Virginia National Guard Historic Foundation
Education & Research
* Background courtsey of the National Guard Beareau
Introduction to the Virginia National Guard history
Tracing its roots back to the earliest colonial militias, the National Guard is the oldest branch of the United States military. In one form or another, the National Guard has served in every one of its country’s conflicts, including the French and Indian War which took place before there was a United States. From the Revolutionary War through the Civil War, serving on both sides, and into the Spanish American War, National Guard units, raised and supported by the individual states served with character and distinction as part of the U.S. Army. It was not until 1903, however, that a more formal relationship was defined by the U.S. Government’s Militia Act.
The Act provided for greater control of the states’ units by the Federal Government. Among its other mandates, the Militia Act included provisions for voluntary enlistment, standardized equipment, equal pay and rank for performance, and equal discipline and punishment for misbehavior. The U.S. War Department (precursor to the Department of Defense established in 1947) also assigned Regular Army officers to work with the state units and created the Division of Militia Affairs, later renamed the National Guard Bureau.
The colonist chose a location for their settlement-a marshy peninsula 50 miles up the James River –which was easily defensible if the Spanish attack. Named “James Cittie,” the first permanent English settlement in North America was established.
Battle of Cowpens
An American force of 300 Continentals and 700 militia from North and South Carolina, Virginia, and Georgia, won a victory against the British at the Battle of Cowpens in South Carolina on 17 January 1781. Virginian Brigadier General Daniel Morgan, pursued by 1,100 British under Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton, carefully picked his ground for a defensive battle. Morgan personally went among the Continentals and militiamen to explain that he wanted two good volleys from the militia, who would then be free to ride away. The next day, the battle went very much as Morgan had planned. Georgia and North Carolina sharpshooters, in front of the main body of American militia, picked off British cavalrymen as they rode up the slight rise toward the Americans. Then the deadly fire of the main body of South and North Carolina militia forced Tarleton to commit his reserves. The British infantry, who assumed that the Americans were fleeing, were hit by the main body of Continentals, Virginia militiamen, and a company of Georgians. As they fled the field, Tarleton and his dragoons were pursued by Colonel William Washington’s cavalry. The British lost 100 killed including 39 officers, 229 wounded, and 600 captured. The Virginia militia lineage from Cowpens is held today by the 116th Infantry, Virginia Army National Guard.
The Siege of Yorktown
The siege of Yorktown, beginning on September 28, 1781, and ending on October 19, 1781, at Yorktown, Virginia, was a decisive victory by a combined force of the American Continental Army troops led by General George Washington and Marquis de Lafayette, and French Army troops led by Comte de Rochambeau over a British army commanded by British Lieutenant General Charles Cornwallis. Forty percent of the American forces at Yorktown were Virginia Militia troops. Brigadier General Thomas Nelson, Jr., who was also serving as Virginia’s governor, commanded the Virginia militia. He was also responsible for directing the state’s efforts to supply food and military supplies to both the American and French armies. Some 3,500 men served with the Virginia Militia during the siege. They performed number of combat support and combat service support tasks such as building fortifications, distributing rations and even herding cattle to the encampments. They also were responsible for manning part of the siege lines. After the siege was completed the Virginia Militia served as provost marshal guards and led Cornwallis’s defeated army to prison camps. When this last duty was completed, most of the Militia were demobilized and returned to their homes.
In September 1791 the western counties of Pennsylvania broke out in rebellion against a federal excise tax on the distillation of whiskey. After local and federal officials were attacked, President Washington and his advisors decided to send troops to pacify the region. It was further decided that militia troops, rather than regulars, would be sent. On August 7, 1794, under the provisions of the newly-enacted militia law, Secretary of War Henry Knox called upon the governors of Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania for 12,950 troops as a test of the President’s power to enforce the law. This first use of the Militia Law of 1792 set precedence for use of the militia to “execute the laws of the union, (and) suppress insurrections.
War with Mexico
To support the war with Mexico in 1854 the Commonwealth raised a single regiment designated as the First Regiment of Virginia Volunteers in 1846. All the men were volunteers as there was no law allowing the federal government to mobilize militia units for overseas service. In this Center For Military History Image the Army cannoneers are wearing typical Mexican War–era uniforms.
The Battle of Gettysburg
The Battle of Gettysburg, the largest battle ever fought in the Western hemisphere, is often called the turning point of the Civil War. Militia units from most of the Southern states and many Northern states fought in the battle which lasted three days in the heat of the summer of 1863. Many soldiers from both sides are buried in the Gettysburg National cemetery which was site if the famous “Gettysburg Address” by President Abraham Lincoln.
1607 – 1875
The Colonial Era (1607-1774)
Starting with Captain John Smith at “James Towne” in 1607 for the next 168 years, thousands of “Virginians” served in the state militia. As the colonists moved westward, they often fought the native tribes over land rights. Virginia’s tribes tried their best to resist, making attacks in 1622 and 1644, when well-coordinated assaults across the colony threatened its continued existence. After the war started in 1644 the legislature authorized free-black colonists (mostly former slaves) to become part of the militia. Despite the natives best attempts nothing could stop the westward push by the colonists. As the area around Henrico (today’s Richmond) was settled in the 1650s, its militia combined with that of nearby Charles City County to organize a militia regiment in 1652, the heritage of which is carried by the 276th Engineer Battalion, the oldest continuous militia tradition in the state. By 1700 settlers were moving over the Blue Ridge Mountains and into the Shenandoah Valley. As enough colonists gathered around what is today the town of Staunton, the Augusta County Regiment was organized in 1741; today its lineage is carried by the Virginia Guard’s 116th Infantry. In the 1750s, with more colonists moving deeper into the wilderness, conflict soon erupted with French, who also claimed much of the same territory. Known as the French and Indian War (1755-1763) it brought to national attention George Washington, who as a Lieutenant Colonel of the Virginia Regiment, distinguished himself in covering the British army’s retreat after “Braddock’s Defeat.”
The Revolutionary War (1775-1783)
With the start of the Revolution in 1775, most men in the Virginia militia volunteered to fight for liberty. Some already belonged to well-organized units such as the Culpeper Minute men. George Washington was appointed as the commander of the Continental Army. Other Virginia militiamen also played important roles in winning American independence from Britain. Among these were Winchester’s Daniel Morgan, who led his men to victory at Cowpens; General Hugh Mercer who helped gain the victory at Princeton; General Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee who commanded a cavalry corps in the Continental Army; and General George Rogers Clark who led a small army and captured much of the “far west.” Many hundreds of other Virginians served in every theater of the war.
In 1781 several British armies under the command of Lord Charles Cornwallis converged on Virginia. They were soon surrounded and place under siege at Yorktown by the combined American and French armies under the command of Washington. Cornwallis was compelled to surrender on 19 October 1781 effectively ending the war and guaranteeing American independence. Among the 19,000 troops Washington had in his command were eight Virginia militia regiments, in all numbering some 3,100 men.
