Today marks the 75th anniversary of D-Day, the allied landings in France during WWII. According to the website American D Day.org, Crecencio Gutierrez from the San Felipe barrio of Del Rio was the only soldier from Val Verde County Texas listed as having participated in the historic D-Day landings.
Crecencio was born in Del Rio on June 10, 1918 to Leonardo Gutierrez and Simona Rodriguez. Crecencio “Chencho” as he was known in San Felipe, received an Army draft notice in October of 1940.
In March of 1941 he was officially enlisted in the U.S. Army at Fort Bliss in El Paso. His little brother Isauro also wanted to enlist but was too young. His cousin Ramon Gutierrez had enlisted in the Army in January of 1941 and assigned to the 36th Division.
Cousin Ramon would become one of the highest decorated soldiers to come out of Val Verde County during WWII.
Crecencio was assigned to a Field Artillery Battalion unit that was attached to the 1st Cavalry Division. While training in El Paso he wore the famed 1st Cavalry patch. In January of 1942 General George S. Patton had been given command of I Armored Corps.
Patton was already thinking three steps ahead and wanted his tank units to train in desert-like conditions of North Africa. He asked the top brass for the California desert where they set up the Desert Training Center.
Crecencio’s 1st Cavalry took their turn to train at the center at Camp Young. Eventually Crecencio’s field artillery battalion was removed from 1st Cavalry. The 1st Cavalry made preparations to move towards the Pacific theatre of operations.
Crecencio’s unit, now wearing the patch of the 62nd Field Artillery Battalion Battery C, started preparing for North Africa under General Patton’s command. In September of 1942 the unit arrived at Fort A.P. Hill in Bowling Green, Virginia.
The fort is named after Lt. Gen. Ambrose Powell Hill, a Virginia native and Confederate officer serving under Robert E. Lee during the Civil War. General Patton used it as a staging area for his task force that was headed to North Africa.
Crecencio Gutierrez was one of 24,000 men at Fort A.P. Hill on any given day during the fall of 1942.
From Virginia the unit was moved to the newly constructed Camp Kilmer, in New Jersey. If a soldier found himself at Camp Kilmer, he was headed overseas.
On Oct. 24, Crecencio’s 62nd Field Artillery Battalion boarded the USS Ericsson and sailed into the Atlantic. They arrived at Casablanca Morocco on Nov. 19, General Patton had led Operation Torch, the successful allied landing in North Africa.
The 62nd was attached to several allied infantry units during the Tunisian campaign. On March 27, 1943 they arrived one mile south of Meknassy, Tunisa and were assigned to support the 6th Armored Infantry Regiment. The next day the Germans fired their 88 artillery guns at them.
It was the first time in the war that the 62nd Artillery Battalion would be fired upon, the unit took several casualties. On Cinco de Mayo (May 5) instead of the annual celebration at the Brown Plaza in San Felipe, Crecencio Gutierrez was firing Battery C’s 105mm Howitzer gun in support of allied troops. The battalion after action reports listed that the unit fired over 1,200 rounds at the enemy on May 5. The Axis Powers surrendered North Africa on May 13. Crecencio’s unit made the landing at Sicily on July 10 and spent the entire time in support of Patton’s army as they raced across the island. The unit was now using the more mobile U.S. Army M-7’s a self-propelled artillery vehicle with 105 mm Howitzer gun. It resembled a small tank with a 105 mm gun.
By May of 1944, Crecencio was at Camp Piddlehinton in Dorset England. On June 1 his unit moved to the Isle of Portland in the harbor to board his landing craft tank or LCT. The landing craft was made to be able to land tanks and artillery on a hostile shore.
They remained aboard their crafts until 2:30 a.m. on June 5, when the 62nd Field Artillery Battalion set sail across the English Channel. Crecencio’s unit was now part of one the largest military operations in history.
Their mission was to support the 16th Infantry Regiment of the 1st Division (the Big Red One) as they made their landing on Omaha Beach. At 6:00 a.m. on June 6, the 62nd fired their first shots from their LCT’s on the German positions on Omaha Beach.
Nearly 350 rounds of 105 mm were fired by the battalion. At 6:30 a.m. the first wave of landing crafts carrying allied soldiers started arriving on Omaha Beach. Crecencio’s unit was scheduled to land on the beach at 8:00 a.m.
Some of the 62nd landing crafts attempted to land but were turned back from heavy enemy fire. Crecencio’s unit didn’t land on Omaha Beach until 5 p.m. His unit (Battery C) would lose seven M-7 vehicles during the landing. The next day they set up in a new position east of Cabourg, France.
After D-Day Crecencio continued to serve with the 62nd during the war through France, Belgium and Germany. In July of 1945 little brother Isauro was now old enough and also enlisted in the Army during WWII.
On December 17, 1944, during Germany’s last major offensive campaign known as the Battle of the Bulge, Crecencio’s 62nd Field Artillery Battalion destroyed 40 German tanks of the Sixth Panzer Army near Elsenborn, Belgium.
Crecencio Gutierrez served and fought in North Africa, Sicily, D-Day, and the Battle of the Bulge to make it back home to Del Rio, Texas. He was honorably discharged as a Staff Sergeant of the United States Army.
Like many WWII veterans Crecencio very rarely spoke of his service during the war. Many in the family will learn the details of his service for the first time with this article.
His younger brother Ruben recalled the one time he spoke of the war. Crecencio said, “When we made the landing, the water in the ocean looked like cherry Kool-Aid.” On February 10, 1970, Crecencio passed away in a San Antonio Hospital of Pneumonia. The WWII veteran who had landed on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944 was laid to rest in the San Felipe Cemetery.
Dave Gutierrez, of San Jose, California, is the great-nephew of Crecencio Gutierrez, he is a writer and the author of the book “Patriots from the Barrio.”
The article was compiled over years of genealogy research, the 62nd Field Artillery Battalion’s After Action Reports WWII, and family interviews with Ruben Gutierrez of Del Rio Texas, Ignacio and Lucia Gutierrez of Ceres California, and Isauro Gutierrez Jr. of Plainview Texas.