At 99, D-Day survivor discusses that fateful day


There’s a large map hanging on the wall in Clifford Sierp’s garage.

The map features each route the 99-year-old Seymour man sailed on while serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II. He traced them with a marker and included notes from each trip.

One of those routes took him to Normandy as part of the U.S. military’s first wave on D-Day.

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It was 75 years ago today that Sierp and the U.S. military and its allies invaded German-occupied France.

Sierp was a member of the U.S. Naval crew in the American Assault Force, which invaded France on D-Day. He was a gunner’s mate third class who had finished his amphibious training earlier in the year.

The U.S.S. LCI 554 he was aboard landed on Omaha Beach that day, and he remembers immediately taking two loads of wounded troops to England for treatment. LCI stands for landing craft infantry.

“We were in and out,” he said. “The second trip we made in there, we took wounded soldiers out to put them on cargo ships.”

Sierp doesn’t remember it being that violent when he arrived, but the ships to his right experienced heavy gunfire.

Many of the wounded who were picked up by his ship looked like they weren’t going to make it, Sierp remembers.

At one point, a cable that pulled the ship offshore snapped, and Sierp and everyone had to head for land.

He then had to dig himself a hole on the beach that he later covered to sleep in for the night.

“That’s what they recommended, and we did what we were told,” he said.

Sierp remembers that night being relatively quiet except for gunfire in the distance. As quiet as it may have been, that didn’t translate to a good night’s sleep.

“We didn’t sleep well that night or the next three nights,” he said.

After surviving D-Day, Sierp told his mother in August 1944 that he had been involved in the invasion of Italy.

Sierp was neighbors with Walt Waldkoetter of Brownstown while growing up. Waldkoetter, who was with the Army, was killed by enemy machine gunfire on D-Day after his tank sank in the ocean and he attempted to swim away.

“I didn’t know he died on D-Day until later,” he said. “I didn’t know that until I came back on survivors’ leave.”

Sierp remembers Waldkoetter being a nice person and that the two were backyard neighbors.

“He got out of eighth grade and he went to work,” Sierp said of Waldkoetter.

In addition to participating in D-Day, Sierp completed a lot of missions on four different boats.

One of those trips was in the south Atlantic and took the crew through a canal and down the coast of South America about a year and a half before D-Day. He remembers the water being turbulent.

“That was the roughest water in the world,” he said. “We hit a storm there and were riding 70-foot waves. It was like riding a roller coaster.”

The boat was on its way to the Persian Gulf in 1942, where they spent Christmas. It was during that trip they ran out of food, and Sierp remembers eating Spam for breakfast, lunch and dinner for 23 days.

“I’ve ate it since, but we had some city kids from New York who didn’t think we could eat it,” he said with a laugh.

The ship then unloaded supplies onto a railroad bound for Russia.

There was another trip when a ship he was aboard was hit by two torpedoes from the German military. Sierp and those aboard were rescued by another U.S. ship and taken to Puerto Rico.

After D-Day, he returned home for a few weeks before training for the invasion of Tokyo, a mission that never happened.

“We were on our way (to Japan) when Truman dropped the bomb,” he said. “We turned around and came back home.”

Sierp was discharged from the Navy as a gunner’s mate second class in late 1945 after serving three years in the Pacific, European and American theaters of war. He received the Good Conduct and Victory medals and also earned two Bronze Stars.

Before joining the Navy, he had been drafted by the Army. He had been employed at Morgan Packing Co. in Austin and attended Brownstown High School. His brother, Pfc. Herbert H. Sierp, also served in the U.S. Army.

After he returned, Sierp married his wife, Kathryn, and the two will celebrate their 71st wedding anniversary in July.

Sierp acquired the map in his garage years ago at a garage sale. He remembered a woman wanted $15 for it before they started talking.

Once the woman learned he planned to put all of his routes on it, she decided to give it to him.

“She told me to take it and I enjoy this map,” he said.

The map may show exactly where Sierp traveled while serving in the Navy, but only he can share what happened.

“There’s a lot with it,” he said.

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