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70 years ago today: Bob Giguere was tossing grenades into German bunkers above Omaha Beach

LACONIA — It was 70 years ago today that 17-year-old Bob Giguere headed towards Omaha Beach as part of D-Day, the largest amphibious invasion in history.
A member of the 6th U.S. Naval Beach Battalion, Giguere had been trained in demolitions and it was to be his job to help clear obstacles from the path of the men who were hitting the beach in hundreds of landing craft. Little did he know that he was destined to play a far different role and fight alongside the infantry whose path he was supposed to clear.
His heroics that day are featured in ''D-Day: A Day That Changed America'', a history book published by Hyperion Books for Children in 2004 in which he is one of five servicemen who is profiled.
As a member of what has widely been called ''The Greatest Generation'', the Laconia man 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.''
Giguere, the oldest of 10 children, had to have his mother's permission to join the Navy at the age of 17 and shortly after he started boot camp in Rhode Island his father died.
''I remember sending my allotment home to my mother,'' says Giguere, who 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 because I had done a lot of hunting. 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,'' he recalled.
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 Coast Guardsmen, headed out from Southampton, England as part of the third wave of the invasion, headed for the Easy Red section of Omaha Beach.
He still vividly recalls that day. ''It was supposed to be June 5th but was held off for a day because of the weather. The sea was rough and I was seasick, just like a lot of the other guys on our ship. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. For us it was like a training exercise. Then the shooting started. There's nothing that can prepare you for that. It was an awful thing we were going into.'' says Giguere, whose memories of that day are so intense that he still can't bring himself to watch vintage film.
''I watched part of ''Saving Private Ryan'' (Stephen Spielberg's D-Day movie) a while ago and I couldn't sleep for two nights,'' he said.
When Giguere's ship 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 that he was standing near a soldier from New York City named Peterson. ''I heard him groan and turned and asked 'are you all right, Pete? and he was gone. The shot must have missed me. It could have been me.''
Giguere realized that he would have to get off the ship soon or suffer the same fate and went down the half open starboard ramp. ''I threw away my backpack and jumped into the water with just my rifle. The water was up to my chest,'' he recalls.
Then he felt something like a bee sting on his left shoulder. He put his hand on his shoulder and felt blood but kept moving to shore, where he took shelter behind a large steel beam obstacle where he dressed his wound and then ran across the beach looking for his unit, his rifle jammed with sand. Taking shelter behind a seawall, he helped a pull a wounded man ashore and saw that the beach behind him was becoming smaller as the tide rolled in and was clogged with men lying shoulder to shoulder, who were being ordered by the beach master to move inland and get off the beach, which was being hit by withering German fire.
Giguere recalls that a barbed wire barrier which kept the American troops pinned on the beach was finally breached by soldiers using a bangalore torpedo (an explosive charge within a tube), allowing troops to head up a ravine. Responding to a call for a demolition man, Giguere headed toward the ravine and was given two grenades and told to toss them into a concrete bunker up the ravine about 100 yards away, on the other side of an antitank barrier. He crawled through a gap in the wire and moved towards the bunker, pulling the pin on the grenades and threw them into the opening of the gun emplacement. He remained there and caught about six grenades tossed to him by a soldier on the other side of the antitank barrier and pulled the pins and tossed them into the bunker.
''Then I got out of there because the last one was a smoke grenade was used so that the destroyers just off the beach would have something to shoot at,'' said Giguere.
He continued to remain with 15 or so soldiers he had teamed up with when he walked past the bunker again, where more grenades were thrown in for good measure, and then along a hedgerow, where a German patrol was spotted. Giguere was given two more hand grenades and as the Germans approached threw them toward the enemy as American riflemen opened fire. Giguere said as many as two dozen German bodies were later seen lying in the field.
The group then moved into a small nearby town, Colleveill-sur-Mer, where a German spotter was surveying the area from a church steeple, which later was destroyed by shells fired from American ships just off the beach. ''We got out of there because we knew it was going to get hit a lot by our ships,'' he says.
Giguere then went 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 which still set off metal detectors when he passes through them.
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 Theater, 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 three 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. 

Giguere will be 88 on Tuesday.

Bob Giguere, who landed with American troops on Omaha Beach on D-Day, looks at an illustration of him approaching a German bunker in the book "D-Day: A Day That Changed America" which was published in 2004. (Roger Amsden/for The Laconia Daily Sun)

Bob Giguere, who landed with American troops on Omaha Beach on D-Day, holds a collection of the medals he was awarded and a photo of him taken shortly after he enlisted in the U.S. Navy. (Roger Amsden/for The Laconia Daily Sun).

