3 February 1941
Overseas: 5 October 1942
Campaigns: Normandy, Northern France, Rhineland, Central
Days of combat: 242
Distinguished Unit Citations: 4
Awards: MH-2 ; DSC-44 ; DSM-1 ; SS-854 ; LM-17; SM-24
; BSM-6,308 ; AM-176
Commanders: Maj. Gen. Milton A. Reckord (February 1941-January
1942), Maj. Gen. Leonard T. Gerow (February 1942-July 1943),
Maj. Gen. Charles H. Gerhardt (July 1943 to inactivation)
Returned to U.S: 4 January 1946
Inactivated: 17 January 1946
Battle Casualties: 20,111
Non-Battle Casualties: 8,665
Total Casualties: 28,776
being inducted on 3 February 1941 at their home armories, the
largest contingent of Virginians, members of the 29th Division,
moved to Fort Meade. In February 1942 the War Department instructed
the division to convert from its square configuration to a triangular
arrangement best suited for fighting a modern opponent. The
old formation was designed to generate frontal attacks against
prepared positions akin to the trenches of World War 1. The
new design cut the division by eliminating brigade headquarters,
reducing the infantry to three regiments and the artillery regiments
to four battalions. The support elements shrank to company or
battalion size. This procedure made efficient use of men and
equipment, and, when coupled with a plentiful supply of new
vehicles, turned an infantry division into a highly flexible
team capable of rapid movement. The 29th carried out its conversion
at Fort Meade on 12 March 1942. This transition removed most
of the District units from the Blue and Gray, along with Pennsylvania's
176th Field Artillery, leaving the 29th almost exclusively a
Virginia-Maryland formation. The 116th Infantry remained unchanged,
as did the 29th Signal Company. The 176th Infantry dropped out
to become a separate unit. Berryville's Headquarters Company,
88th Infantry Brigade changed mission and branch to become the
division's 29th Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop (later 29th Reconnaissance
Troop, Mechanized). The 54th Field Artillery Brigade's Headquarters
and Headquarters Battery merely reorganized as Headquarters
and Headquarters Battery, 29th Division Artillery. Drastic change
came in the 111th Field Artillery, which disbanded as a regiment.
The battalions traded 75-mm guns for new weapons-the 1st drew
105-mm howitzers and became the 111th Field Artillery Battalion
while the 2nd assumed the division's role as the 227th Field
Artillery Battalion. Headquarters Battery and the band both
left the division becoming, respectively, the Pioneer Company
of the 629th Tank Destroyer Battalion and the Band, Air Corps
School, Dothan, Alabama.
greater turmoil hit the Commonwealth's portion of the 104th
Medical and 104th Quartermaster Regiments, both multistate organizations.
All three Virginia pieces of the former were disbanded; two
of the three in the latter suffered the same fate.
C, 104th Quartermaster Regiment, the lone survivor, transferred
out of the division as the 146th Quartermaster Company. The
only remaining change of note came in England on 10 October
1943 when the division combined its four remaining bands to
form the Band, 29th Infantry Division (later simply 29th Infantry
Division Band). In this process, the ll6th's Band joined with
the Marylanders from the 115th and 175th Infantry and the division
artillery's band (inducted as part of the 110th Field Artillery).
leaving the Blue and Gray Division on 12 March 1942, the 176th
Infantry remained as part of the garrison of Washington, D.C.
The unit was reassigned to the Infantry School at Fort Benning,
Georgia, on 11 April 1943. The 176th disbanded on 10 July 1944
and its members became replacements in other commands. The regimental
band, from Petersburg, became the only Virginia National Guard
unit sent to the Pacific Theater. It had been withdrawn on 8
January 1944 and renamed the 221st Army (later Army Ground Forces)
Band and embarked at Seattle, Washington, on the General Howze
in April 1945. Following temporary duty in Hawaii, the band
reached Okinawa on 24 July and remained in garrison until September,
when it was reassigned to Korea, and inactivated there 16 May
counteract German 'Blitzkrieg' tactics the War Department used
antiaircraft and antitank platoons from divisional artillery
brigades as separate battalions. The 629th Tank Destroyer Battalion,
formed with men from the Blue and Gray Division, activated at
Fort Meade on 17 February 1942. On 12 March it absorbed the
former Headquarters Battery of the 111th Field Artillery into
its Pioneer Company (renamed Reconnaissance Company on 29 July
1942). The 629th trained extensively in Virginia, the Carolinas,
Florida, Texas and Camp Young, California, before it embarked
for England on the S.S. Samaria in New York harbor on 29 December
1943. The 629th's combat operations began on 2 July 1944 and
they fought their way through France, Luxembourg, Belgium and
Germany. The unit sailed back to the United States in late November
1945 on the U.S.S. Hermitage and inactivated at Camp Kilmer,
New Jersey, on 3 December 1945.
regimental band of the 111th Field Artillery quickly reported
to Napier Field in Dothan, Alabama, in March 1942 to support
the Army Air Force's Flying School. During the band's three
years in Alabama, it held four different designations: Band,
Air Corps School, Dothan, Alabama, and 99th Army Air Force Band
in 1942; 599th Army Band (27 December 1943); and 599th Army
Air Force Band (25 March 1944). The unit sailed from New York
harbor on the S.S. Argentina and landed in France on 19 April
1945. It never entered a combat area and was inactivated in
France on 5 December.
most exotic wartime experiences of any of the Commonwealth's
units fell to Richmond's 146th Quartermaster Truck Company.
