Don Foye landed on Utah Beach with the 90th Division. He is the lone survivor of a massacre that took place on Seves Island in late July of 1944. Wally Ansardi is the medic who treated him on Seves Island. They didn't meet again until the 1996 reunion of the 90th Division.
Charlotte, N.C., Sept. 7, 2000
©2000, 2009 Aaron Elson
Aaron Elson: Were you born in Middleboro (Mass.)?
Don Foye: Yes.
Don Foye: Yes I do. My ancestors came over on the Mayflower. They landed in Plymouth and they got as far as Middleboro, which is about 15 miles inland from Plymouth. And whenever Middleboro was formed in the 1600s, they came up and bought Middleboro. There were 12 people that bought Middleboro, what is now the town, and my ancestor was one of them. They came off the boat, Bradford and Sparrow and Leach, and they all intermarried. My mother was a Sparrow. My father was from the Leach family. Its nothing to brag about. It just happened. They never got any farther than Middleboro, most of them.
Aaron Elson: Were you drafted out of high school?
Don Foye: No. I graduated high school when I was 17, and they didnt take you until you were 18. We had to sign up and took all the preliminary stuff in high school. We took the command courses, and then the day I turned 18, I was gone. You had to go. Immediately. Myself and everyone else that age.
When I was 18 I headed for Fort Devens and I ended up in Camp Croft, South Carolina, for basic training, and when that was over they put us on a Liberty ship out of Camp Shanks, New York. The ship broke down, and they were afraid it would be torpedoed. We ended up in Belfast trying to get it fixed. Then from Belfast I went to Glennoch, Scotland, up in the Firth of Clyde. That was the last of 43. The North Atlantic in January of 44 was a nice place. Boy oh boy. Storms, wind. We had 2,500 on this Liberty ship and we had to take turns who could go below deck and who could stay on top.
Theres Wally. Wally Ansardi. Hes the guy that wrapped my head up he found me when I got over near the Seves Island. Hes the medic that came in and put my head back together. We met three or four years ago. I didnt know who he was. He came up and told me who I was. That was quite a thing.
Anyhow, we just trained and trained and trained in England and we moved further south to I think it was Portsmouth. Im vague on all these things. They never told us. Next thing you know, on a rainy, stinking, stormy night we were given our last supper and got on an LST.
Aaron Elson: Did you get seasick?
Don Foye: No. Ive never been seasick in my life, but it was awful. I could swear that LST was going to break in half in the middle, the way it bent. And it was nothing but solid airplanes going overhead, towing gliders and paratroopers. The planes were painted black, and I couldnt understand how they could fly so close in the dark in the wind and the rain and not hit each other they were so thick. During the night they were flying over, letting the paratroopers go. And the gliders. That glider thing was a fiasco.
I landed in France and I didnt know where I was. I climbed up the cliff and I didnt know where I was. When we were in England, some officer stood up front in this tent, it was raining so hard outside, and he said, "Youre going into combat. About 85 percent of you probably wont make it." Now thats a good feeling to leave in.
If thats the case, I dont know, but I probably was in the 15 percent. I never got a mark on me on the beach. I walked in red water up to my waist. Pure red water. And I think the reason I didnt go any deeper, because we were far from the first in there, is that I was walking on other things, people and debris. I dont think I even touched the sand until I got out of the water. I didnt feel it. And it didnt blow up. You figured you were going to hit a mine any minute.
Aaron Elson: Were you scared?
Don Foye: I dont really remember. Probably I was but I dont know. There was nothing that was really bothering me that much. I was too stupid, at 18 years old. Id just turned 18.
Aaron Elson: Were you a private?
Don Foye: Yes.
Aaron Elson: A rifleman?
Don Foye: When I went in I had a rifle. And then all of a sudden they told me I was in a machine gun group. I hated that only because they were heavy, and every time I shot a machine gun off it was very obvious to the enemy and I no more than let the machine gun go and I had everything dropping on me. I didnt like that part.
Then I guess I went back to being a rifleman. I just kept getting moved. When I got home my mother kept all my letters I found in a corner the addresses of the outfits I was in and I didnt know I was in them. Then I finally got in the 357th Infantry Regiment, H Company. And about a week after I landed, on the 12th of June, I was transferred to E Company.
Aaron Elson: How come you switched companies?
Don Foye: I dont know. I didnt even know Id switched them, until they told me I was in another one. It was chaos. From what Ive read, the 90th was decimated to the point they were thinking of abandoning it. There werent enough guys left in it. I guess they shifted people around just to fill up gaps, and I must have been one of them. The next thing I knew I was in E Company. And I stayed there, right until I got shot up so bad I couldnt function. I stayed there all the way through Normandy, all the way till they had the breakout when they started across France and they went 100 miles a day. That was the day that I got shot.
Aaron Elson: What was the hedgerow fighting like?
