Some Gave All

In some circumstances, merely knowing and reciting the facts does not adequately record the story…does not convey to the reader what actually happened during a historic event. The horror of war is just such an event. It is hard to comprehend for those of us that have never seen it first hand.

There have been a number of literary and theatrical works that have helped convey to me what those men that have fought and died for this country over the last 230 years must have felt. Some of these that I can recommend to those with an interest in WWII include:

– D Day: June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II by Stephen E. Ambrose

– The Bedford Boys: One American Town’s Ultimate D-Day Sacrifice by Alex Kershaw

– Band of Brothers : E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest by Stephen E. Ambrose

– Band of Brothers series originally aired on HBO (based on the book by Ambrose).

– Saving Private Ryan (1998) Directed by Steven Spielberg

Back during the height of the Great Depression, many young men joined their local National Guard unit as a way to earn money for their families. When America entered the war, these National Guard units were activated and the units from Central and Southwest Virginia were attached to the 116th Infantry, 29th Division. This division was eventually assigned to the first wave at Omaha Beach as part of the D-Day offensive.

Here is their story as told by Colonel S.L.A. Marshall (US Army Historian) in November 1960 for The Atlantic Monthly:

UNLIKE what happens to other great battles, the passing of the years and the retelling of the story have softened the horror of Omaha Beach on D Day…

In everything that has been written about Omaha until now, there is less blood and iron than in the original field notes covering any battalion landing in the first wave. Doubt it? Then let’s follow along with Able and Baker companies, 116th Infantry, 29th Division. Their story is lifted from my fading Normandy notebook, which covers the landing of every Omaha company…

Able Company has planned to wade ashore in three files from each boat, center file going first, then flank files peeling off to right and left. The first men out try to do it but are ripped apart before they can make five yards. Even the lightly wounded die by drowning, doomed by the water logging of their overloaded packs. From Boat No. 1, all hands jump off in water over their heads. Most of them are carried down. Ten or so survivors get around the boat and clutch at its sides in an attempt to stay afloat. The same thing happens to the section in Boat No. 4. Half of its people are lost to the fire or tide before anyone gets ashore. All order has vanished from Able Company before it has fired a shot.

Already the sea runs red. Even among some of the lightly wounded who jumped into shallow water the hits prove fatal. Knocked down by a bullet in the arm or weakened by fear and shock, they are unable to rise again and are drowned by the onrushing tide. Other wounded men drag themselves ashore and, on finding the sands, lie quiet from total exhaustion, only to be overtaken and killed by the water. A few move safely through the bullet swarm to the beach, then find that they cannot hold there. They return to the water to use it for body cover. Faces turned upward, so that their nostrils are out of water, they creep toward the land at the same rate as the tide. That is how most of the survivors make it. The less rugged or less clever seek the cover of enemy obstacles moored along the upper half of the beach and are knocked off by machine-gun fire…

By the end of fifteen minutes, Able Company has still not fired a weapon. No orders are being given by anyone. No words are spoken. The few able-bodied survivors move or not as they see fit. Merely to stay alive is a full-time job…

By the end of one half hour, approximately two thirds of the company is forever gone. There is no precise casualty figure for that moment. There is for the Normandy landing as a whole no accurate figure for the first hour or first day. The circumstances precluded it. Whether more Able Company riflemen died from water than from fire is known only to heaven. All earthly evidence so indicates, but cannot prove it…

By the end of one hour, the survivors from the main body have crawled across the sand to the foot of the bluff, where there is a narrow sanctuary of defiladed space. There they lie all day, clean spent, unarmed, too shocked to feel hunger, incapable even of talking to one another. No one happens by to succor them, ask what has happened, provide water, or offer unwanted pity. D Day at Omaha afforded no time or space for such missions…

The National Guard unit from Bedford Virginia was rolled into Able Company. In the space of less than one hour on June 6, 1944, a town of 3,200 people lost 19 young men….the highest per capita loss of any town in the United States. I live fairly close to Bedford or I may have never learned of their sacrifice. In fact, I was only marginally aware of this story until the National D-Day Memorial was being built (by privately raised funds) in Bedford.
Here a few shots that I took at the D-Day Memorial exactly one year ago:

Back View
Side View
Close-Up 1
Close-Up 2
Top View
Memorial Arch

I hope that everyone enjoys time with family and friends today…I certainly intend to. But I also hope that you remember the sacrifice that stands behind Memorial Day.