The truckers trained in Maryland, Pennsylvania and South Carolina,
before sailing from New York on the S.S. Aquitania. Their voyage
took them around the Cape of Good Hope, and landed the unit
on Africa's eastern coast at Massaua, Eritrea (in present day
Ethiopia), in October 1942. The company hauled cargo for over
a year in Libya and Egypt. In March 1944 they sailed on the
S.S. Otranto, passed through the Mediterranean Sea, and landed
at Southampton, England. The unit underwent training at Dorchester
and Bristol, then shipped across the Channel to Normandy on
16 July 1944. The company was involved in operations which took
it through France, Belgium and into Germany by the end of the
war. In July 1945 the 146th moved to Berlin and remained there
until inactivation in February 1946.
April and September 1942 those commands remaining in the 29th
Division conducted training in Maryland, Virginia, the Carolinas,
ending up at Fort Blanding, Florida. They then moved secretly
by train to a staging area at Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, for deployment
overseas. Most of the Blue and Gray, including the 116th Infantry,
left the port of New York aboard the ocean liner Queen Mary
on 26 September for an unescorted high-speed run across the
Atlantic. The balance followed on the Queen Elizabeth on 5 October.
The troops landed in Scotland and were transported to Tidworth
Barracks, in southern England, where an intensive training program
at Tidworth the European Theater of Operations created a provisional
unit within the 29th Division, the 29th Ranger Battalion. The
Army's lone ranger battalion recently demonstrated its worth
in North Africa and planners in London wanted a similar elite
group in England to prepare for the invasion of Europe. The
picked men learned specialized assault tactics by training with
British Commandos and detachments accompanied their instructors
on three hit-and-run raids in Norway and in the English Channel.
The 29th Rangers also performed well in allied pre-invasion
exercises in England. A policy decision by the War Department
awarded the ranger mission to others, forcing London to disband
the battalion in October 1943. Fortunately for the Blue and
Gray, the men returned to their former units and passed on their
May 1943 the division moved to the Devon-Cornwall peninsula
and started conducting simulated attacks against fortified positions.
Assault landing practice followed at the theater' 5 amphibious
training center at Slapton Sands. In July 1943 while in Devon
the 29th changed commanders with Maj. Gen. Charles Gerhardt.
Gerhardt and his dog "D-Day" would become familiar
sights to all who served in the Blue and Gray.
stretches of French coastline in Normandy were selected as the
sites for the landings that the allies intended as the primary
effort to defeat Hitler on the western front. One of these,
codenamed "Omaha," became the responsibility of the
Regular Army's 1st Infantry Division and the 29th on the morning
of 6 June 1944. The 116th Infantry received the mission of leading
the division ashore, the only National Guard regiment to participate
in the first wave on that historic day. The 16th Infantry of
the 1st Division landed to their left and the 2d Ranger Battalion
was assigned to capture the cliffs on their right. The "Stonewall
Brigade" had responsibility for a section of beach 3,000
yards long but containing only two passages inland. The regiment
had the task of opening both routes so that succeeding units
could drive inland.
counted on heavy naval and air bombardment to neutralize the
defenses just before the boats carrying the first wave hit shore.
Intelligence expected the Germans to use inferior quality troops
along the coast and keep their best divisions inland to counterattack.
On D-Day, however, fate had placed a crack unit on the cliffs
overlooking Omaha as part of a training exercise. This development
cost the 116th dearly.
first assault wave of the 116th consisted of Companies A, G,
F and E. They loaded into landing craft at 4:00 in the morning.
Difficulties began as soon as the small boats started towards
shore and encountered large waves. At 6:30 the first craft approached
the beach and came under fire from German gunners. Some boats
suffered direct hits or sank when near misses flooded them with
seawater. Obstacles stopped others offshore and forced the men
to wade in while exposed to fire, often at locations far from
their assigned sectors.
A was hit hardest. They suffered more losses getting ashore
than any other unit of the 116th. Forty-six guardsmen from Bedford
were in the company, but only twenty-three survived that day.
