May 17, 2010

Celebrating Virginians’ Sacrifice (Richmond Times Dispatch)

By John O. Marsh
Richmond Times-Dispatch Columnist

Published: May 17, 2010

WINCHESTER, Va. - Virginia's General Assembly has earned the gratitude of all citizens for acting in its most recent session to preserve the vanishing memories of a unique and glorious piece of the state's history. It did so by adopting a resolution, sponsored by Del. Beverly J. Sherwood and Sen. Emmett W. Hanger, memorializing the crucial D-Day role of Virginia National Guard units that included soldiers from more than 20 commonwealth communities. (The full resolution is copied below.)

Many Virginians may have forgotten, and many may never have known, that the 29th National Guard Division - - consisting of men from Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia -- was the only Guard unit selected to participate in the initial invasion of France at Normandy on that pivotal day in June of 1944.

Given the name "Overlord," this operation constituted the greatest armada of troops, ships, and planes ever assembled. It constituted a gigantic spear that was aimed at a mighty Nazi citadel, and Virginia's historic 116th Infantry Regiment -- including the 111th Field Artillery Battalion with headquarters n Richmond and units in Tidewater -- was at its very tip. The sixth oldest regiment of the army, its antecedents fought under George Washington in the French and Indian War and, as part of the Confederate Army, under Gen. Stonewall Jackson. It is known as the "Stonewall Brigade."

These Virginians stormed ashore at Omaha Beach, one of the bloodiest of the five invasion points. The fight there, which some historians consider the most violent battle of World War II, transformed this normally placid area of sand and surf into an inferno. It was strongly defended by a tenacious foe.

Unknown to Allied planners, several months earlier the Germans had inserted the especially able 352nd Division, which was led and had been trained for the defense of Normandy by officers and non-commissioned officers who had fought on the Eastern Front. Even the terrain was hostile to the Virginians. Landing at low tide on the morning of June 6, they had to race across a 400-yard, fully exposed beach that was as flat as a tabletop. Then they had to scale incredibly formidable bluffs, some towering 100 feet or more. Throughout, these courageous men were subjected to a murderous fusillade of German bullets and shells. Yet the regiment fought on to reach the top and establish a vital lodgment in France.

Truly, it was an astounding feat. But the price was enormous. The regiment had gone on the beach with 3,100 officers and men and at the end of the "longest day" it had suffered 1,007 casualties. Most Virginians may know about the "Bedford Boys," whose deaths at Normandy are honored with a monument in their hometown. But how many know about Col. Thornton Mullins of Richmond, who died fighting with the infantry after his field artillery command had been decimated during the landing? Or the Major of St. Lo, Major Tom Howie of Staunton, who became a symbol of courage and sacrifice after newspapers flashed to the world a picture of his flagcovered body in the ruins of a St. Lo church? And the Assembly's resolution cites the heroic performance of Frank Peregory of Charlottesville, who won the Medal of Honor fighting his way up Omaha's bluffs.

D-Day marked the beginning of the end of World War II and the re-emergence of the promises of democracy and freedom. Distance -- Normandy is a continent away -- fading memories, thinning ranks, and the passage of time conspire to conceal the greatness of what happened there. But we should not let the memory of the sacrifices these young men made disappear with the passing of those few survivors of the 116th experiences on "Bloody Omaha."

Generations are the linchpins of history. The spirit of the heroes of D-Day lives on in the men and women who form the 116th of today. They come from the same Virginia communities, train in the same armories and are displaying similar dedication and courage by fighting for freedom and democracy in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. On this coming D-Day, we should celebrate the sacrifices of these young men and women and their families even as we remember with profound gratitude the sacrifices of the men who fought and died at Omaha.

John O. Marsh Jr., who teaches law at George Mason University, is a WWII veteran. He joined the Virginia National Guard after the war and retired a Lt. Col. He is a former Representative in Congress, counselor with Cabinet rank to President Ford, and the longest serving secretary of the Army -- or War -- in the history of the Republic. Contact him at


Offered February 15, 2010

Commending the 29th Infantry Division of the Virginia-Maryland-District of Columbia National Guard and the Virginia communities represented in the Normandy Invasion, on the 66th anniversary of D-Day.

Patrons-- Hanger, Barker, Blevins, Colgan, Deeds, Edwards, Herring, Houck, Howell, Hurt, Locke, Lucas, Marsden, Marsh, Martin, McDougle, McEachin, McWaters, Miller, J.C., Miller, Y.B., Newman, Norment, Northam, Obenshain, Petersen, Puckett, Puller, Quayle, Reynolds, Ruff, Saslaw, Smith, Stosch, Stuart, Ticer, Vogel, Wagner, Wampler, Watkins and Whipple
WHEREAS, June 6, 2010, is the 66th anniversary of the Normandy Invasion, commonly known as D-Day; this epic and decisive moment in World War II helped defeat Nazi rule in Europe and was the most massive military operation in world history; and

WHEREAS, the only National Guard division of the United States Army selected to participate in the initial assault on the coast of France was the 29th Infantry Division of the Virginia-Maryland-District of Columbia National Guard; this division was assigned as its objective that beach sector designated Omaha, which because of the fierce resistance encountered there soon became known as “Bloody Omaha”; and

WHEREAS, Virginia’s historic “Stonewall Brigade,” the 116th Infantry Regiment, was chosen to be in the first wave at Omaha and, after a bloody battle on the beach, finally succeeded in taking the high ground above it, and thus secured a beachhead in France; when “the Longest Day” ended, the courageous regiment of over 3,100 soldiers had suffered 1,107 casualties; and

