

Stars and Stripes Staff Writer

WITH U.S. FORCES IN NORMANDY, July 17, 1944—The War Department may not classify dump-truck drivers as combat soldiers, but the story of one Black Engineer Dump Truck company which landed with the first U.S. troops in France—combat engineers—reads like that of an infantry outfit.

This unit had to precede the seaborne infantry in the initial attack, since their job was to carry ashore “TX” bridge equipment to be used by the assault engineers. This load as with so many others what were to follow, was vital to the advance of U.S. infantry. It was landed and delivered in the face of some of the fiercest German small-arms and artillery fire from the bluffs overlooking the beach.

Proud of the Drivers

truck drivers and engineers normandy

US Soldiers in Normandy inspecting ordnance

The combat engineers are proud of these drivers’ work on D-Day. As fast as the underwater mines were removed and brought to shore, dump trucks were there to haul them away. They are credited with hauling all material used by the engineers on D-Day and several days thereafter. This included explosives, mine-detector equipment and Bailey bridges.

1/Sgt. Norman Day, of Danville, Ill., distinguished himself by cool and efficient work on the beach directing traffic. His conduct was noted by a general, who recommended him for a decoration. He was awarded the Silver Star. A few days later he saved the life of a lieutenant colonel when a bomb explosion in the St. Marie du Mont area killed six men.

Once the beaches are cleared and their mission with the engineers completed they were thrown in with infantry units to haul ammunition and other supplies right up to the fighting lines. It was planned to use them as line troops if the going got too critical in any area where they were operating. It has not been necessary thus far to use the unit as a while in actual combat but practically every man has fought the Boche on his own or in little groups.

Patrols of dump-truckmen were frequently seen out after German snipers and combat patrols. Infantry officers reported they were as capable at this type of fighting as they were behind the steering wheels.

German planes strafed the trucks several times on D-Day and later. One of these was shot down by a burst from a truck-mounted 50-cal. Machine gun fired by Sgt. James L. Harris, of Lexington, N.C.

Military Taxi Service

Many a doughboy rode to war in a dump truck driven by a man from this unit. Personnel transported to forward locations included men of the Fourth Infantry and 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions. They worked as a military taxi service for fighting men running all the way to Cherbourg, entered many a town before it was officially captured, and assisted in the evacuation of many wounded and prisoners.

Sgt. William Goodwin, a driver from Abbeville, S.C., remembers taking paratroopers up to the front. They walked into a courtyard and met machine-gun crossfire. Goodwin’s paratrooper companion was hit and died in his arms. Goodwin crawled back to his truck and went back for reinforcements.

Road Ahead Mined

On another combat mission a convoy of dump trucks was halted and the commander informed that the way ahead was heavily mined, as were the shoulders along the route they had come. The convoy had to back out for three miles.

Some Nazis, imbued with the “Master Race” philosophy, balked when told to get into trucks driven by Black Americans. There was a German colonel captured near Bricquebec and about to be transported to the prisoner-of-war cage in a truck driven by Pvt. Andrew Brown, of Columbia, S.C. When he saw Brown he stopped and said he would refuse to be taken away by a Negro driver. With a little persuasion from Brown and MPs, however, the colonel forgot his objections.

It’s against the ARs to carry personnel in a government dump truck, but this is one unit that helped the American Army to drive back the German forces by consistently breaking the rules. Only recently has the unit resumed carrying normal DT cargo.

And because of unorthodox employment of dump trucks to carry Army personnel, troopers of the 82nd Airborne Division dubbed the outfit “The Paradumpers.”

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