The Leon’s beach party first boarded ship while she was anchored at the Norfolk Naval Yard. The date was March 9, 1944.
The picture below is the only one that I have seen of the entire beach party. This picture was provided by my newfound friend, Mr. Printy Arthur. Printy was a crewman who is alive and well today, living in Sylvania OH. He is one of those youngsters in the third row, a corpsman who would serve in five amphibious assaults as part of Dr. William Lusk’s first aid station on the beach.
(Note: If you recognize any of the men in this picture, we would like to hear from you!)
Three months later, the crew of the Leon had finished preparations for her first amphibious assault: Saipan. The beach party had participated in all practice landings conducted with Fourth Marine Division. At 0850 on June 15, 1944, they landed on Blue Beach 2 with the first wave and—like everyone else—dug a fox hole to survive the murderous artillery and mortar fire landing on the beaches.
We don’t know much about the beach team’s experiences on D Day at this assault. Mostly the men who were there didn’t talk about it much. However, the family of Dr. Lusk shared with us several photographs of him on Blue Beach 2. In the picture below, this small town doctor from Central Illinois seems to have resigned himself to his time in hell, writing across the top: SOME FUN.
In the second picture we see him standing amidst a group of marines in the shade on the beach. Don’t we wish we knew what was happening that day!
While the beach party had its hands full on land, the Leon was being transformed to a hospital ship. We pick up the story from All Came Home:
“As she anchored in the transport area on D + 1 day and began lowering her boats, the crew soon learned that the Japs had attacked in force throughout the night on the beaches. Boats arrived immediately and throughout the day carrying approximately 200 casualties from the beach and from other ships. They came so rapidly and in such numbers that it was impossible to keep records or do anything but treat the most seriously wounded.
The Leon’s Dental Officer did an excellent job supervising the receiving ward set up in the troop officers’ mess. Ambulatory patients were directed to and treated at the forward battle dressing station. Wards for the serious patients were set up in the chief petty officers’ quarters and in the troop officers’ quarters. The ship’s four doctors labored around the clock, perspiring endlessly, wearing only their shorts, conducting surgery on the dinner tables in the troop officers’ wardrooms.”
D + 2 Day
“The Leon’s hands were happy to receive the ship’s beach party back aboard at 1400 on D plus 2 day. The beach crew had been pinned down by mortar fire and sniper fire on the beach since D-Day. After a minimal rest, the beach party doctor and eight corpsmen turned to, making it possible to run two operating rooms simultaneously.
LST (landing ship tank) 275 pulled alongside at 1222 with more casualties, and the medical team fell further behind.”
Six of the wounded aboard ship died from their wounds. But the Leon’s doctors and corpsmen stayed up day and night, and the remaining 300 survived.
The Lusk Family Collection
All Came Home