The New Republic (1784-1860)
By 1787 the new Constitution was adopted and President George Washington was in office. Foremost among his efforts was the passage by Congress of the Militia Act of 1792. This Act outlined the federal and state roles in organizing, arming, training and use of the militia of the “several states” as a reserve for the Regular Army. Among its provisions was the requirement for each state to have an adjutant general to oversee all of the points noted along with the responsibility for the raising and dispatching to the Army forces requested in times of crisis. This Act remained the basis for the militia until it was replaced by the Militia Act of 1903 that lead directly to the creation of the modern National Guard.
Conflict with Britain erupted again in 1812. Virginia’s initial role was small, with a brigade of about 400 militia volunteers under the command of Brigadier General Joel Leftwich from Bedford County, moving to garrison Fort Meigs in Ohio over the winter of 1812-1813.
On June 22, 1813 the British attempted to land a raiding party on Craney Island near Norfolk but were repelled by militia forces including the “Portsmouth Light Artillery”, which had been organized as a volunteer company in 1809. Today the lineage of the Portsmouth Light Artillery is carried by Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 2nd Battalion, 183rd Cavalry in Portsmouth.
The decades between the War of 1812 and the Civil War were mostly peaceful in the Commonwealth, though tensions over slavery were increasing to fever pitch in the 1850s.
Due to poor performance by some officers and units in the war of 1812, Virginia’s adjutant general began taking steps to raise the professional standards of the militia officer corps. In 1820 he had a book entitled The Military Laws of Virginia published and distributed to each colonel so they could in turn pass its knowledge down to their lower officers. This appears to be the first time the state made an active effort to reach out and share information with subordinates as to what their duties and responsibilities were within the state force.
The only major conflict in this period, the war against Mexico, had no direct impact on the state. However to support the war effort the Commonwealth raised a single regiment designated as the First Regiment of Virginia Volunteers in 1846. All the men were volunteers as there was no law allowing the federal government to mobilize militia units for overseas service.
Tensions concerning slavery continued to grow on a national level such that by 1859 all that was needed was a spark to set it off. That spark came on 16 October 1859 when abolitionist John Brown led a small force into Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now W.Va.), to capture the federal arsenal and distribute the guns to slaves so they could fight for their freedom. His raid quickly fell apart and the local militia, with assistance from units such as the “Continental Morgan Guard” from Winchester, pushed the raiders into the town firehouse and held them in place until U.S. Marines under the command of Army Colonel Robert E. Lee arrived from Washington and captured the entire group. Brown was tried and executed by the Commonwealth for promoting slave insurrection.
The Civil War and Reconstruction (1861-1875)
The opening shots of the Civil War occurred in Charleston Harbor, S.C., on the morning of 12 April 1861. Virginia had not yet succeeded to join the Confederacy though it did so on 17 April.
Probably not surprisingly, Virginians fought in every major engagement of the Army of Northern Virginia; but they also served in the mountains of West Virginia and with the Army of Tennessee. Other fought along the coast of North Carolina. All told the state fielded about 200,000 soldiers during the war, the largest number contributed by any Confederate state. This war, the largest conflict ever fought on American soil, ended when General Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House on 9 April 1865.
Following the end of the war all the southern states entered a period known as “Reconstruction” under federal martial law. This allowed the federal government to be sure the rights of former slaves, who were now freed, were protected and that southern laws and institutions would safeguard those rights. The state was occupied by federal troops and there was no organized militia presence until Reconstruction ended in Virginia in 1870.
1876 – 1902
As soon as the last federal troops left the state in late 1870 the reinstated adjutant general began reorganizing what was now known as the “Virginia Volunteers” (the direct forerunner of today’s Virginia National Guard). This force was composed entirely of uniformed volunteer companies.
As the Volunteers began organizing their companies something happened that had not occurred before the war. African Americans (mostly former slaves) were now joining the force. They served in all-black units commanded by men of their own race, following Army policy of the time. Starting with the 1871 organization of the “Attucks Guard” (named for Crispis Attucks, the black man killed by British troops in the Boston Massacre in 1770), by the mid-1880s there were 20 black companies in communities across the state, from Tidewater to Staunton and Danville to Fredericksburg. Due to a severe economic downturn in the late 1880s many Volunteer companies, white as well as black, were disbanded because they could not meet the minimum standards in personnel. By 1898 there were only eight black companies remaining in the Volunteers.
Following the American declaration of war against Spain over Cuban independence in April 1898, the Virginia Volunteers raised four infantry regiments for overseas service (again, as with the Mexican War, every man had to individually volunteer, there was no unit mobilization as we understand the term today). Three regiments were composed of white soldiers and one, the 6th Virginia Volunteers, was composed entirely of African Americans, though the regimental commander was a white Regular Army officer. None of these units saw combat. Only one, the 4th Virginia, served overseas; as part of the garrison for Havana, Cuba, during the armistice leading to the treaty ending the war.
As a result of America’s emergence on the global scene following victory in the 1898 Spanish-American War, citizen-soldiers would be called by their President to serve as an essential part of America’s military.
1903 – 1939
World War I
The small town that was the site of Villa’s first attack, Columbus, New Mexico, became a bustling army post and supply depot. In the foreground, a large truck convoy is forming up to carry supplies across the border to Pershing’s columns that are in pursuit of Pancho Villa and his men. (Library of Congress)
Major General Charles G. Morton; a stern taskmaster, he insisted his troops would become as disciplined as any Regular Army division.
From a Maryland veteran’s grouping comes this card which highlights two important points: the Blue and Gray divisional logo makes its appearance and at the end of the inspirational message are the words which have come to symbolize the 29th: “Let’s Go.”
A well preserved uniform of a private in Company “F”, 113th Infantry Regiment. After arrival in France, this was the more commonly seen uniform and equipment combination.
The Commander of the American Army, General John J. Pershing, is seen here with Major General Morton, during Pershing’s August 1918 visit to the 29th Division in the Alsace. (US Army Signal Corps)
A stretch of road typical of the Meuse-Argonne campaign. Attempting to resupply forward units while traversing these roads and under constant enemy shellfire, would prove to be a stern test of the AEF’s logisticians.
A clear image of an extremely youthful looking sergeant, John Hickson Jr. of Halifax, Virginia, from Company “L”, 116th Infantry Regiment.
Nothing but smiles in the back of this truck; the war is over and they know it. Now the only real question is “When are we going home?”
Three NCOs from the 1st Virginia Cavalry. The 1st Virginia Cavalry was comprised of men who had previously served in the Richmond Light Infantry Blues and had voluntarily converted to cavalry in order to deploy to the Mexican Border.
A period photograph showing the mix of billeting for the soldiers of the 29th. On the left hand side, the soldiers are benefiting from the construction of wooden buildings while those on the right are still living in tents.
Of perhaps greater use than the inspiring words on the front side, this reverse side spells out the soldier’s General Orders; a memorization requirement for every 20th Century U.S. soldier.
