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Greenwich veteran shares stories of operating Army landing crafts

Norwalk Reflector - 12/7/2019

Dec. 7--GREENWICH -- During his time in the U.S. Army, Larry Motel operated amphibious landing crafts.

The current Greenwich resident was crawling down a cargo net when a worker dropped his bag and hit Motel, who fell about 20 feet onto a steel deck. He said his commander, a religious man, prayed for him, unzipped his jacket and put a Bible inside.

"I carried that all day with me," said Motel, who ended up having knee surgery after his time in the military.

Now 83, he enlisted in the Army on July 10, 1955, and served for two years.

"I had seen others through my young life (who) had went and served -- and some hadn't come back -- and I just wanted to serve my country," Motel said. "The Korean War had just ended."

His girlfriend at the time wanted to get married before Motel enlisted, but she eventually married someone else.

"After boot camp at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, I ended up in Fort Eustis, Va. That's the only maritime unit they had and I was happy growing up in Marblehead on the water ... to get into it," he said.

"I trained on a 57-foot LCM," Motel added, referring to the landing crafts. "They showed us pictures where they are taking troops into the sand bars. ... These guys run out and the next thing you know, they're up to their neck in water and they're being shot at."

Motel was certified to operate LCMs.

"It wasn't challenging; it was something I enjoyed -- being on the water," said the veteran, who lived in Marblehead before moving to Greenwich about 10 years ago.

Part of his daily routine was dropping off workers before he picked up cargo.

"Then I'd get the cargo and take it ashore," said Motel, who remembered his "treat" one day was a box of rations. "Some nights one of these cargo ships would have one load to get rid of. We'd go out and pick it up so they could get a 12-hour head start back to the States."

One assignment resulted in a trip to South Carolina.

"They picked five of us and they put us on a bus and they didn't tell us much. We drove down to (the) Charleston, S.C. naval base and we picked up five LCMs. ... It took us about a week-and-a-half to go up the Inner Coastal Waterway to Norfolk (Va.)," Motel said. "We had to operate them all the way up there."

A commander, who had served in World War II and the Korean War, told the crew they were heading up to the Arctic Circle, where they would get the cargo for a warning system in the water.

"He was a real nice guy," Motel said, referring to the commander. "He always had a Bible with him."

Dangerous 'ice flow'

Crew members received some weather-related news while eating dinner one night.

"The commander came in said, 'Nobody is going to run tonight; the radar picked up a huge ice flow,'" Motel said.

About 3 a.m. Motel received word that the commander wanted to see him. Motel said one man reported being stuck in an ice flow in an LCM and had been threatened by his boss to be in the water, regardless of the dangerous situation, and said, "Oh my god, we're sinking."

Motel asked his commander if he should look for the sinking ship and the men in the cold water.

"He (didn't) say anything. He just shook his head, saying 'No,'" he recalled. "This (other) guy went in behind (my commander's) back and forced these guys to go out -- for what reason, I don't know."

The next day Motel made a gruesome discovery when he was retrieving a cargo load.

"The ramp was ripped off, floating this way," he said, putting his arm at a nearly 90-degree angle. "I was looking all over on all this ice. I thought, 'If I could just see somebody waving for me, to heck with the cargo, I woulda gone and got 'em.' I never seen 'em."

On the following day, there was no cargo to get. Motel again was told to speak to his commander, who ordered him to go ashore without his deckhand.

"I'm going ashore and I see two or three guys standing there. ... I look and there's a body on the beach. One of those guys must have washed up on the beach," Motel said.

"I can't make up something like this. They pulled that blanket off and here was the head of the foremen or workers onshore. ... (This government worker) had caused these horrible deaths the night before. ... That scared the hell out of me."

EDITOR'S NOTE: Have you or someone you know served in the armed forces? Are you willing to be interviewed about your experiences? If so, call Norwalk Reflector staff writer Cary Ashby at 419-668-3771 ext. 1239, email him at [email protected] or stop by the newsroom, 61 E. Monroe St.

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