Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol

A blog dedicated to the making of the first animated Christmas special, Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol.

Friday, June 5, 2015

D-Day, 71 years later

Victor Haboush at Disney, photo courtesy of Amid Amidi
Since tomorrow is the 71st anniversary of the D-Day invasion in World War II, it seems appropriate to commemorate the event with this post.  During the research process for Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol, The Making of the First Animated Christmas Special, I interviewed many artists who had worked at Hank Saperstein's incarnation of UPA in order to get a sense of the studio once it changed hands. One of those was Victor Haboush, an amazing artist and designer who had worked at both Disney and UPA and who could have given fellow Disney designer Walt Peregoy a run for his money as the angriest man in animation (undoubtedly due to the events recounted below). Somehow the conversation turned to his experiences as a sailor on a Landing Craft-Infantry ship on D-Day; even 60 plus years later, the fear was still palpable in his voice as he described his experiences from that day. Below is a transcript of his memories of the D-Day invasion, edited for continuity:

I was just one of these guys that wouldn't tolerate bullshit. I had gone through World War II. I was at Normandy Beach, I landed troops on Normandy Beach. I got out of the service and I didn't want to take any shit from anybody. It just wasn't worth the kind of crap they pulled, they handed out to you.

Soldiers taking cover behind Rommel's hedgehogs
We hit Omaha beach, Easy Red, 30 minutes after H-Hour. Where we were going, there had been a storm and it had washed this real deep gulf, about six feet high, all the soldiers were hiding behind it, and there were iron bars (Rommel's hedgehogs) in the water. They were killing everybody in the water and our guys were trying to get past those things and make it to the other side so they could attack them on the hill. They were just machine gunning the soldiers, it was like a movie. There were bodies in the water. American soldiers floating in the water all over the place because they had machine-gunned them going down (the ramps). It was chaos. I don't think any of them made it on shore. We barely made it off the beach.

Landing Craft-Infantry, Haboush would have been in the rear conning tower
We started hitting it and we took a German 88 right in our steering engine room. Then the shrapnel went down and killed one of the guys who was coming up the steps and the other two were blown to bits, there was nothing left of them. The 4th guy I don't know where he was. My little landing craft, we were 30 people, 10 were injured and 4 were killed. We lost our left ramp. You had these 2 ramps on Landing Craft Infantry; when you hit the beach, these iron arms go out with cable on them and drop 2 ramps on each side. The soldiers go down on both. We had about 200 soldiers on board that we were letting off.  There was a small Landing Craft-Personnel, LCP, up next to us and the guy yelled up for a line so he could get up. He was going in to catch the line and he was shot right off that thing. It was like he was never there, it was a strange thing.

My station was up with the old man. I was on earphones with the skipper and he would give the orders. You know, 3 forward, 4 back, reverse, all that stuff. I would repeat it in the phone. Thank God I didn't have to get off, I wouldn't be here today. I was right on the conning tower with the skipper right next to me. I had this huge helmet on and I had these earphones under it. I had that helmet up right down my forehead and I could just see 2 inches out of it. I had a perfect seat for that whole thing. I could watch the whole thing going on.

We pulled (D-Day photographer) Robert Capa off the beach. He wrote (to me), telling me my picture was in Life magazine. You would never know it because you just see a piece of me, my helmet and little bit of my big nose. There was this one kid (in the picture) who died just a few minutes after I was holding a big compress on him. Anyway it was in Life Magazine.

This appears to be the photo he describes above.

One of Robert Capa's iconic D-Day invasion photographs
After we landed infantry, we finally got off (the beach) after we got hit. Then we went back and dropped Capa off at one of the ships. He said that our ship sunk when we dropped him off, which is not true. He just totally lied about it, he said he got on the ship and the captain was crying. The first mate had been blown up and blood was everywhere. That was all bullshit. He came on board though. I had to laugh. It was bad enough, he didn’t have to exaggerate. That is how he gained his reputation. He was a brave guy, he went in on the first wave. He stood by those iron things (Rommel's hedgehogs) and he took those pictures. There is nothing cowardly about the guy. But why he would make up a story, I will never know. I guess that was his art form.

We lost that one ramp when we got out there. I was just so happy to get off the beach finally, we were there way too long. We got these orders that we were to pick up these 2, a little bigger than an LCP. It was another landing craft. I think it had about 80 guys on there, they were Seabee's [C.B., slang for Construction Battalion] and they were going to put them on the beach so they all came on our ship. My new station was at the front of the ship and we were headed in there again. I got to tell you, this time I was scared shitless. I was up there with my little friend, we called him Murphy, his name was George Weisberg and we were cussing the skipper out and calling him all kinds of names, ‘You glory happy son of a bitch, turn around you are going to get us all killed!' He was steaming in there with only one ramp. Our radio broke down, it was chaos. The only way to communicate with each other, we had these radio boards with all these wires, they would cut us off and so we'd go back. 'Another ship will take it in, we heard you lost your left ramp.' The skipper said 'Yeah.' The skipper was going to go in and boy we were so relieved. So we let the guys off on another ship, a different one. That was like getting a pardon.

Afterwards, when we finally got off the beach, I was the only one on my ship that could clean those guys up. I was picking them up. We put blankets in these wire things you carry people in and I was scraping them up with a scraper and dumping their bones and everything in there. Nobody else could do it. All I did was think about my Dad's meat market and cleaning off the butcher block. It was really quite something, I think it really has affected me for a lot of years after.  

Amid Amidi's Cartoon Brew has more on Victor Haboush's life here.