Looking much like soldiers of the earlier Spanish-American War period, these Doughboys are marching through the streets of Newport News on their way to the ship that will carry them overseas. Soon after arrival in France, the campaign hats and canvas leggings will be replaced by overseas hats or helmets and woolen puttees. Almost 300,000 Doughboys would sail from Newport News en route to France. (USAMHI)
The scope and size of the Meuse-Argonne can be seen in this map of the campaign. More than a million U.S. soldiers and Marines were involved in the battle which continued, in places, right up to the signing of the Armistice on 11 November 1918. (USAMHI)
The 29th and 33rd Divisions operational sectors on the eastern side of the Meuse River. By the end of the war, the 29th had suffered more than 5,500 casualties, most of which were from this relatively small area of operation. (USAMHI)
A photograph taken in the Meuse Valley during the September-October fighting. It is unique because it appears not to be raining. This campaign was marked by bad weather and wet conditions in addition to relentless German artillery, machine guns and gas attacks.
The large certificate awarded to Doughboys wounded in battle. This example was awarded to a PFC in Headquarters Company, 115th Infantry Regiment. In the 1930s soldiers who earned these also received Purple hearts.
world war I
The 29th Division in WWI
In March 1916, Pancho Villa attacked the United States at Columbus New Mexico.
In response, President Wilson sent the U.S. Army into Mexico to capture or kill Villa.
With General Pershing and the Regular Army deep in Mexico, border attacks continued.
Wilson mobilized the National Guard (NG) from every state and ordered them to the border.
Under the supervision of Regular Army officers, National Guard units from different states
were consolidated into units for the first time.
Virginia’s and New Hampshire’s Field Artillery (FA) units were consolidated into a FA Brigade;
While comparing notes they found their units had fought each other 17 times in the Civil
War. After training together, the VA and NH Field Artillery Brigade was the first NG
consolidated unit to be rated combat-ready.
In March 1917 campaign was over and the National Guard units returned to their home states.
Many of the National Guardsmen who had served on the Mexican border had barely returned to civilian life before they again found themselves in uniform.
By September of 1917, trains were arriving at McClellan on a regular schedule and the troops were pouring in from their home states to be greeted by their new Division Commander, Major General Charles Gould Morton. Morton was an interesting selection to be the Commanding General of the 29th.
Morton took to his task with a flourish. He directed the newly formed 104th Engineer Regiment to build a vast trench system that provided his troops the opportunity to train as closely as possible under conditions they would face on the western front. 29th soldiers constructed their trench line with built-in observation posts, dugouts and command posts.
By the fall of 1917, the units of the 29th Division were assembled at Camp McClellan, Alabama.
Major James A Ulio, Adjutant of the 29th Division, designed a unit symbol portraying reconciliation of North and South.
As the 29th Division history later rather succinctly recounted: “The troops had sailed from four different ports in the United States and landed in two old world countries.” 5 For the record, the 29th Division was the twenty-fourth American division to arrive in France; the first unit of the 29th arriving in Europe on 26 June and the last on 22 July, 1918.
It was not a minute too soon. The German summer offensive was in high gear and among the Allied leadership fear of an enemy breakthrough ran high. Although not even close to being ready for frontline combat duty, it was decided that the 29th could be used in a quiet sector to relieve an earlier arriving and therefore more completely trained unit.
By the 30th of July, the regiments of the 29th Division were manning the front lines in Alsace. The 29th heard actual gunfire for the first time as they witnessed the airplanes from a French squadron shoot down a pair of German observation balloons.
At last, on 23 September 1918, the 29th was relieved at the front by the American 88th Division. Moving mainly at night, and mostly in the rain, the Blue and Gray infantrymen finally reached the rear assembly area of the American First Army and, as planned, became part of the AEF reserve force for the upcoming Meuse–Argonne Offensive.
On 23 September 1918, the 29th Division was relieved from their positions in Alsace by the U.S. 88th Division. The 29th began to march northwards towards the rest of the American Army. Moving mainly at night, and mostly in the rain, the Blue and Gray infantrymen reached the rear assembly area of the American First Army and, as planned, became part of the AEF reserve force for the upcoming Meuse–Argonne Offensive.
With the French Army’s attack on the far right of the Argonne making little progress, the 29th was summoned from its place in reserve and ordered forward. The 29th was now attached to the French XVII Corps. Crossing the Meuse on a bridge near the village of Charny, the “Blue and Gray” Doughboys were on the east side of the Meuse River and the Illinois National Guardsmen from the 33rd Division were on their left flank.
After making a 14-kilometer march the night of 7 October, the 29th’s 58th Infantry Brigade (115th and 116th Infantry regiments and 112th Machine Gun Bn), reached their starting positions. At 5 a.m. the next morning, they followed a hundred yards behind a rolling artillery barrage, and crossed the no-man’s land to their front.
The other infantry units of the 29th soon joined in the attack and, by the time German reinforcements finally stabilized the line, the division was holding a 7-kilometer front. The ground gained during this period had a direct effect on the American advance on the other side of the Meuse, as German artillery batteries situated in the 29th’s sector had been firing across the river at the U.S. III Corps units.
With this area now in American hands, the enemy’s flanking artillery fire was eliminated.
On 11 October, the 116th resumed its attack by moving out at 6 a.m. under the cover of a dense fog. German artillery observers saw them moving and directed accurate artillery and machine gun fire on the Virginians. Soon all four infantry regiments of the 29th were engaged in clearing out the enemy strong points in their sectors.
By 17 October, after 10 days of continuous combat by the 29th Division, there was a short lull. Even the weather improved as the sun made its first appearance in days. On the morning of the 19th of October, the Germans attempted a counterattack against the 116th, but it was easily beaten back.
For the next few days, the Germans continued to bombard the 29th’s front line units with heavy doses of artillery and gas.
The randomness of the danger from the artillery strikes began to wear on the 29th’s soldiers and many began to believe that there was no safe area anywhere in the Meuse-Argonne region. They were right. Yet the 29th continued to stick it out and fight.
On 28 October, the 29th Division received word that they were to be relieved by the U.S. 79th Division and then withdrawn from the front lines. By the evening of 29 October, most of the division was off the line and moving to the rear to be part of the newly forming U.S. Second Army and prepare for a 14 November offensive.
On 11 November the Armistice was signed and brought an end to the fighting. Convinced that the Armistice had let the Germans off the hook, the American Commander General John Pershing, with some foresight, would remark: “They never really knew they were beaten in Berlin. It will all have to be done all over again.”
The Doughboys of the 29th, not having their commander’s strategic vision, were just happy that it was over. They had proven their worth during the Meuse-Argonne campaign, and 5,568 casualties had been a hefty price to pay for the four miles of France they had liberated.
They had made the world safe for democracy and now they were going home.
For soldiers of the 29th Division and other front line units of the AEF, one of the most treasured keepsakes of the war was their Victory Medal and the bars on it indicating the campaigns for which the individual soldier was credited in the official unit records.
1940 – 1950
World War II
Soldiers of the 29th marching to the assault ships. This picture clearly shows the amount of equipment they are carrying and how their rifles have been wrapped in waterproof covers. (USA QM Museum)
The roads and countryside in the Bocage were hotly contested by the German defenders. In this July 1944 dated photograph, taken near St. Lô, two soldiers pause near the body of a dead German soldier, while ahead of them a stretcher team scrambles to get out of the line of fire.
This map shows the fortifications of “Fortress Brest” and the movements of the three infantry regiments of the 29th Division in the campaign to capture the city. By the end of the 26-day battle, the 29th’s infantry regiments suffered causalities of over 600 killed and 2280 wounded. (U.S. Army)
Soldiers of the 29th ID pose with the Sign showing they have reached the German border.
