After losing our first ship to a suspicious fire,Lopez and I were assigned as extra hands to LCT (5) 26.
This ship was about the same as the last, we were sort of in the way. Sometimes at sea, since Lopez had expressed his desire to be a gunner's mate, they'd let us practice on the 20mm guns standing on either side of the pilothouse. The 20mm were fed by a large drum-like magazine, which fitted onto the breach. It fired automatically a large cigar shaped explosive projectile at a fairly good speed. I didn't care much for that gun after a few night firings. It seemed to have a low muzzle velocity, which gave the tracers a look of looping and darting. I wondered how anyone could hit anything more than 50 yards away, but it was one of the most usedguns of WWII.
The ship already had a gunner's mate, so we didn't fire those 20s too much. Then one day while we were on the Bone end of theBone-Bizerte run, a group of soldiers came aboard and started to weld a large circular arrangement atop the port bow. It looked a lot like those circular tracks commonly mounted on some Army trucks for the 50 caliber machine guns.
I'd seen that 50 in action before. The projectile was much smaller than the 20mm andnon explosive, but the muzzle velocity was greater and carried it further, faster and with more accuracy. Everybody we had talked to praised it, but they all warned of a hot gun. One Army Air Corps fellow told of training in the American southwest. After firing the thing it had been laid on the hot sand. It went off, shooting the seat out from under an officer in a jeep nearby.
That afternoon after the installation, Lopez and I went forward to examine things. It was ready to go with a full wooden case of beltedammunition, but no magazine to attach to the breach. After practicing a bit, we found out if Lopez didn't make any sudden turns, I could feed the ammo directly into the gun from the box. The skipper didn't seem to mind if we gave it a try.
Jerry came over on schedule that night. Most all of the ship's gunners in the harbor were as green as we were. It was hard to see anything or hear anything, so we just fired in the direction of the assumed flight, hoping this direction off the starboard bow was radar guided.
Suddenly, off the port bow came the roar of a plane,Lopez instinctively swung. I could not follow. The gun jammed. Lopez and I simultaneously dove for cover of the port gunwale waiting for a shower of scrap metal as the jammed shell heated in the breach. The plane with an ear
shattering roar straightened out overhead. I swear we could have lit a match off the fuselage as it sped by. That was a flyer! hi addition to all the ack-ack, there were the steel wires Which tethered the many barrage balloons strategically placed around the port. As for the gun, it just swung there mockingly in its mount.... nothing. We decided to wait for the proper parts before using that 50 again.
A few days later, Tunisia fell. The skipper got permission to keep one of us as an extra hand, and left it up to us to decide. I didn't care much for the periods of monotony of shipboard life, so we agreed that I would go back to the original Staff position.
I became an electrician in the Maintenance Staff of LCT(5) Flotilla 10 atKarouba on the Lake ofBizerte where the bulk of the strike at the "soft underbelly of Europe" originated. Nobel Lopez stayed with LCT (5) 26 and became a gunners mate.
In the U.S. Army photo you can see him at his 50 on the beach atLicata, Sicily, completely exposed, without any shielding, scanning the sky for the next plane. This one wasn't going to pull the same stunt with him. He stood at this post for nearly 2 years and 5 more amphibious landings. That is why the Mexican-Americans were the most decorated ethnic group in America during WWII.
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