Stories from the past – Captain J.W Finke

Captain John G. W. Finke was the Commander of F Company, who were based in West Bay from November 1943 to June 1944, when they left Castletown, Portland for Omaha beach on the Normandy coast.

We were sent this picture of Captain Finke by the 16th Infantry Regiment Association in the USA – and it was great to finally put a face to the name. Whilst still in England in the marshalling area in June 1944, Finke had badly sprained his left ankle, which on the day of the landings was heavily taped. Instead of a rifle, he was clutching a cane. Heading towards the Omaha beach, his landing craft (LCVP) had gone 1,100 yards off course. The plan was that all F Company’s six LCVPs would arrive at the same time, thus providing the enemy more targets than they could deal with, but each was up to 1,100 yards off target and strung out in both position and time. They were supposed to take advantage of dead spots in the German fields of fire, but instead three of the boats were right in the kill zone between German defence nests, WN-62 and WN-61.

When he finally left the landing craft, the water was nearly over Captain Finke’s head and he struggled with his injury to shore. Exhausted, seasick from a two-hour ride and with heavy enemy fire destroying any semblance of an organised assault, the troops were trying to take cover anywhere they could, often behind the defensive obstacles which had teller mines attached to them.

As heavy as the enemy fire was, and as vulnerable as men would be on the move, Finke realised it was worse for them to stay put as stationary targets in the shadow of those teller mines. He therefore walked around whacking people until they moved. John McManus reports in his excellent book, The Dead and Those Dying, “Several times he rapped prone forms to discover they were dead. Other times, he smacked men with is cane several times, got no reaction, and assumed they were dead, only to see their petrified faces, and understand they were too frightened to move.

“Come on, get up, go on!” he yelled, without wielding his cane – then each man could pretend he was talking to someone else. But if he hit a man personally with his cane, there could be no ambiguity – get moving or else – and he was right.”

In this way, he got many of them up and running the several hundred yards to the comparative safety of the shingle bank. By the time he made it there himself he had lost 25 per cent of his command.

In the course of that awful day, Captain Finke would be badly wounded; a compound fracture of the elbow and a broken left tibia. However, with little thought for his own safety, rifle-less and limping on his sprained ankle, he saved many of his men and would, ultimately, survive the war.

Our exhibition entitled, Warm Beer and Cabbages, remembers the time the American Servicemen lived among us in the run-up to D-Day and starts on Good Friday, 19th April to Sunday 23rd June. It commemorates the 75th anniversary of the Normandy Landings.

Stories from the past – Sergeant Phil Streczyk

80,000 US troops stayed in Dorset, training for the D-Day landings. 75 years on, our exhibition will remember the time when American soldiers lived among us in West Bay and the day they disappeared. (Friday 19th April to Sunday 23rd June, 2019).
 
 Sergeant Phil Streczyk was billeted in West Bay from November 1943 to June 1944 en route to the Normandy beaches. He was 25 years old and was in the first wave to be dropped 200 yards out from Omaha beach at 6.30am on 6th June. When rifleman Stanley Dzierga slipped under the water, he pulled the man back to the surface, and when Edwin Piasecki’s 80lb backpack pulled him beneath the waves, he hung on to him and saved him from drowning. On the beach under constant fire, he was described as fearless, “I never saw a man like that in my life. He wasn’t that big of a guy. He just went, did everything and it just seems he was immune to the fire.” Said Dzierga who he had saved from the sea. He went ahead, he pulled and cajoled his men along, taking the risks on their behalf.

Captain Wozenski wrote of the courageous New Jersey native, “If he did not earn a Congressional Medal of Honor, no one did.”

The 25-year-old sergeant did become one of the most decorated NCOs of World War II and it is safe to say that no single individual contributed more to the 1st Division’s success on D-Day that Streczyk did. He continued to fight after D-Day, through Normandy, through the Mons pocket, Aachen and then into the brutal Hurtgen Forest, leading by example every step of the way. In all, he logged 440 days of frontline combat duty and survived many wounds. In one instance a pistol bullet hit him in the base of the neck, yet he refused medical evacuation. Somehow the wound healed, but it left a deep scar. Montgomery pinned the UK Military Medal on his chest on the 7th July 1944 (see picture).

He was evacuated from the front lines with combat fatigue – a grim reminder that even the bravest souls have their limits. He became a builder in Florida, married and had four children, but he missed his men and could not leave the war and D-Day behind. Streczyk was in persistent pain from his physical wounds and at night he was tormented with traumatic battle dreams. 
In 1957, after years of emotional and physical pain, he took his own life.