"D-Day: A Day That Changed America" features Bob Giguere's story of what happened to him on D-Day. (Courtesy photo)

Last Updated on Friday, 06 June 2014 01:51

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Richard Brothers to run for N.H. House

SANBORNTON — Richard Brothers, a Republican who served as Commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Employment Security from 2004 to 2009, has filed to run for the New Hampshire House of Representatives in the district consisting of Sanbornton and Tilton, which elects two members.

Brothers served in the House in the 1990s and has been active in Republican politics for some time. He is a member of the steering committee of Andrew Hemingway's gubernatorial campaign.

Brothers served on the board of directors of the Healthy Kids program, as trustee of the Franklin Career Academy, the state's first charter school, and with the Granite State Independent Living Council.

The two seats are currently held by Republican Dennis Fields, who has announced that he will seek re-election, and Democrat Ian Raymond, both of whom reside in Sanbornton.

Last Updated on Friday, 06 June 2014 11:33

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Ritchie fans 17 batters in 3rd perfect game in history of Laconia Little League

LACONIA — With Stafford Oil well ahead of VFW on Wednesday evening, manager Toby Knowlton contemplated lifting his starting pitcher until he was reminded that Nicholas Ritchie had thrown a perfect game through four innings. "I left him in," Knowlton said, "and he finished it."

Ritchie not only pitched a perfect game by not allowing a runner to reach base but also struck out 17 of the 18 hitters to step to the plate. Only Brady Hayes, leading off the fourth inning for VFW, put a ball in play by bunting directly to Ritchie on the mound, who easily threw him out. Ritchie delivered just 64 pitches — three-and-a-half for each batter he faced— to complete his masterpiece.

Ritchie's father Dana said that he was told his son's perfect game was just the third pitched in the history of Laconia Little League, which began in 1951.

"I always tell myself," Ritchie said yesterday, "if I just throw strikes, I'll do just fine." He said that he relies on three pitches— a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball and cutter — but will serve up the occasional circle change-up. Although blessed with velocity, the young right-hander stressed the importance of locating his pitches and changing his speeds. "I want to throw the cutter when they're expecting a fastball," he explained.

Knowlton said that catcher Levi McCallister contributes significantly to Ritchie's success. "Levi knows what Nicholas can do," he said. "I might call a pitch sometimes, but 99-percent of the times its whatever the two of them want to do."

Recalling the perfect game, McCallister said that "I knew what was going on but I didn't say anything. I didn't want to jinx him," he continued. "I told him keep pitching and stay smart. Nicholas is the star of the show."

The battery mates also provide punch at the plate. Ritchie has hit Little League pitching for a an average of .586 while McCallister is hitting .650, with eleven doubles and two triples accounting for half his base hits.

The pair also play for the Concord Cannons, a travel team playing in a tournament at Tufts University this weekend. Ritchie has posted eight wins without a loss, striking out 65 and walking 10 in 42 innings and a batting average of .367 while McCallister has hit at a .458 clip. Both are just eleven, with another year to play in Little League. "Another year of domination," McCallister proclaimed.

"They're a pretty talented bunch," Knowlton said, adding that he believes the current crop of Little Leaguers are the best the city has produced in a number of years.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 10 June 2014 02:00

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Horses removed from Northfield property

NORTHFIELD — Police working with a licensed veterinarian, and a representative from the N.H. Department of Agriculture removed four horses from a property at 85 Zion Hill Road yesterday.

Police said they went to the farm after getting a complaint on April 25 and found four horses that were in need of veterinary care. All four had extraordinary long hooves and were in a barn filled with feces.

"Some of the horses looked like they had duck feet," he said.

They also said the barn was unsound.

The four horses were taken yesterday to the Live and Let Live Farm for care and boarding.

Police Sgt. Mike Hutchinson said it appears to be a case where the four horses that were removed had been being boarded on the property but the owners were not providing for their upkeep. He said the man who owns the property was trying to keep up with their maintenance but was unable to do so.

Hutchinson said six other horses that belonged to others remained on the farm and can stay there as long as they remain in the pasture. He said the building inspector will be working with the property owner to make the barn safe.

Police said the owners of the four horses that were removed yesterday have been identified and the case is still under investigation.

Last Updated on Friday, 06 June 2014 11:46

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