Published DateLACONIA — Bob Giguere was only 17 when he joined the U.S. Navy in 1943, so young that he needed his mother to sign a form giving her permission for him to enlist.
He ended up being assigned to the 6th Naval Beach Battalion where he served as a rifleman on LCI-85, one of the first American crafts to land at Omaha Beach in Normandy, France on D-Day, June 6, 1944, taking part in the largest amphibious landing in history.
As a member of what has widely been called ''The Greatest Generation'' Giguere says he's never been ready to claim that what he did that day was heroic. ''The real heroes are those guys who didn't come back. And there were plenty of them that I knew,'' said Giguere.
''We were young and didn't know what we were getting in to. We were doing what we were told to do,'' he says, adding that there were ''20 guys on the ship that I went in on that didn't make it.''
Giguere says that he 's not sure why he was assigned to the beach battalion but thinks it may have had something to do with his marksmanship score.
''I was pretty good with a rifle before I enlisted. But one of my buddies and I kept score for each other on the firing range and inflated our scores a little so that we could qualify for an extra $5 a month in pay,'' says Giguere.
He also recalls having won a lot of the ''liberation money'', French francs which were distributed to those going ashore in the invasion in poker games with his fellow servicemen leading up to the invasion.
''We lived in tents and spent a lot of time on the rifle range and would go on hikes all the time,'' says Giguere, who recalls that when there was a chance to get off base and go dances he was pretty popular with the English girls for his jitterbug skills.
It was cold and dark and the seas were running high when the LCI-85, carrying about 185 soldiers and with a crew of 20, headed out from Southampton, England as part of the third wave of the invasion, headed for the Easy Red section of Omaha Beach.
When it reached the beach it grounded too far out for the ramps to be put down and was moving to another section of the beach when, as reported by the LCI-85 captain ''as the ship grounded a teller mine exploded under the bow splitting the void tank. The port ramp went down and the troops began going ashore. Shells and machine gun fire began to hit us. About 50 troops got down the port ramp before a shell hit it and blew it off the sponsons and over the side. As the starboard ramp had not gone down and the wounded men were jamming the deck, we backed off the beach again.''
Giguere recalls that there was carnage on the deck and tended to a fellow serviceman, who had a badly wounded arm, before going over the side of the ship to reach shore.
''I threw away my backpack (and all of the liberation money) and jumped into the water with just my rifle. The water was up to my chest,'' he recalls.
After wading ashore he took shelter behind a German hedgehog obstacle and suffered a shoulder wound. as a bullet grazed him. He tended to his wound and then made it further up the beach where, unable to find other members of his unit, he hooked up with a group of soldiers that were headed up a ravine towards a German pillbox.
When the group neared the side of the pillbox, Giguere, who had a good throwing arm, tossed seven grenades at it, the last being a smoke grenade.
''Then I got out of there because the smoke grenade was used so that the destroyers just off the beach would have something to shoot at'' said Giguere.
After the pillbox was overrun and the bluff was taken, Giguere moved back down to the beach to try and locate his unit. He was talking with an officer when a German shell exploded, killing the officer, knocking Giguere out and leaving him with shrapnel wounds.
When he woke up four days later on June 10, his 18th birthday, he was in the 40th Army Hospital in Southampton, England. Sent back to the United States aboard the Queen Mary in July, Giguere says that English Prime Minister Winston Churchill was also on the same ship, headed for a conference in Canada with American President Franklin Roosevelt.
''I had a 30-day leave but when I got back to Laconia I got an emergency call back and went to Oceanside, California'' says Giguere, who was sent to Pacific Theatre where he took part in the invasion of the Philippines.
At one point he was behind enemy lines for 14 days, delivering supplies to Navajo code talkers in the mountains.
He then took part in the invasion of Okinawa in April of 1945 where he received his third Purple Heart. One of the first ashore, Giguere was a few days later sent out to round up some of his fellow servicemen after Japanese snipers started to infiltrate the area they were in.
''There was a cemetery near a village there and some of the guys would go up there and smash funeral urns because they thought there would be gold teeth in them. Just as I got there I got shot in the foot by a sniper,'' Giguere recalls.
He was slated to be in the invasion of Japan but was spared that experience by the Japanese surrender after two atomic bombs had been dropped on that island nation.
''I guess you could say the A-bomb saved my life. I'm one of the lucky ones who survived those invasions,'' says Giguere.
After the war, Giguere came back to Laconia where he married Rachel Simoneau. He worked at Scott and Williams in Lakeport until they closed and he and his wife raised five children.
He is now married to his second wife, Claire Nedeau,.
In addition to his two Purple Hearts, Giguere was also awarded the the Silver Star and the highest military honor the French government can award to an American, the French Legion of Honor.
His story was among those told in a children's book "A Day That Changed America: D-Day" which was published in 2004.
Bob Giguere, who landed with American troops on Omaha Beach on D-Day, still has vivid recollections of taking part in the largest amphibious operation ever. (Roger Amsden/for The Laconia Daily Sun)