Three members of the 29th Division pose for a picture with the sign welcoming the rest of the American Army to München-Gladbach. By the end of the war, almost every town captured or river crossed rated a sign similar to this one.
An extremely rare copy of the 29 Let’s Go newspaper; recently donated to the VANG HF, it is now on display in the VANG Headquarters
The Remagen Bridge was chosen as the symbol of the European Theater of Operations side of the Occupation Medal.
A graphic portrayal of how the 116th’s and 111th’s landing on Omaha Beach was planned. Bad weather, bad luck and German resistance would quickly destroy this concise operational plan.
Major Thomas Dry Howie: a graduate of The Citadel, a Virginia National Guardsman, and the Commander, 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment. A courageous leader, Howie would become immortalized after his death as “the Major of St. Lô.” (The Citadel)
Major General Charles D. W. Canham, one of the unsung heroes of that bloody morning on Omaha Beach. Later, as Assistant 8th Infantry Division commander he accepted the surrender of Brest (National Archives)
The German town of Bourheim was captured by the 175th Infantry Regiment on 23 November 1944 after hard fighting. Tech Sergeant Joseph A. Farinholt is shown earning his 4th Silver Star by firing his 57mm antitank gun to blow the track off a German tank. Return fire from the now disabled enemy tank wounded Farinholt and shattered his right leg. (National Guard Bureau and Larry Selmon)
Brigadier General William H. Sands, 29th Division Artillery commander, shakes hands with Russian Army General Chapurkin at their 3 May 1945 meeting near the Elbe River.
This German model 1942 helmet has been decorated to reflect a 116th Infantry Regiment soldier’s personal odyssey through the Second World War. The front and top reflect that he was a member of Company “H” and served from Omaha Beach to the Elbe.
When the ships carrying the 29th sailed on 5 June 1944, there would be no turning back. Their destination was a beach ten miles east of the Cherbourg peninsula. This beach, code-named Omaha, was designated for attack by assault companies from both the 1st Division and the 29th. At 2:30 in the morning, the Thomas Jefferson, carrying most of the 116th’s assault companies, arrived off shore. By 3 a.m., the soldiers were climbing into landing craft, each of which could carry 30 fully armed soldiers. Each soldier was fully laden with a weapon, ammo, grenades, demo charges, combat rations, raincoat, assault vest, first aid kit, gas mask, and an inflatable lifebelt.
As the boats approached the beach they were met by heavy German fire. Many were killed or wounded before they even left the boats. Those lucky enough to reach the shore took shelter behind the sea wall. The DUKWs assigned to bring the 111th Field Artillery ashore to support the 116th were too heavily overloaded and 11 howitzer-carrying amphibious vehicles sank.
Quickly assessing the situation, BG Cota and COL Canham took charge and led the men in fighting their way off the deadly beach. As the 115th Infantry Regiment landed, they too began to fight to clear the beach.
That the 29th had managed to overcome all the bad weather, bad luck, and enemy opposition it faced, was truly a tribute to its training, and the courage of the young sergeants and lieutenants. Unfortunately, the next challenge facing the 29th would prove to be as deadly as Omaha Beach.
On 16 June, the 29th and the 2nd Infantry Divisions received orders to attack towards the small city of St. Lô. With the link between the Omaha and Utah beachheads now secure, St. Lô, a small town of 6,000 people, remained a critically strategic location due to its large network of roads.
Unfortunately for the Americans, the terrain in this area of Normandy gave all advantages to the defenders. Known as the “Bocage”, the countryside was covered hedgerows several feet thick and up to 9 feet high making ideal fortifications. The combination of German firepower and French Bocage proved deadly to the attackers. Any advances the Americans made were measured in feet and yards.
An attack was scheduled for 11 July but shortly before, German artillery blasted the 115th which suffered heavy casualties. The 116th moved out as scheduled and made some progress. Fighting continued through the week. The attacking units struggled to make headway, but the 116th managed to advance almost to the town of la Madeleine, just a short distance from St. Lô. The 175th made progress near St. Lô before running into heavy resistance. Despite German artillery fire, a Task Force commanded by BG Cota moved quickly down the St. Lô – St. Clair road and broke into the city. Passing through the rubbled streets, past the badly damaged buildings, the task force quickly captured what remained of the city on 18 July 1944.
The 29th had suffered higher casualties taking St. Lô than they had on Omaha Beach and moved off the line to begin a period of rest after 45 days of fighting. It was a short rest. From 29 July to 16 August, the 29th was engaged in operations to liberate the town of Vire. Soon, however, they were on the move again – this time to attack Brest, a German fortress-city.
By 24 August, the 115th and the 116th made their move towards the city. Well-equipped German strong points held the 29th’s soldiers to minimal gains. Reinforced by the 175th, the soldiers chipped away at the strong German defenses. Over the next few days, the 29th continued to attack. Working with 29th Divisional field artillery support, the 115th made the deepest penetration into “Fortress Brest” but it had come at a high price. Brest was proving to be as deadly as Normany’s beaches and hedgerows.
After several weeks, many of the defending Germans soldiers had had enough and began to surrender. On 18 September BG Canham, now the 8th Infantry Division’s Assistant commander, accepted the surrender of the fortress. When asked by the German commander for his credentials, Canham pointed to his nearby infantryman and said “These are my credentials.”
After withdrawing from the inner city of Brest, the 29th reassembled and had short rest period. Some even began to think about the prospects for furloughs to visit Britain. No such luck. Infantry divisions and fighting soldiers were in high demand, and the 29th received orders to head eastward towards Germany.
By the end of September, the division was moving into defensive positions a few miles inside the German border with Holland. The soldiers of the 29th immediately noticed that they would be fighting a new style of warfare: small German towns surrounded by wide open terrain. At first, the 29th’s soldiers were limited to patrolling in front of the American lines but soon they were on the attack again. Bourheim, Bettendorf, and Wurselen were fought over and taken. Fighting continued until the 29th reached the Roer River.
With the arrival of January 1945, the soldiers knew that soon they would have to attack across the Roer. That day came on 23 February, as they crossed the river and captured the German fortress in Julich known as the “The Citadel.” With that success, the 29th was now able to drive into Germany in pursuit of the fleeing enemy.
Moving quickly now, the 29th continued northward. By the end of the month, they were outside their goal, the large industrial city of München-Gladbach. In a flanking maneuver, the 116th moved to cut off the city from reinforcements, while the 175th moved directly into the center of town.
With that capture, the 29th was bypassed by other U.S. units. The 29th soon received word to mount up and soon were rolling in large truck convoys across the Rhine River. The 116th was diverted after crossing the river and attached to the 75th Infantry Division as part of the force maneuvering to encircle Germany’s large industrial center, the Ruhr. On 4 April, the 116th attacked across the Dortmund-Ems Canal. Although it was becoming obvious to all that the Germans were just about ready to throw in the towel, there was still enough danger in the air to keep the soldiers alert and watchful.