Don Foye: It was a horror show. Those hedgerows would be anywhere from 50 to 75 to 200 to 300 hundred feet apart. And you cant visualize what a hedgerow is. I understand, again after reading what happened where I was, they were made by the Normans back in the year, for all I know, 1000, like everything else over there, including all the edifices, the churches, they were all 900, 1,000 years old. Theres a saying when you go back there, the Americans have everything temporary, the Europeans have everything permanent. So they dont put a fence up like we do, a barbed wire fence that rots out and then the wood falls down. They put these mounds of dirt. They varied in height, but the dirt itself may be 12 feet, 10 feet high, its kind of hard to tell now. Then in that they planted some kind of vegetation that grew into short trees. But over the last 1,000 years, the tree roots went down the whole 10 or 12 feet, all through that, so that was not a mound of dirt anymore, it was solid roots. You could hit that thing with a Sherman tank and it would bounce. Actually bounce right off of it. You couldnt shoot through it. And every 300 feet there was another one. And what they did, they must have scooped the roads out, they called them sunken roads. Because when I got there, the roads would be lower than the fields on either side of them, and on either side of any road in the whole place was this enormous 12-foot hedgerow, but the 12 feet was dirt. On top of that there might be another 10 feet of growth of whatever it was. Trees, or thorny things you couldnt crawl through. You couldnt see anywhere. It was like going through an archway except there was no actual roof over the top, and you couldnt tell who was sticking their head over at you. They could flop anything they wanted on top of you, and you were looking up at it.
Aaron Elson: You must have seen some real close combat.
Don Foye: Yes, about three feet. Thats close. Continually. You couldnt tell where the other person was. Wed be going up a road and we'd keep quiet and they were just as surprised as we were when we snuck up on them.
You had to keep your wits about you. I was a scout. I was the one that did all the stupid things. Maybe I didnt have brains enough or was too young, I dont know, but I was the one, "Hey, go out and try this, wheres the enemy?"
I go up this road, and when I went through this small, sunken road, Id look, and the only thing they use any wood for every hedgerow surrounded somebodys field; there would be a pasture, youd look in there, thered be cows grazing with bombs landing in the field, and the cow wouldnt even bat an eye unless he got hit, and then hed die, or horses but they would have bars that theyd pull across the break in the hedgerow, maybe it was 15 feet, where they would go in and out of that field. If youre looking at it from the air it looked like a big patchwork quilt, because one field would be planted with one type of grain and another one would be something else, theyre different colors.
I went up this road going into one of the towns. Everything looked normal, and I thought, "There are no Germans here." I went back, and told whoever was running the thing at the time; I dont know what my rank was, I got different ranks every time. Not that I was any good, but everybody got killed around me, so it was a matter of attrition. But I noticed that everything looked normal, so I said okay, it looks like we can take this road.
I went back and got the group, and I took them up the road, and as I started up the street youve got to think all the time I remembered where the bars belonged; now one bar was down. Hmmm. Most of the time you dont think about it, you just keep going.
We found out. The Germans had one of the old chainsaws they called them. Chainsaw, that was nothing but a machine gun that would shoot twice as fast as ours. He had it mounted up in the hedge pointing right down the roadway waiting for us to come up there. But we saw that bar and I told the guys to get out of the way. He was just waiting for us to come up there. So thats an example of how close it could be.
Aaron Elson: How did you eliminate the German?
Don Foye: Well, you just tell someone to ask them to leave. Simple as that.
Aaron Elson: With hand grenades?
Don Foye: Anything. Anything at your disposal. Sometimes they gave up. They were not stupid, they were smart people. And if they saw that it was hopeless theyd quit, just like we would. Theyre not one of these Oriental fanatics, religously gonna die for the emperor. They werent and we werent. But everything you could do within reason, yes, to keep yourself going. They were like us. You had a few fanatics. The SS was a fanatical group. They were brainwashed. We had the same bunch in ours. I was with some of them, they were just as brainwashed, they didnt have the name SS, but they were just the same. I mean, mentally. "Ray, ray, ray, go go go." You have to use your head. Theyre all dead probably that did that, like the Germans were. You had to use a little common sense.
Aaron Elson: Whats it like to see all these people falling around you?
Don Foye: You think of whos next. Like when youre in a foxhole and with a guy who had just explained to me how he was scared stiff. The company commander came up to me and hed say, "Donald, weve got a batch of replacements." We got new guys every day of the week; they didnt last an hour. And he said, "Here, try to keep this guy alive, will you? He seems like a good guy."
Well, the first thing, they come up to me and say, "Sarge" I was a sergeant then "My name is So and So." I had a pencil.
"Name, rank and serial number."
"Ive got a wife at home."
"Dont tell me that. I dont want to know anything about whos got what at home. Name, rank and serial number." I dont want to get personal. I cant do it. Its like an undertaker. Its a job, but you cant get personal.
Well, this fellow, he said to me he seemed like a nice guy, he was scared stiff, and you cant blame him. [Captain John] Colby said, "Hey, Donald, can you keep this guy alive? I think hell be all right." Something to that effect.
I said, "Come on. Stay with me."
So we got in a foxhole and he was telling me he just graduated law school but they wouldnt give him a chance to pass the bar so he was not a registered lawyer, but hed had all the education. And I said, "Oh, geez, dont tell me that." Theres shooting everywhere.
Pretty soon there was the loudest bang I ever heard. And I turn around and he and I were closer than you and I, almost touching shoulders. And there was, right between the eyes, and I looked up I dont know where he came from there was so much noise there was the ugliest looking German I ever saw in my life with a smoking gun, who had come through one of these hedgerows.