I am not exactly a Billy Ray Cyrus fan, but it’s hard to imagine a better way to end this piece than with the chorus of this song:

All gave some and some gave all
And some stood through for the red, white and blue
And some had to fall
And if you ever think of me
Think of all your liberties and recall
Some gave all

About VaWolf82

Engineer living in Central Va. and senior curmudgeon amongst SFN authors One wife, two kids, one dog, four vehicles on insurance, and four phones on cell plan...looking forward to empty nest status. Graduated 1982


7 Responses to Some Gave All

  1. tractor57 05/29/2006 at 2:55 AM #

    I never served in the military mostly because of the many who were willing to serve, much as my father did in Korea. I really never thought much about the subject until one night when he met up with another Korea vet and swapped some stories. My Dad’s stories were all about his time in Japan, never about Korea (I finally figured out that the Korea memories were painful for him). He wasn’t a special man, he just did what was asked like so many others. Afterwards he came home, settled down, raised a family and did all the things you would expect. Yes, special in my eyes but not atypical – many did exactly what he did.
    I really can’t express my profound gratitude for the service many gave – some were able to come home and some could not.

  2. travelwolf 05/29/2006 at 10:12 AM #

    all war evolves into unbearable and unspeakable events and actions….. it’s important that we remember the horrors of war so that hopefully one day no one will have to experience them.

    Sorry to edit a reasonable post…but this entry has nothing to do with current politics and everything to do with honoring those men that have died in defense of this country. Save political comments (even valid, intelligent views) for some other forum. – VaWolf82

  3. coppertop 05/29/2006 at 11:16 AM #

    I couldn’t agree more travelwolf. War is not something anyone should ever desire. However today there are countless men and women volunteering for service, going through academies and ROTC programs across the country knowing that very soon they will soon be in the ‘sandbox,’ as many people call it.
    I’m glad that SFN put this together. I don’t know if it is still true but if you take out the various service academies (USNA, WestPoint, USAFA, Etc) that provide servicemen and women to all of our armed forces, do you know what school provides the next highest number of alumni to the military?
    You guessed correctly, NC State.
    Through its ROTC programs and people like me who graduate and then turn to service after college, NC State has more alumni serving today than anyother college or university in the country. Which is not surprising given North Carolina’s history of service. Although NC was one of the last states to Succeed fromt he union, and only did so after Virginia and Tennessee did, we provided more troops and supplies than any other state for either side during the civil war.
    North Carolina and NC State especially should be grateful for the many servicemen and women out there today. I know from my 4 years on active Duty that I meet just as many North Carolinians than I do from any other state, red or blue regardless! I have family and friends in various branches who have, or are serving in the Gulf or around the world. I am sure that applies to many who read this board, and I feel confident that you are as proud of them as I am.
    I do hope that everyone enjoys this holiday and that in doing so you remember, pray, or do whatever it is that you do and think of the people who can’t be at home, or with family because of their service. I was fortunate enough to see some family this weekend but thousands aren’t so lucky. Thousands of NC state alumni are out serving their country and if they are fortuante enough to have Internet access, I hope they see this piece and remember why they are so d*mn proud to be NC State fans.

  4. BJD95 05/29/2006 at 9:23 PM #

    Thanks to all our veterans out there. And thank you for your service, VaWolf.

  5. Cardiff Giant 05/30/2006 at 10:41 AM #

    Great post, VAWolf, really great.

  6. mwcric 05/30/2006 at 11:27 AM #

    VaWolf82, you’ve probably already seen this, but for a couple years consecutively the Richmond Times-Dispatch ran outstanding stories on the Bedford Boys. For those interested, I’ve been able to find one of them here:
    God bless the men and women who have served and continue to serve our nation – and especially those who made the supreme sacrifice.


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