On 17 April, the 29th was again ordered to move out. This time, the operation was to sweep in a north-easterly direction and round up all of the German soldiers west of the Elbe River. On 3 May, a group of Russian soldiers crossed the river and were welcomed by the 29th. Five days later, Victory in Europe (VE-Day) was declared.
The war was over.
A few days before VE-Day, the 29th was assigned to occupy and administer the area of Northern Germany known as the “Bremen Enclave.” Bordered on the north by the North Sea, the Enclave was a large sector that included two German ports, Bremerhaven and Bremen.
One of their first missions in the Enclave was administering the redeployment of Norwegian–based German forces to their homes. In a 4 month period, they processed some 187,355 of these soldiers.
The 29th spent almost eight months on occupation duty. When the orders came through for them to go home, they began to depart in December 1945 in the following order: 116th Infantry, Divisional Artillery, 175th Infantry, Division Headquarters, and 115th Infantry.
The 29th had been on active duty for more than 1,800 days. During that period, the 29th had suffered 19,814 killed, wounded, or captured.
The soldiers who had landed with the division in Normandy and remained for all of its campaigns were eligible to attach four campaign stars to their WW2 Victory Medal ribbon:
- Northern France
- Central Europe
1951 – 1975
A sign of an Army in transition and the beginning of the Air Force. This uniform belonged to an 8th Air Force soldier who transitioned to the Air Force in the late 1940s – early 1950s and he received his new rank stripes before he received an Air Force coat to put them on.
A team from the 176th Infantry Regiment practices with their 60mm mortar. Note the miss-matched uniform: herringbone twill (HBT) and khaki, and the 176th Regiment decal on the helmet liner of the soldier setting the weapon. The difference in uniform parts is indicative of the Guard’s inherent supply problems during peacetime.
SSgt John Lewis, a WW2 Army Veteran, became the first African American to join the VANG since the African American Militia units were inactivated at the end of the 19th century.
The late 1960s and early 1970s saw an increased number of females enlisting in the Virginia National Guard. Prior to WW2, women were mainly restricted to the medical fields but manpower needs of the war opened many jobs to females. This trend continued into the 1970s as more occupational fields were made available.
Official license plate for a Virginia National Guard vehicle
The 176th Infantry Regiment patch; the 176th was home stationed in the Richmond, Virginia area during much of its existence. Its lineage today is maintained in the 276th Engineers.
The guidon for Battery “A”, 111th Field Artillery, from Norfolk, Virginia. During this period the battery was equipped with 105mm Howitzers.
Major General Paul Booth was Adjutant General during the early 1960s. He is seen here with some Air Guardsmen at a VANG open house aimed at recruiting young members of the population in the Richmond area.
Built and equipped to provide air defense for Washington D.C., this Nike-Ajax missile site was in Lorton, Virginia, and manned by the Virginia Guardsmen of Battery “A”, 1st Battalion, 280th Artillery Regiment. It was shut down in 1974.
In 1971 the VA ANG began to receive F-105Ds to replace their F-84s. Many of these aircraft had long service in Vietnam and it took quite a lot of maintenance effort to bring them up to top flying condition.
With the end of the Second World War, it appeared at first that the U.S. military would follow the same pattern as after previous wars and quickly fade away. Most of the Regular Army units had been reduced to a handful of combat veterans and many young draftees within a few short years after the war.
Many changes occurred in the Virginia Guard during this period. None more significant than the authorization from the War Department on 26 February 1947 for Virginia to activate the 149th Fighter Squadron (Single Engine) in Sandston, the Commonwealth’s first Air National Guard unit.
While many of the pre-war 29th Division units, such as the 116th Infantry and 111th Field Artillery, were revamped and reorganized during this period, some new units were also created and added to state rosters. These new units were designed to help defend the continental United States against the increased Soviet threat. Included among these were anti-aircraft artillery (AAA) battalions organized to defend Washington D.C., Baltimore, and the Hampton Roads region from enemy air attacks. Though initially armed with Second World War era anti-aircraft guns, units such as Virginia’s 129th and 418th Anti-Aircraft Battalions, were soon equipped with Nike-Ajax surface-to-air missiles.
Five Virginia Army National Guard units (including three AAA elements) mobilized and deployed to bases in the U.S. to free up Regular Army soldiers for duty in Korea. For the first time the 149th Fighter Squadron was also mobilized and deployed to Godman AFB near Fort Knox, Kentucky. No Virginia Guard unit fought in Korea, though many of the mobilized soldiers and airmen (primarily World War II veterans) did serve as individual replacements. All units were released by 1955.
By 1951, the 29th was essentially a Maryland and Virginia-based National Guard division. The April 1951 strength reports for the National Guard showed Maryland with 4,244 men in uniform and Virginia with 4,359.
The 1960s started quietly enough. While small brushfire conflicts were taking place in a number of remote locations, the Americans and Russians had settled into a period of watchful and uneasy peace, enforced by the realization that both sides had enough nuclear weapons to destroy the world.
With the election of a new President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, things were about to change. Kennedy was more inclined to take an active role in confronting the Communists. That confrontation started in the summer of 1961 when Kennedy decided to mobilize the National Guard in response to a Russian provocation in the occupied and divided city of Berlin. Constructing what came to be known as the “Berlin Wall,” the Russians had managed to seal off the American, French, and British sectors from the rest of Berlin and Germany. By the fall of 1961, over 40,000 National Guardsmen had been brought on active duty and some twenty Air National Guard squadrons had deployed to Europe, mostly to Germany. Though many Army Guard units were activated during the Berlin Wall crisis, none actually deployed overseas. Soon most Guardsmen had returned to their home stations.
The mid-1960s ushered in two events of great impact. These events would greatly affect all of America in general, and the National Guard in particular: the Vietnam War and civil disturbances in major cities and college campuses. Vietnam had begun as a civil war in a Southeast Asian country and quickly became a test bed for President Kennedy’s measured response in confronting Communism. With the deployment of major Army and Marine ground forces in 1965, the war’s impact on American society grew exponentially. Almost simultaneously, the combined outbreak of violence in inner-cities and anti-war protests on college campuses began to share the headlines with the war overseas. President Lyndon Johnson deliberately decided not to activate the Guard and Army Reserve for combat duty in Viet Nam, perhaps fearing that it would worsen the backlash to what was already becoming an extremely unpopular conflict.
1968 proved to be a traumatic year for the soldiers of the 29th Infantry Division. The Army was reorganizing again, and this time it was the fate of the 29th to be inactivated. This left two infantry brigades: the 116th in Virginia, the 58th in Maryland. For the next seventeen years, the two brigades and other state units in Virginia and Maryland would wear different shoulder patches. For the old soldiers of the 29th Infantry Division, having to remove their “Blue and Gray” patch was just one more blow. With reputations, recruiting, and morale at their very lowest, many began to wonder how things could possibly get worse.
The 1950s had started with the violence of the Korean War but ended rather quietly. Conversely, the 1960s had started peacefully enough but ended with America in the middle of a vastly unpopular war, protests and riots in large cities and on campuses, and the 29th Division put out of business. As the 1970s began, everyone knew a new phase of American history was about to begin, but who knew what direction it would take? And more importantly, would the 29th Infantry Division re-appear?
