Coal Twp. Navy veteran remembers beaches of Normandy
COAL TOWNSHIP - World War II veteran Robert Spotts vividly recalls the moment he thought his life was over.
It was 70-years ago, just prior to the Invasion of Normandy, France, when Spotts felt the full force of a German depth charge. The explosive device, meant to destroy an Allied submarine, caused his 328-foot-long cargo ship to rise out of the water off the coast of Southhampton, England. The ship was undamaged, but the 90-year-old Trevorton Road man recalls it was enough for him to wish he was home.
Had the spirit
Spotts, born and raised in Tharptown, graduated form Coal Township High School in 1942. A year later, he was drafted into the U.S. Army, but upon arriving in Harrisburg to enter service for his country, he was asked to voluntarily join the U.S. Navy. He agreed.
"I had a very strong interest in joining the armed services. I had the spirit to be in it," Spotts said. "In fact, in that day, any of us that couldn't go would be very disappointed. I would have been a disappointed young man if I couldn't have gotten over there (to Europe)."
Spotts graduated in November 1943 from electrical school at the U.S. Naval Training Station in Sampson, N.Y. He was promoted to second class electrician. He was assigned to the engine room of the USS LST-137, a LST-1 class tank landing ship that had a cargo capacity between 1,600 and 1,900 tons. The LST hauled tanks, vehicles and servicemen to support the Allied invasion of Europe.
It was laid down Oct. 23, 1943, at American Bridge Co., in Ambridge, Pa. With Spotts aboard, the LST-137 was ferried down the Mississippi River to New Orleans, La., where it was commissioned Jan. 26, 1944. The LST then traveled to Nova Scotia, Canada, where it joined a convoy of ships preparing to head toward Southhampton.
"On Good Friday morning, we left Nova Scotia for England. On Easter morning, five ships were lost to torpedoes," Spotts said. "The first night at Southhampton, we had an air raid. As I later learned, they weren't even interested in our ship. They were interested in hitting oil ships. They were our best defense."
Spotts said the crew would often see mines - several feet in diameter - floating in the water, and American ships on fire after hitting one.
On June 5, 1944, the day before D-Day, the LST-137 and several other ships traveled the Straits of Dover, the narrowest part of the English Channel, in an attempt to deceive the Axis powers, Spotts said. At 8 a.m., June 6, the LST-137, carrying troops, was involved in the fourth wave of the invasion. It landed on Juno Beach, one of five beaches that served as entry points for the Allied forces.
"Stationed in the engine room, I had a ring-side seat to what was going on," Spotts said. "I never shot a gun."
That's not to say Spotts did not witness the tragedy of war. He volunteered to unload the ship's cargo after landing sites were secure.
"The dead were all laying there - German dead as well as American." Spotts said of Juno Beach. "The second day, I landed on Omaha Beach, and that was worse than Juno."
The LST would make 56 trips in 52 weeks between England and France. On the last few trips, the ship's cargo included food for residents of bombed-out cities, Spotts said.
After completing its mission, the LST docked in New Jersey. It was decommissioned Nov. 20, 1945.
Spotts was assigned to a decommission detail and promoted to first class electrician on board the USS Salerno Bay (CVE-110), a 557-foot cargo ship and aircraft ferry. He was honorably discharged in spring 1946.
In 1948, he married the late Phyllis Kerstetter, of West Cameron Township. They lived in an apartment along Trevorton Road until they purchased a nearby home in 1950. They had five children.
After loosing his wife to cancer, he met Angela Fuhr, a widow with six children, at a Bible camp seminar, where he was a speaker.
Fuhr, born in 1941 in Cologne, Germany, was three when D-Day occurred. Fuhr's father, Alfred, was killed in action when he froze to death after supplies intended for troops were cut off.
Spotts and Fuhr married in 1995. They have 30 grandchildren and several great-grandchildren. The couple said they have a "storybook relationship."
Spotts said he's here today by the grace of God.
"It was only God's grace that got me in the Navy. That was the right time to get in the worst of it in the Army," Spotts said. "It's God's grace that I am here today. Since returning home, I have lived for the Father Lord."