William G. Dern

On Destroyer Which Has Active Part in Invasion
WILLIAM DERN, SOUNDMAN 2/C
Petty Officer Second Class William George Dern, soundman on the destroyer, USS Herndon, brother of Mrs. John Madson, 2509 Peeble Street, was one of the members of the crew of the destroyer which led an invasion task force to the shores of Normandy and escaped unscathed.

Since then, the destroyer has been nicknamed "Lucky Herndon." 

Petty Officer Dern, son of Mr. and Mrs. Fred Dern, Milwaukee, entered the service in September 1942. After training at Great Lakes, IL and Key West, FL, he was assigned to sea duty. He participated in the invasion of Sicily and had previously been stationed in North Africa. Dern has crossed the Atlantic 8 or 10 times. 

Tom Wolf, NEA staff correspondent, who was aboard the Herndon at the time the events took place, wrote articles concerning the following events which appeared in the New York World-Telegram June 14 and 15. 

The Herndon, whose job it was to eliminate five strong points commanding the landing beach, was to steam ahead of the rest of the task force, close behind the minesweepers. Between her and her position were an unknown quantity of E-boats. Guns and the courage of her officers and men were her only weapons, for her orders had been slow speed, which meant she couldn't rely upon speed for safety. 

"In retrospect, the first days and nights of the invasion remain in the minds of this crew as disjoined images of color and brief flashes of action," Wolf said. "When night came, the ships slipped silently down the smooth sea highway—its lanes, searched only a few moments earlier by minesweepers, clearing the Channel ahead." 

Then action began. Transports carrying paratroopers roared over the Herndon at mast height. Suddenly, the horizon burst into flame. Bombs smashed on the beaches, jarring the Herndon, though she was still miles away.

"At dawn, the flag went up on the Herndon's masthead, when she was inside the territorial waters of France. The Stars and Stripes were flying over German-occupied territory. Moments later, the Herndon shuddered as her guns went into action, but the first great danger had passed.

"The crew was too busy fighting back to notice the splash, as shells fell far and wide. One of the ships nearby was less lucky than the Herndon. She was hit, settled at the stern, and went under in shallow water," he wrote. 

The Herndon's luck held through  the following days and nights, when German planes droned overhead and German bombs dropped a few yards from the ship. The ship astern was hit.

The wardroom became an overcrowded surgery for three hours, until the doctor, Lieutenant John McFeck, Cortland, NY, could patch the wounded sufficiently for transfer to the hospital ship near by.

"Then the days seemed easier. The planes that endlessly criss-crossed the sky were American planes and the danger now was from shore batteries and mines. A mine blew up hardly 100 yards in front of the bow of the Herndon and shells from the shore battery straddled her, but luck still rode aboard the Herndon, along with the skill and courage of her crew," he explained. 

When the Herndon returned to a British port for ammunition, she was as good as she ever was except for the loss of some paint that was blistered from her gun barrels which became red hot as they spat withering fire on the shores of Normandy.

Petty Officer Dern has spent his summers with his sister here. Before entering the service, he was employed at the Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing Company in Milwaukee. His brother, Private First Class Fred Dern, is in England with an Army water supply battalion.