1976 – 2000
2nd Lieutenant Beverly Coleman has her rank pinned on by the Adjutant General of Virginia, Major General William J. McCaddin in 1976.
Virginia NCO Academy pocket patches designed for wear on the fatigue uniform. Shown here are two slightly different versions of the patch with their associated tabs indicating level of training completed.
A lineup of A-7 aircraft on the flightline at Richmond. In 1985 at the Air Force’s tactical fighter competition: “Gunsmoke 85”, the 192nd Tactical Fighter Squadron was named the world’s “Best A-7 Unit.”
A formation of VA ANG A-7s perform the flyover at the Inauguration of Virginia Governor Jerry Baliles in January 1986.
VaARNG PFC Pamela Gay of the 183rd Personnel detachment, killed in a vehicle accident in Saudi Arabia after the war, was the only VANG casualty in Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm.
Several VA Air Guardsman walk out of a Hanger at Aviano AFB in May 1996. The VA ANG was deployed to Aviano to support the Bosnia Peacekeeping mission.
The Sava River Bridge connecting Croatia and Bosnia, This picture, taken from a Blackhawk helicopter by a Virginia Guardsman in 1997, shows the area that under the control of Company “C”, 116th Infantry.
The contrast of aircraft between Army and Air Force; VAANG F-105s on the Richmond flightline, while Army UH-1s pass overhead. Both aircraft types were used extensively in Vietnam and many of Virginia’s aircraft were war-weary, requiring a lot of maintenance.
A colorful selection of patches worn by Air Guardsmen on their uniforms and flight suits. Some of these reflect the currently assigned aircraft in the Virginia Air National Guard.A colorful selection of patches worn by Air Guardsmen on their uniforms and flight suits. Some of these reflect the currently assigned aircraft in the Virginia Air National Guard.
With the reactivation of the 29th Infantry Division in 1985 as “Light Fighters,” the Maryland and Virginia separate infantry brigades were reunited once again under a divisional structure.
The bright yellow sticker designed for high-priority shipments to U.S. Forces deployed in 1990-1991 to Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm. Each Corps deployed to Saudi Arabia was allowed three air shipment pallets per week using this faster delivery chain. Most of these shipments for deployed Virginia Guard units originated from the S. Gardner Waller Depot in Richmond.
Soldiers of the 29th Infantry Division receive medals in recognition of their NATO service from the Polish 16th Parachute Battalion Commander. The irony is obvious; only a few short years earlier, these same Polish troops would have been the sworn enemies of the NATO forces.
Two Company “C”, 116th Infantry soldiers guard the Sava River bridge as part of the United Nations/NATO Stabilization Force (SFOR).
A graphic portrayal of all the various National Guard units that made up the Virginia Army National Guard in the late 1990s and into the 21st Century.
1976 – 2000If the 1960s were a period of profound social change in America, the decade of the 1970s would prove to be a period of significant change for the National Guard in general and in particular for the units of Maryland and Virginia. Among all the changes, there are two that are key to our history: the increased emphasis on the National Guard to provide the Army with combat units, and the widespread emphasis on recruiting African-Americans and women into the ranks of the Guard.
In 1976, the bulk of the VANG was reorganized as a “Separate” Infantry Brigade. A short while later, a new shoulder patch for the 116th Brigade was issued; the gray silhouette of a horse-mounted Stonewall Jackson on a blue background. The patch was soon given an informal nickname, “Stoney on a pony.”
Although many northern states had begun integrating their units as early as 1947, many of the National Guard units in southern states remained closed to most non-white males and all females. The Civil Rights Act of 1965 ensured African-American men were allowed to join all National Guard units.
Restrictions on female soldiers were even more stringent prior to 1970 as reflected in the fact that the only women allowed in Guard units were nurses. With the abolishment of the draft in 1973 minorities and women were suddenly seen as an important and untapped recruiting pool. By 1990 approximately 20 percent of the Virginia Guard was composed of African Americans and other minorities.
In 1965 the 192nd Tactical Clinic, VA ANG, accepted two female nurses as part of its hospital operation making them the first females in the VANG. Since the VaARNG had no medical units authorized nurses, there were no spaces available for women to join the Army Guard. This changed when in 1972 Congress amended the law to allow enlisted women to be accepted. The VAARNG got its first female soldier in 1973. By 1990 approximately seven percent of the Virginia Guard consisted of female soldiers and airmen.
Two major organizational events occurred to the state force during this period. The VA ANG in 1962 was reorganized around its flying unit, the 149th Fighter Squadron, to become the 192nd Tactical Fighter Group. The Group contained all the elements (maintenance, ordnance, medical, administrative, etc.) to keep the 149th operational. In addition, several specialty VA ANG units were organized separate from the 192nd. These included the 203rd Rapid Engineers Deployable Heavy Operations Repair Squadron, Engineers (commonly known as RED HORSE) and the 200th Weather Flight.
On the Army Guard side, under the leadership of Secretary of the Army (and former Virginia Army Guard lieutenant colonel) John O. Marsh, Jr., the 29th Infantry Division was brought back on line in 1985 as a Virginia-Maryland organization.
One final and very important event occurred in this period, the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989. When the Berlin Wall was opened up it marked the end of communist domination of Eastern Europe. Many people began speaking of a “peace dividend,” that the need for a large standing military should be at an end too. Future events would soon moderate that opinion.
On 2 August 1990 the army of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein invaded neighboring Kuwait. President George H.W. Bush immediately began sending troops to defend Saudi Arabia while getting the U.N. to demand the Iraqis leave Kuwait. For the next five-months American and Allied forces continued to build up in the Saudi desert. By the beginning of 1991 it was apparent Hussein was not going to leave willingly, but that he would have to be forced out. During this five-month period, designated as “Operation Desert Shield” (to protect Saudi Arabia) eight VaARNG units were mobilized and deployed to the Gulf. No VA ANG units were mobilized but about 20 individual airmen volunteered for active duty.
The war, designated as “Operation Desert Storm,” opened in the early morning hours of 16 January 1991, with massive and well-directed air attacks against Iraqi command and control centers. The air war continued around the clock for the next five-weeks, until there were few targets left to attack from the air. The ground war began on 23 February. The conflict ended just 100 hours later, on 28 February as a resounding American victory.
Those VaARNG units serving were all combat support units including two truck companies, two engineer headquarters companies, a helicopter aero medical evacuation detachment, one company of military police and another of personnel services plus a military history detachment. In total 710 Virginia Guard personnel (including 105 females) served in theater. None were killed or wounded in combat. One soldier, Specialist Troy Boring of the 1032nd Transportation Company, received an Army
Commendation Medal with V device for Valor for saving other soldiers following a missile strike that destroyed their barracks. Private First Class Pamela Gay, from the 183rd Personnel Company, died in a traffic accident after the war ended.
With the end of the Cold War new missions overseas in places few people had ever heard of before saw Virginia Army and Air personnel serving from the sands of Egypt to the snows of Bosnia. “Peacekeeping” and “nation building” became the new phrases often used to describe military, including Guard, service.
