Grant "Gully" Gullickson, now a retired Navy commander living in Virginia Beach, was aboard the USS Corry when it was sunk in the English Channel by German artillery on D-Day. In the predawn hours of June 6, 1944, Grant Gullickson's world nearly came to an end. He joined the Navy at age 18, hoping to see the world. He was about to get his wish in the worst way.
He was a 23-year-old chief machinist's mate on the Navy destroyer Corry, one of the lead ships in the D-Day invasion of France, when it was blown out of the water by a fierce barrage of German artillery fire from the Normandy shore.
"I was in the engine room and didn’t see much of the combat," he said. "It was my job to see that the captain had power to keep the ship going."
"We were the first ones to arrive off the coast of France about 5:35 a.m. on D-Day morning,” he said. “Our job was to take out the gun entrenchments on Utah Beach."
Aircraft were to provide cover for the destroyers Corry, Fitch and Hobson by providing smoke screens.
"The plane that was supposed to lay down our smoke screen was shot down and crashed," Gullickson said. “The Germans on shore could see us and we were hit on the port side," he said.
Gullickson was chief in charge of the engine room when artillery fire hit the ship in the forward boiler room. Everyone was told to evacuate.
"We came top side and went back to the other boiler room to get everybody out of there," he said.
Having lost his life jacket in the engine room, he found a life belt and jumped into the water. He swam toward a floater net, which were used by sailors to cling to until being rescued.
"The bad part was the Germans were still shooting at us and shrapnel was flying all over," he said. "Two hours later, honest to God, I was ready to let go when a boat from our sister ship, the Fitch pulled me in. I was in pretty bad shape. They gave me some clothes and coffee. I collected myself and started looking around for my fellow chief machinist mates and friends, Chief Brewer and Chief Peterson. I learned they were killed by shrapnel."
Grant Gullickson grew up on a farm in North Dakota. "I was always interested in what was on the other side of the hill," he said. "Well, there aren't many hills in North Dakota, so I joined the Navy."
That was in 1939. He served on the battleship Mississippi until after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, when he reported to Norfolk and was assigned to the Corry. For two and a half years, the destroyer plied the Atlantic, leading the invasion of North Africa, sinking a German submarine, and participating in a secret raid on German ships anchored in the fjords of Norway.
Then just before midnight as D-Day loomed, the Corry and its two companion destroyers got their orders to begin the advance on Normandy, leading the flotilla of landing craft that carried the invading ground troops.
Gullickson and fellow survivors of the Corry boarded the Queen Elizabeth for transport back to the United States. After 30 days leave and training on a new engineering plant, Gullickson was assigned to a high-speed transport, the USS John Q. Roberts. It’s mission was to remove underwater obstacles off the coast of Japan.
"We were preparing for invasion off the coast when the war ended," he said.
His last ship Naval assignment was the USS Forrestal, a super aircraft carrier. It was recently decommissioned and is being cut apart for its steel in Texas, he said.
After 30 years of Naval service, Gullickson went to work at a shopping mall in Norfolk, Va.
"I ended up general manager for the shopping center, and worked there 14 years," he said.
He married his first wife, Beatrice, in 1945, and they had two sons, Greg and Gary, and a daughter, Gigi.
Beatrice died 11 years ago, and he has since married Celia. Gullickson also has a step-son, Kenneth.
Gullickson likes to spend his free time working in the yard or restoring vintage vehicles.
USS CORRY (DD-463) Survivors' First-hand Accounts of D-Day