WHEREAS, joining the 116th Infantry Regiment in the assault was Virginia’s 111th Field Artillery Battalion and other smaller units from the Virginia National Guard, all elements of the 29th Infantry Division; and

WHEREAS, the Virginia communities represented in the D-Day Invasion were:

116th Infantry Regiment (Stonewall Brigade)

Headquarters and Headquarters Company-Roanoke

- Anti-Tank Platoon-Roanoke

- Medical Department Detachment-Staunton & Wytheville

- Service Company-Roanoke

Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion-Roanoke

- Company A-Bedford

- Company B-Lynchburg

- Company C-Harrisonburg

- Company D-Roanoke

Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion-Altavista

- Company E-Chase City

- Company F-South Boston

- Company G-Farmville

- Company H-Martinsville

Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion-Winchester

- Company I-Winchester

- Company K-Charlottesville

- Company L-Staunton

- Company M-Emporia

29th Infantry Division Band (Virginia portion)-Roanoke

29th Signal Company-Norfolk

29th Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop-Berryville

Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 29th Infantry Division Artillery-Richmond

111th Field Artillery Battalion (First Virginia Artillery)

Headquarters and Headquarters Battery-Norfolk

- Service Battery-Newport News

- Battery A-Richmond

- Battery B-Norfolk

- Battery C-Portsmouth

227th Field Artillery Battalion (formerly 2nd Battalion, 111th Field Artillery)

Headquarters and Headquarters Battery-Richmond

- Service Battery-post mobilization organization-no Virginia community

- Battery A-Hampton

- Battery B-Richmond

- Battery C-Fredericksburg

WHEREAS, many brave individuals participated in the Normandy Invasion and all who worked so hard and fought so valiantly are honored as heroes; and

WHEREAS, General George C. Marshall, United States Army Chief of Staff, helped plan the Allied invasion of France; he graduated from the Virginia Military Institute as First Captain of the Corps of Cadets in 1901; and

WHEREAS, a former commander of the 29th Infantry Division, Lieutenant General Leonard Gerow was promoted to command the V Corps (Fifth Corps), made up of the 1st and 29th Infantry Divisions, which were the first troops to land on Omaha Beach; he was a native of Petersburg and a graduate of the Virginia Military Institute, Class of 1911; and

WHEREAS, on June 8, 1944, Technical Sergeant Frank D. Peregory of Charlottesville’s Company K, from the 116th Infantry Regiment, single-handedly killed or captured over 25 enemy soldiers, earning the Congressional Medal of Honor, only to be killed in action six days later; and

WHEREAS, a graduate of The Citadel’s Class of 1929 and a teacher and coach at Staunton Military Academy, Major Thomas D. Howie of Staunton’s Company L, best known as “the Major of St. Lo,” was killed in action on July 17, 1944, while in command of the 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry, during its final drive to capture the strategic city of Saint-Lô; and

WHEREAS, commander of the 111th Field Artillery Battalion, Lieutenant Colonel Thornton L. Mullins of Richmond, after his unit lost all of its guns but one in the English Channel when its landing craft were either swamped or destroyed by enemy fire, was killed in action while leading a band of survivors and destroying several enemy positions; he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the United States Army’s second highest award for valor; and

WHEREAS, today, the 116th Infantry Regiment and other Virginia National Guard units of soldiers and airmen maintain a proud tradition with troops deployed in harm’s way in the Global War on Terrorism, such as the mobilization to Iraq of the 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry on January 6, 2010, and deployments of the 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry to Iraq and Afghanistan, and soldiers of the 116th joined soldiers from across the Virginia National Guard in several Embedded Training Teams serving in Afghanistan mentoring Afghan security forces; and

WHEREAS, since the start of the current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, nearly 10,000 men and women of the Virginia National Guard have served in one or both conflicts, many on multiple tours, and a total of 13 members have died on active duty protecting our liberties, and it is fitting we honor and remember their service and sacrifices; and

WHEREAS, the Commonwealth of Virginia and its citizens are indebted to and thankful for the D-Day soldiers, their successors in the ranks of the Virginia National Guard today, and their families for their valiant service and enormous sacrifice; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED by the Senate, the House of Delegates concurring, That the General Assembly commend the 29th Infantry Division of the Virginia-Maryland-District of Columbia National Guard and the Virginia communities represented in the Normandy Invasion, on the 66th anniversary of D-Day that occurred on June 6, 1944, honoring the brave troops who served there, especially the soldiers of the Stonewall Brigade, 116th Infantry Regiment who fought in the first wave of attack and the 111th Field Artillery Battalion, both of which are a part of the 29th Infantry Division; and, be it

RESOLVED FURTHER, That the General Assembly acknowledge the efforts of the Virginia National Guard to commemorate the Normandy Invasion with a Day of Awareness to remind Virginians of the sacrifices made to preserve their freedoms by those who fought on D-Day and by the men and women of the Virginia National Guard who continue to fight around the world to protect liberty for their countrymen; and, be it

RESOLVED FINALLY, That the Clerk of the Senate prepare a copy of this resolution for presentation to Major General Robert B. Newman, Jr., the Adjutant General of Virginia, on behalf of the General Assembly in recognition of the soldiers of the 29th Infantry Division of the Virginia-Maryland-District of Columbia National Guard and the Virginia communities represented in the Normandy Invasion who fought at Normandy and on into the heart of Germany to help bring about the final victory over Nazi tyranny.

Courtesy of the Richmond Times-Dispatch

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