Following the end of Desert Storm Saddam Hussein began a campaign against internal opponents including the ethnic Kurds located in northern Iraq. Hussein’s military, using helicopters not prohibited by the peace treaty ending the war, attacked population centers causing thousands of civilians to flee their villages. The United Nations mandated “no fly zones” over north and south Iraq and set up patrols of fighter jets to enforce the restrictions. From December 1993-January 1994, 47 members of the 192nd Fighter Group, including pilots and maintenance crews, deployed to Incirlik, Turkey. From there the pilots, flying their F-16 “Falcon” fighters, flew numerous missions enforcing the northern ‘no fly zone.’ Though the VA ANG had been mobilized for the Korean War and Berlin Crisis this marked the first time that the unit participated in a “real world” overseas mission. All members returned home safely.
In 1978 Israel and Egypt agreed to end their decade’s long war and sign the Camp David Peace accord. One of the provisions of this agreement required a permanent U.S. observer presence along their boundary line in the Sinai Peninsula. In 1995 the 29th Infantry Division became the first Guard divisional headquarters since the Korean War in 1952 to command soldiers overseas for other than training. A battalion-sized element, including 167 members of the VaARNG, served on this important mission. All returned home safely in July 1995.
Also in 1995 President William Clinton got the warring factions of the former nation of Yugoslavia to sign the Dayton Peace Accords, ending nearly a decade of ethnic and civil war in the Balkans. Part of this agreement called for U.S. and NATO troops to act as “peacekeepers” patrolling the region and maintaining order. Several VaARNG units took part in this mission from 1996-2001 including the 246th Field Artillery and the 116th Infantry.
By the mid-1990s, as part of the ‘peace dividend’, the Army began closing bases it no longer felt it needed to train a shrinking manpower pool. Fort Pickett was one such base slated for closure. Opened as a large training center during World War II, it was again used as a training base during the Korean War. To keep its excellent ranges and facilities available, the Virginia National Guard, working through the National Guard Bureau in Washington, arranged to have the Army transfer the operation of the post to the VaARNG in 1997. At the same time the state headquarters operations of the Virginia National Guard relocated from Richmond to Pickett. Today the post is open year-round and offers training opportunities not only for the Guard and Reserve but all branches of the American military.
As the violent 20th century ended, the 116th was preparing again to deploy to Bosnia and many wondered if perhaps the 21st century might prove to be more peaceful.
2001 – Today
The 29th Infantry Division Army Combat Uniform (ACU) worn by a lieutenant colonel assigned to the 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team in 2007 and 2008 in Baghdad during Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF).
An American officer hands a backpack and other school supplies to a young Afghan girl at a school in the village of Shindand, Afghanistan.
Shown here are three variations on the 29th Infantry Division’s “Blue and Gray” patch. Units of the 29th served in both OIF and OEF.
A sergeant of the Virginia Army National Guard provides basic dental hygiene training to a small boy. Courtesy Virginia Army National Guard Collection
A VANG soldier in the 29th Infantry Division explains the operation and capabilities of the up-armored HUMVEE to a local-national soldier.
The F-16 Cockpit trainer formerly used by the VA ANG and later at the Virginia Aviation Museum at Richmond International Airport (RIC) is now on display at the JFHQ at Defense Supply Center Richmond (DSCR).
A selection of the colorful uniform and flight suit patches worn by VA ANG airmen and officers.
Emblematic of the growing importance of the Air National Guard in America’s National Strategy, the equipping of the VA ANG with F-16s meant they were now flying the same aircraft as their Active Duty comrades.
A VANG Lieutenant Colonel takes advantage of his duty in Iraq to visit an old Crusader monastery. Even a trip such as this required constant vigilance and keeping weapons handy.
A historic and unique artifact now on display at the VANG JFHQ: the 3½ ton pulley from the service elevator in one of the World Trade Center Twin Towers. This pulley was once located atop the tower, over a thousand feet in the air. During the attack on 11 September 2001, this pulley fell to ground and was recovered. It was refurbished and preserved by VANG HF volunteers and placed on permanent display in front of the JFHQ in dedication to all of Virginia’s military veterans and their families.
And on 11 September 2001, everything changed…..
Less than three weeks after soldiers of the 29th Division left Fort Belvoir for their mobilization station at Fort Dix, N.J., to prepare for their Bosnia mission, terrorists flew commercial airliners into the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., and a field in Pennsylvania. The 192nd Fighter Wing of the VAANG came under the control of the North American Air Defense Command. Its mission was to fly combat air patrols over the eastern seaboard. This mission continued into the summer of 2002.
Soldiers of the VAARNG provided security to government installations and critical infrastructure and began training for an airport security mission which would allow the public to return to commercial air travel. By early October 2001 Army Guard soldiers were stationed in Virginia’s nine commercial airports. Their presence provided a sense of security that encouraged the public to return to air travel. Their mission continued through the spring of the following year. The Virginia National Guard was fully engaged in this nation’s homeland defense effort, designated as “Operation Noble Eagle.”
It quickly became evident that the Virginia National Guard would become involved in what was named the “Global War on Terror.” The first theater of the conflict was Afghanistan, where the Al Qaida network was given sanctuary by the Taliban rulers of that country. In October 2001 the U.S., later supported by NATO, invaded Afghanistan in “Operation Enduring Freedom” (OEF) and quickly destroyed the Taliban’s authority over most of the country. But it failed to kill or capture the key leadership of Al Qaida. In early 2002 approximately 70 soldiers of Virginia’s Company B, 3rd Battalion, 20th Special Forces Group were mobilized and deployed to Afghanistan. They captured several important enemy leaders and a large amount of arms and ammunition safely returning home in November 2002.
Resulting from the war in Afghanistan a large number of enemy combatants were brought to the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for detention. Normally security on the base is handled by the U.S. Marine Corps but as the advance planning for the possible war with Iraq was taking shape much of their force was busy training. To help guard the base the 2nd Battalion, 116th Infantry was mobilized on 2 November 2002. It was the first Virginia National Guard battalion to deploy overseas for other than training since World War II. After completing its post mobilization training it deployed to Gitmo where it provided perimeter security for the compound where the detainees are held. The Guard soldiers had no interaction with the prisoners themselves. The unit returned home in October 2003.
The war in Afghanistan continued to 2021. Over the years since 2002 a number of Virginia Guard units, Army and Air, have served in Afghanistan. Among them was the 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry; which had two soldiers killed by a roadside bomb, the first Virginia Guard personnel to die in combat since World War II. Also serving was the Headquarters, 54th Field Artillery Brigade, whose soldiers assisted with the first Afghan presidential election in 2005. Several teams of trainers have deployed to assist in training the Afghan army and police forces. In 2010 the 529th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion deployed under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Michelle Rose, the first Virginia Guard female commander to ever take her unit to war. From the VA ANG, elements of the 203rd RED HORSE Flight and 192nd Fighter Wing served in-country.
While the war in Afghanistan continued, in 2003 the U.S. invaded Iraq, designated as “Operation Iraqi Freedom” (OIF), on 19 March 2003, to locate and destroy what was believed to be stockpiles of “weapons of mass destruction” (WMD-both chemical and biological). While the invasion quickly succeeded in toppling the government of Saddam Hussein, no WMD were located. The war plan had called for a quick strike to end Saddam’s rule and to set up an interim government with UN support and then for the American troops to withdraw. Iraq fell into total chaos with sectarian violence and attacks against American personnel increasing at an alarming level. As a result,the primary focus of America’s military operations for the next seven years was in Iraq.
