Behind The Scenes

D-Day Through The Eyes of Technical Sergeant Nick Tanis: What’s Your WWII Story?

Courtesy Tanis family

This October, the New-York Historical Society will present WWII & NYC, a massive exhibition looking at the effect World War II had on the city. Fathers, husbands, and sons were shuttled overseas from New York’s ports, while mothers, wives, and daughters picked up the work the men left behind.

WWII & NYC features many firsthand stories of life during the War, but there are thousands of stories out there that need to be told. We want to hear yours! Did your grandfather serve in the Navy? Do you remember the headlines on D-Day? Tell us your connection in the comments! In the meantime, here is one story featured in WWII & NYC: The story of New Yorker Nick Tanis, Technical Sergeant, 82nd Engineer Combat Battalion, who landed at Normandy on D-Day.

Nick Tanis was born on August 15, 1914 in Samos, Greece. He immigrated to the United States in 1928 and married Elizabeth Santoro in June 1940 in Astoria, Queens. Although not a citizen, Tanis was drafted and inducted on April 21, 1942 at Fort Jay.

Tanis was initially part of Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion of the 531st Engineer Shore Regiment.
The unit left Brooklyn on August 6, 1942, arriving in Ireland on August 18, 1942 where they began
training before heading to Scotland and then to North Africa to partake in the invasion on November 8,
1942. The 2nd battalion was attached to the 26th infantry regiment.

. . .

His regiment landed at D-day at H-Hour plus 2 (8:30am). They watched from the water as the battle unfolded on the beaches of Normandy until it was time for them to land on Utah Beach. They saw the bombers overhead and the warships bombarding the shore defenses and coordinating with the men on land to bomb specific targets. Landing on the beach, several of the fortifications had already been taken by the Americans and the unit got to work setting up guns, clearing mines, and fixing the sea gates that the Germans released to flood the area.

After D-day the regiment’s title was changed to the 1186th Engineer Combat Group. Tanis was in the H&S Company of the 3052nd Engineer Combat Battalion, one of the three battalions in the 1186. After spending several months in Normandy beaches working on the beaches handling the massive amounts of cargo entering the continent the battalion loaded into French boxcars and journeyed for three days to Belgium landing in Eben Emael on November 20, 1944. They mined bridges and remained on the periphery of the Battle of the Bulge. They then returned to France and in March 1945 the 1186th was attached to the Fifth Corps of the First Army, staying in France until the end of March and then moving into Germany in the spring of 1945.

3 Comments to D-Day Through The Eyes of Technical Sergeant Nick Tanis: What’s Your WWII Story?

  1. Bob Carswell's Gravatar Bob Carswell
    April 26, 2014 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    War buff will always enjoy reading about the experiences of others. But for a kidney removal at age 17, I too could have been in the military. It was not to be. However, 3 years in the Royal Canadian Air Cadets gave me the experience of the military and in a sense, following my own parents who were both air force officers in WWII. I understand the emotions of my neighbours to the south in New York City who annually honour their military with the Memorial Day Parade, a parade in which I too marched representing Canada on invitation from parade organizers. We stated several nights at the New Rochelle Army Base nearby and briefly had the experience of being among the military there. I am now 70 years old but it seems like yesterday. Time passes too quickly and eventually the memories fade but until they do, I will always remember the good times we had on successive New York City trips until I left Cadets at age 19.

  2. Chris DeVoe's Gravatar Chris DeVoe
    November 11, 2014 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for the story! My father was in the HQ Company of the 3rd Battalion of the 531st ESR. He joined the unit as a replacement in England (Truro, Cornwall) in February 1944, and landed on Utah on June 7th, as theirs was the reserve battalion. He did many of the same things as SGT Tanis in Normandy. As he was in the 3rd Battalion, he was assigned to the 5053rd Engineer Combat Battalion after the 1186th. Thanks to the Tanis family for the story!

    • Shawn Orsinger's Gravatar Shawn Orsinger
      November 17, 2014 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

      My grandad was part if the D-day invasion at Utah beach serving with the 531st ESR, 518th port battalion, 299th port company. I throughly enjoyed listening to him talk about his experiences, and in a way, it gave me somewhat of a personal connection to the historical events through which he lived. As he got older certain details became foggy and I did my best to help him fill on the gaps through my own research. And when I came across the book “Storming Ashore”, written by a 531st veteran, it was of immeasurable help in tracing the exploits of the 531st and later the 1186th and 3053th. This where I also first heard of Nick Tanis given that he and the author Kenneth Garn served together in the 531st through numerous amphibious assaults. Unfortunately the book is out of print and hard to come by, but a great historical document none the less.

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