A Journey of Discovery by Randall Lanning
My recent trip to France with Normandy Allies offered me a tremendous opportunity to learn much more about my late father’s participation on D-Day. My Dad, Marvin D. Lanning, served in the United States Navy aboard LCI (L)-506 (Landing Craft Infantry Large – 351 Class) on June 6th, 1944. The US-designed LCI was the smallest ocean-going landing craft used during the invasion, and was designed to transport and land a company of soldiers (about 200 officers and men).
Of a ship’s crew of 21, my father served as the communications specialist, and assistant ship’s navigator. His “big war story” was the Normandy landing. His ship was assigned to land British troops on Juno Beach. LCI-506 departed from England about 10 pm on June 5th, joined up with a cross-channel convoy, and arrived at Juno about 9 am on June 6th: D-Day. Dad’s LCI headed towards Juno Beach about 9:55 am, and struck a mine on the way in, about 200 yards off shore. A LCI has two ramps (one on each side of the ship) to off-load troops. The mine explosion damaged the port (left) ramp, so all the British infantry had to be off-loaded on one (the right) side, which of course, doubled their time on the beach. Although damaged, my Dad’s ship remained seaworthy, and returned to the UK (the Isle of Wight) for damage inspection and subsequent dry docking for repairs. On the return trip, Dad’s ship brought wounded Allied soldiers and German prisoners back across the Channel to England. Although my father anticipated making additional crossings over to Normandy, as far as I know, he just made the one trip. Perhaps his ship was too badly damaged, and repairs took too long. According to US Navy records, LCI-506 was unceremoniously scrapped in 1946, like so many vessels of her type.
After the war, like so many veterans, my father separated honorably from the US Navy and became an insurance salesman in our hometown of Salina, Kansas. Later, he moved first to Rapid City, South Dakota, then on to Omaha, Nebraska where he started with H & H Chevrolet, later becoming general manager there. He retired in 1988, and lived a quiet life in nearby Valley, Nebraska. Marvin D. Lanning passed away in September of 2006 at age 83.
My grandmother Lanning kept a scrapbook (as moms do) about my Dad, including his wartime service – complete with letters and photographs. Two prized possessions from that scrapbook are the original letter he wrote to my grandparents on June 12th, 1944, telling of his invasion experiences. The second is the original navigational chart used to sail from England to Juno Beach. Both the letter and the chart are framed, and hold a place of honor in our household. My father also brought back a German helmet and stick grenade (or “Potato Masher,”) which I have to this day.
When I had the opportunity to visit Normandy with the Normandy Allies, we toured Juno Beach. While there, and with the assistance and recommendations of the Juno Museum staff, I placed a small stone marker honoring my father at the Juno Beach memorial. I also was afforded the privilege of sharing my father’s D-Day story with the 29 other members of our group.
I am personally so appreciative of the opportunities Normandy Allies presented me to honor my father by sharing his story with our group and now with you in this newsletter. Visiting Juno Beach was clearly a capstone event for me on this trip, and tour historians believe, based on photographic evidence and several basic assumptions, that we visited Juno within a mile or so of where LCI-506 landed on June 6th – close enough for me. My father did not pay the ultimate sacrifice as so many did that day, but like many, many others, he served his country dutifully and honorably to preserve our freedom. I remain so proud of what he and his generation did for us.
Col (Ret) Randall Lanning is the Senior Aerospace Science Instructor (SASI) for the Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFJROTC) program at Mascoutah High School, Mascoutah IL. He received the 1st Lt. John Garvik Teacher Grant for International Experience 2014.