Three VAARNG units were in theater during the Iraq invasion, with two taking an active role in the initial attack and the third entering the country later in the year. The Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 1030th Engineer Battalion and the 1032nd Transportation Company both accompanied the invasion forces entering Iraq in March and April. The 229th Military Police Company was initially stationed in Kuwait but transferred to provide security for Abu Ghraib Prison in November 2003. All these units returned home with no losses though several soldiers had been wounded, none were serious.
The VA ANG also played a small but important role in the invasion too. Five members of the 200th Weather Flight served in support of the Army’s 101st Airborne Division. The Army has no weather forecasting capability for its helicopter units so it depends upon the USAF and ANG for these specialists to accompany them in combat. The five took part in the invasion of Iraq, with one member, Senior Master Sergeant Lori Flinn, receiving a Bronze Star Medal from Major General David Petraeus, commander of the 101st, for her weather forecasting skills.
In September 2003, as the situation in Iraq rapidly deteriorated, about 300 VA ANG personnel from the 192nd Fighter Wing, along with several of the unit’s F-16 fighters, deployed to Qatar from where the pilots flew combat cover missions over Iraq. All returned home safely.
Over the intervening years several VA ANG units served in Iraq or were split between Iraq and Afghanistan. The 192nd Security Force Squadron (the military police element of the 192nd Fighter Wing) served in OIF in 2006. From late 2006 into early 2007 the 203rd RED HORSE flight served in OIF, with elements again also in OEF, all performing various construction missions.
As the war increased in scope more and more VAARNG units were mobilized and deployed to OIF; too many to completely discuss here. However, several units stand out for various reasons and can be highlighted.
The 276th Engineer Battalion deployed to Iraq in 2004. On 21 December two members of the battalion were among 25 Americans killed by a suicide bomber in their dining facility in Mosul. For its hard, often dangerous work in clearing roadside bombs and destroying enemy ammunition supplies the unit earned an Army Valorous Unit Award (VUA), the first time this decoration has been awarded to a Virginia Guard unit. The 276th earned a second VUA during its 2008-2009 tour of Afghanistan making it the most highly decorated battalion in the state force since World War II.
The 1173rd Transportation Company served in OIF in 2004-2005. During its tour, which primarily consisted of providing armed truck escorts to civilian convoys over the hostile roads of Iraq, three members of the unit earned Bronze Star Medals for Valor (BSM w/V). One of these, Specialist Monica Beltran, is the first Virginia Guardswoman to earn a medal for valor in the state’s history, as well as being the first to receive a Purple Heart for being combat wounded.
The 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation deployed to Iraq with its UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters in 2006-2007. It was assigned to work with the U.S. Marine Corps (a first for the Virginia Guard). It flew numerous combat missions inserting and extracting Marines and transporting prisoners in western Iraq. The unit returned home with no losses. For its support of the Marines the unit received a Navy Unit Commendation, a first for the Virginia Guard. It also was selected by the Army Aviation Association as the “Outstanding Guard Aviation Unit for 2006”; another first for the state.
On 20 January 2007 a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter carrying a National Guard Bureau (NGB) fact-finding team was shot down in Iraq. Among those killed were two VAARNG members, each notable in their own way. Colonel Paul Kelly was an aviator, having spent much of his career in the 224th Aviation before being assigned to the Aviation Division at NGB. He is the highest ranking Guardsman nation-wide to be killed in action since September 11. Staff Sergeant Darryl Booker, a highly trained air traffic controller and former member of the 224th Aviation. was the first African American Virginia Guardsman killed in combat. Both men are buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
In the last couple of years, as the conflict in Iraq has seen a reduction in violence and American forces have reduced their presence, fewer Virginia National Guard units and personnel have served in-country. In fact, the 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry which arrived in Iraq on 9 April 2010 for a one-year tour had its tour cut in half, with the unit scheduled to return home by the end of the summer instead of in 2011. The number of VANG soldiers and Airmen mobilized and deployed to Southwest Asia has increased and decreased in direct proportion to the change fortunes of that war. Nevertheless, the VANG has provided forces to serve in Kuwait, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Qatar, and other Middle Eastern countries. It has also provided forces for deployments to Kosovo and along the Mexican-American border.
And, as with earlier conflicts, there has been a price to pay in lives cut short in defense of freedom. To date, since 11 September 2001, 13 members of the Virginia Army Guard have died while serving on active duty. Ten of these have been killed as the result of combat operations, with three dying from non-combat causes.
Another transition: two VA ANG aircraft, an F-16 and an F-22 fly together just off the Atlantic coast from Langley Air Force Base.
The Medal of Honor: “Gallantry in action. Intrepidity. Above and beyond the call of duty. Risk of life. Selflessness. Exemplary action. Unwavering devotion. Conspicuous gallantry. Extraordinary heroism. The words enshrined with the Medal of Honor citations capture the best of what it means to be human.”
Study the individual stories of the recipients and learn their actions and the reason for their awards. They belong to the most honorable society in the United States: the Medal of Honor Society.
In the Virginia National Guard we commemorate two such heroic figures from our ranks.
Gregory, Earl Davis Rank: Sergeant
Unit: Headquarters Company, 116th Infantry, 29th Division
Born: Chase City, Virginia
Action: At Bois-de-Consenvoye, north of Verdun, France,
8 October 1918
With the remark “I will get them,” Sgt. Gregory seized a rifle and a trench-mortar shell, which he used as a hand grenade, left his detachment of the trench-mortar platoon, and advancing ahead of the infantry, captured a machinegun and 3 of the enemy. Advancing still farther from the machinegun nest, he captured a 7.5-centimeter mountain howitzer and, entering a dugout in the immediate vicinity, single-handedly captured 19 of the enemy.
Peregory, Frank D. Rank: Technical Sergeant
Unit: Company “K”, 116th Infantry, 29th Infantry Division
Born: Esmont, Virginia
Action: Grandcamp, France, 8 June 1944
On 8 June 1944, the 3d Battalion of the 116th Infantry was advancing on the strongly held German defenses at Grandcamp, France, when the leading elements were suddenly halted by decimating machinegun fire from a firmly entrenched enemy force on the high ground overlooking the town. After numerous attempts to neutralize the enemy position by supporting artillery and tank fire had proved ineffective, T/Sgt. Peregory, on his own initiative, advanced up the hill under withering fire, and worked his way to the crest where he discovered an entrenchment leading to the main enemy fortifications 200 yards away. Without hesitating, he leaped into the trench and moved toward the emplacement. Encountering a squad of enemy riflemen, he fearlessly attacked them with hand grenades and bayonet, killed 8 and forced 3 to surrender. Continuing along the trench, he single-handedly forced the surrender of 32 more riflemen, captured the machine gunners, and opened the way for the leading elements of the battalion to advance and secure its objective. The extraordinary gallantry and aggressiveness displayed by T/Sgt. Peregory are exemplary of the highest tradition of the armed forces.