Serving Commonwealth and Country - A Reflection
In the 1980s-1990s the Recruiting Office of the Virginia National Guard used the phrase "Since 1607 - Serving Commonwealth and Country." As we enter the new century it is perhaps a fitting time to look back and remember some of those who sacrificed more than we may ever know to secure the free-doms we treasure today. This account will endeavor to journey back through almost four centuries and recall some of the peo-ple who paid the ultimate price during those events important to state and national history.
You may recognize the names of persons who served their "Country" in the Virginia Guard and gained notoriety. These include Virginia Guard officers who later became Presidents: Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Tyler. And there's Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson and Jubal Early of Civil War fame. In mod-ern times, we have Sergeants Earle Gregory and Frank Peregory, both of whom earned the Medal of Honor: and Secretary of the Army John 0.Marsh, Jr., a former lieutenant colonel in the Virginia Guard.
But there have been many unsung members of the state force. While most of us learned in school of Captain John Smith at "James Towne" in 1607 it is unclear whom, within three weeks of the landing, was the first man killed during an Indian attack against the unfinished "James" fort. This luckless man was the first Virginia Guardsman to give his life for "Commonwealth and Country" (though it is unlikely he thought of it in those terms).
Over the next 168 years, thousands served and many died (more from disease than combat) to expand the Virginia colony. By the start of the Revolution in 1775, most men in the Virginia militia volunteered to fight for liberty. Gaining fame as a leader was Winchester's Daniel Morgan; but we should also remember the brave Virginians with him who died in the cold and snow of Canada in his failed attack on Quebec on New Year's Eve 1775. Soldiers from the Old Dominion served in every theater of the war and thousands lay today in unmarked graves far from home.
At the beginning of the Civil War, before Jackson and Early became household names, there was Captain John 0. Marr of the "Warrenton Rifles," who gained fame when he was killed on 1 June 1861 at Fairfax Courthouse, becoming the first of 15,000 Virginians to die during the war.
Between the end of Reconstruction in 1871 and the war against Spain in 1898, the "Volunteers" were often called upon to serve their communities in "Aid to Civil Authorities." This duty usually meant quelling riots and preventing mobs from lynching accused prisoners. It was in this role that, in September 1893, two members of the "Roanoke Light Infantry" were shot while exchanging gunfire with a mob storming the city jail in an attempt to hang a man accused of rape.
Four regiments of Virginians served in the Spanish-American War, though none saw combat. However, 47 men, including Private Ned Hobbs from Petersburg, an African-American soldier in the 6thVirginia Volunteers, died of disease.
Soon after America entered World War I, most Virginia Guard units were organized into regiments with the now familiar designations of 116th Infantry and 111th Field Artillery. While the 111th saw no combat, more than 300 men of the 116th Infantry were killed. Among them was Winchester's Captain Robert Conrad, who was the highest-ranking Virginia Guardsman to die in the war.
On D-Day, 6 June 1944, Virginians led the way onto "Omaha Beach," with over 800 members of the 116th Infantry and 42 men from the 111th Field Artillery becoming casualties. Among the dead were Richmond's Lieutenant Colonel Thornton Mullins, commander of the 111th; and the ll6th's Private Charles Milliron from Roanoke.
During the Cold War selected Virginia Guard units, including elements of the newly organized Virginia Air Guard, were called twice to active duty - first during the Korean War, 1950-1953, and again during the Berlin Crisis of 1961-1962. While no Virginia Guard units were put on active duty during the Vietnam War, some men volunteered for Federal service. One of them, Captain Harry Rose who graduated from the state OCS in 1966, was killed while serving the nation in Vietnam in 1969.
Ten years ago, eight Virginia Army Guard units deployed to Saudi Arabia as part of Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm. Of the more than 700 Guard personnel serving in the Gulf, only one, Private First Class Pamela Gay from Sandston's 183rd Personnel Company, died (in a traffic accident). She is the last in a long line of Virginia soldiers to die while serving "Commonwealth and Country."
As we enter this new century, take a moment to reflect on the freedom you and your family has today because of the voluntary sacrifice of these men and women. We all owe them our best efforts every day to honor that sacrifice.
By CW2 John W. Listman, Jr. VaARNG, Command Historian