Mr. Preston V. Wells came from Parsons, Labette County, Kansas.

On January 17, 1944 the 1116th Engineer Combat Group arrived in England. Three days later, on January 20, it was re-designated the 6th Engineer Special Brigade (ESB) and immediately had additional units assigned to it. Heavy equipment was obtained and standard operating procedures perfected and training began.

Colonel Paul Thompson whose task at the Assault Training Center had concluded took command of the 6th Engineer Special Brigade (ESB). He obtained other officers from the Training Center and asked for and received Colonel Lucius Chase who became the Executive Officer (XO) of the Brigade on May 17. The Brigade consisted primarily of three Engineer Combat Battalions the 147th, 149th and the 203rd and they were reinforced by Quartermaster, Medical, Transportation, Signal, Chemical, Naval and MPs to form three Beach Groups. Assigned and attached units were added up to the time of the invasion. Corporal Preston V. Wells was part of the 149th Engineer Combat Battalion, 6th Engineer Special Brigade (ESB)

The three Engineer Battalions and most of the supporting units had been training together or close to each other while still in the US unknowing that eventually they would all be a part of an amphibious brigade. The units all arrived in England at about the same time and were billeted around Torquay, Paignton and other towns in Southern England. On the last day of January 1944, the 1st Army issued its planning directive for Operation Overlord/Neptune (D-Day). This directive detailed target date and destination of the invasion of Europe and then the 6th Brigade started planning their phase and also further training.

After it was decided that three American infantry divisions would be used in the initial assault, one of the three Brigades was assigned to one of the three infantry divisions. The 1st Brigade was to support the 4th Infantry Division on Utah Beach, the 5th Brigade would support the 1st Infantry Division on the eastern half of Omaha Beach and the 6th Brigade was to support the 29th Infantry Division on the western end of Omaha Beach.

A rather bland and deceptive statement in a 6th Brigade overview document stated that they were occupied with conducting basic, unit and beach training in southern England between January 16 and the first part of June 1944. What it did not say was the frantic pace at which this was to be done. Colonel Thompson quickly saw the need for training his 6th ESB and the biggest need was time and facilities - they had very little of either. As for the time the calendar said they had three months, but this was misleading as weeks were devoted to large unit invasion dress rehearsals and the time spent in embarkation camps prior to the actual invasion which only left a scant of six week for actual training. As some of the units never had received any amphibious training before joining the 6th Brigade, each unit had to take additional training on their own as time and facilities did not allow the mounting of a brigade scale exercise and the brigade was only fully assembled for the first time at the start of Operation NEPTUNE.

The 6th ESB was issued paratroop type boots and new patches; the eagle, tommy gun and anchor of Combined Operations in gold on a blue background to be worn as a shoulder patch and the Engineers Amphibious oval sea horse patch to be worn on the breast pocket. During April and early May 1944 additional units were attached to the Brigade bringing the total of assigned and attached troops to a total of 9.848 men and 1219 vehicles.

Engineer Special Brigade Helmet and Jacket

Engineer Special Brigade Cap and Goggles

The mission of the 6th Engineer Special Brigade for D-Day consisted of the insurance of the continuous movement of personnel, vehicles and supplies across the beach in support of the landing operation involving an Infantry Division to be followed by other Divisions and troops. The Brigades tasks included marking hazards to navigate and determine suitable landing points and report such to the Naval Beach Battalion, the marking of landing lanes for arrival and departure of landing craft on their area of the beach, to maintain roads and exit routes both to and from the beach area, unloading of supplies, removal of underwater obstacles and mines, erect enclosure for Prisoners of War, maintain communications with senior commanders both on shore and afloat, along with security and all other areas needed for the operation of the beach and dumps.

It was decided that the 147th and 149th Engineer Combat Battalions were to operate the beaches and do all road construction and maintenance within their assigned areas. The Engineer Battalions were put into Beach Groups for the initial landings and operation of their areas. The 149th Engineer Combat Battalion was to serve with the 7th Naval Beach Battalion – the 6th ESB was attached to the overall Provisional Engineer Special Brigade Group.

The first of the 6th Brigade troops, part of the 149th Engineer Combat Battalion plus eight men medical personnel, among them Corporal Preston V. Wells of the 149th Engineer Combat Battalion, landed on D-Day in the first or second landing wave and came ashore on Easy Green Beach (Omaha Beach). What they witnessed was beyond belief and numerous men were killed and wounded immediately on gaining the shore line. Cpl. Preston V. Wells was one of the first men to land on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944, and was Killed in Action as soon as he got off his landing craft – according to a best friend Mr. Bill Burleson.

Map of Omaha Beach
(Picture Courtesy of Rick Demas)

The 149th Engineer Combat Battalion earned a Presidential Unit Citation for its actions that day, which reads: "On 2 June 1944, during the assault phase of the invasion of occupied Europe, the assigned mission of the Battalion was to clear, organize, develop and operate the assault landing beach sectors in order to insure the rapid movement of personnel, supplies and vehicles across the beach, and to clear and develop a beach exit to permit the egress of wheeled traffic off the beach. A stubborn enemy firmly held and defended strong points in the cliffs commanding the beach, such strong points being made up of concrete pillboxes, gun emplacements and connecting trenches. Heavy artillery, mortar, machine gun and small arms fire on troops on the beaches was maintained from these positions, and additional hazards were encountered in the form of underwater obstacles and the vehicle defense line on the beach itself. Despite the heavy enemy resistance, the 149th Engineer Combat Battalion went ashore and immediately began clearing a path through the minefield to permit the infantry to make use of an exit which had not been worked by any unit. After completion of this project, which had not previously been assigned to this unit, the 149th Engineer Combat Battalion set about opening the exit which had been assigned as its original task. Several times during this action, elements of the Battalion joined the infantry in combating the enemy, reducing his strong-points, and wiping out snipers on the face of the cliff. The outstanding heroism, courage and skill of the men of the 149th Engineer Combat Battalion in successfully completing its assigned mission materially contributed to the successful establishment of the Omaha Beachhead on D-Day"

ASN: 37507892
Awards: Purple Heart
Buried at: Plot J Row 17 Grave 3
Normandy American Cemetery
Colleville-sur-Mer, France

The adoptant of Corporal Preston V. Wells' grave, Manon Poquetlefloch, is searching for more information about Cpl. Preston V. Wells. Every kind of information is more than welcome. You can contact Manon at:

For another story of a soldier adopted by Mrs. Manon Poquetlefloch:
Pfc. William J. Murdaugh

Mr. Bill Burleson -