Within ten minutes every officer in the company was a casualty
and the survivors found themselves pinned down by Germans shooting
from the tops of nearby cliffs. The other three companies in
the first assault group fared somewhat better, in part because
many of their boats were pushed off course or because smoke
from fires started by naval gunfire hid them from the defenders.
second wave started landing troops at seven. These companies
encountered many of the same problems and also became pinned
down. Maj. Sidney Bingham, commander of the 2d Battalion, finally
organized men in the center of the zone and captured a large
stone house dominating the beach near Les Moulins draw, but
heavy fire again blocked further movement. The third wave came
ashore twenty minutes later and benefited from the sacrifices
of those who had gone before. This element, mostly from the
1st and 3d Battalions and the attached 5th Ranger Battalion,
finally fought their way to the crest of the bluff between the
beach's two draws and, led by Company C, became the first element
of the 29th Infantry Division to penetrate the first zone of
defenses. Shortly thereafter a second force punched through
further east. Ten minutes after the third wave landed the last
elements of the regiment started reaching shore, including Col.
Charles Canham who remained in command despite a painful wound.
1l6th's artillery support on D-Day was supposed to come from
the dozen howitzers of the 111th Field Artillery Battalion.
Unfortunately, all of the amphibious trucks (DUKWs) transporting
the guns to the beach either swamped or suffered hits. The dazed
survivors struggled ashore near Les Moulins at 8:30 and were
told by Lt. Col. Thornton Mullins "To Hell with our artillery
mission, we're infantrymen now!" A sniper soon killed the
colonel, but his troops assisted their fellow Virginians in
the drive inland.
nightfall American forces controlled the key terrain at Omaha
and plus the cliffs on the right. The drive for their next objective
began, the communications and traffic crossroads in the city
of St. Lo. The Germans tenaciously defended and forced the Americans
to fight for each hedgerow. During this combat Tech. Sgt. Frank
Peregory of Charlottesville's Company K, 116th Infantry, earned
his Medal of Honor by capturing an enemy strongpoint single-handed.
Unfortunately, he was killed a few days later.
29th took five weeks to reach St. Lo. Just before the final
drive captured the city Maj. Thomas Howie, commander of the
3d Battalion, 116th Infantry, promised his men "I'll see
you St. Lo." He was killed immediately afterwards but General
Gerhardt ordered the column to carry his body into the town
square. A New York Times correspondent's story of the incident
immortalized the "Major of St. Lo." The division's
Task Force Cota, a strike team led by the assistant division
commander, Brig. Gen. Norman Cota, finally gained the objective
and raised the division flag over the rubble before all the
fighting ceased. The Blue and Gray's attack continued on to
Vire in late July where the 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry won
a Presidential Unit Citation for its role in the capture of
Allies' need for ports to sustain the invasion led to the 29th's
next assignment. Trucks shifted the division south to Brest
where a bypassed German garrison was stubbornly fighting to
protect a submarine base. Siege operations reminiscent of the
battles of Yorktown and Petersburg started on 24 August and
ran until 18 September when the battered garrison finally surrendered.
The men of the Blue and Gray deserved a rest, but after only
six days they moved by train across France and Belgium to a
part of Holland near the German border.
the rest of the war the 29th Division clawed its way into western
Germany. The men missed Hitler's Ardennes offensive (the battle
of the Bulge) but by keeping up pressure on their own sector
of the line freed other units to counterattack and defeat the
Germans' last threat. In the spring the Blue and Gray finally
broke through, capturing a number of cities and thousands of
prisoners. Munchen-Gladbach fell to the division on 1 March
1945 which then found itself supporting other American forces
mopping up resistance in Germany's industrial heartland, the
Ruhr "Pocket." This operation involved little combat
as everyone realized that the war was about to end.
24 April the 116th became the first unit in the 29th Infantry
Division to reach the Elbe River where the Americans halted
to await their Russian allies advancing from the east. The first
Soviet unit (5th Guards Cavalry Division) reached the 29th's
sector on 2 May. The following day Brig. Gen. Sands, Division
Artillery commander, crossed the river to greet them.
Germany's surrender the men of the Blue and Gray moved west
again to assume occupation duties in the region around the ancient
city of Bremen and its port, Bremerhaven, where they remained
until it was time to ship home. The Old Dominion's units of
the 29th sailed from Bremen in a series of convoys. The first,
departing on Christmas day 1945, included the divisional band,
the 116th Infantry and the 111th Field Artillery aboard the
S.S. LeJeune and John Schueitzer. Headquarters Battery, 29th
Division Artillery, and the 227th Field Artillery Battalion
put to sea on New Year's day in the S.S. Bienville, followed
two days later by the John Erickson with the signal company
and reconnaissance troop. All of these units were landed in
New York harbor and moved to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, for demobilization.
The 116th inactivated on 6 January 1946, followed by the balance
of the division on the 16th and 17th.