“About 400 Fauquier Men Taking Part in Invasion of Occupied Europe,” read the lead headline in the June 8, 1944, edition of The Fauquier Democrat. “County’s Prayers Go With Her Sons Fighting Nazis in France.”
The story unfolded.
News of the invasion of the coast of France – the beginning of the liberation of the conquered lands and defeat of Nazi Germany – reached this country in the early morning hours of Tuesday, June 6, when only a few people were awake and listening to their radios. The country marks the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion this year.
News of the invasion at Normandy trickled in slowly, generally becoming known later that morning. Churches throughout the county were open during the day, and men and women, some of them parents, wives and sisters of men fighting in France, came to pray for the safety of their loved ones.
Newspapers carrying invasion stories arrived late that afternoon, but details were lacking. Radio stations broadcast frequent news bulletins and commentaries, and at least a half dozen radios were going in Warrenton business establishments. Small groups gathered around them to listen for further information.
Outside the county office building, flags were flown – the same flags that in the past honored the county’s draftees leaving for war.
The Fauquier County Honor Roll, a billboard erected next to the courthouse, listed the names of more than 1,700 men and women in the armed services, or about 7 percent of the county’s total pre-war population. It was estimated that of that number, about 1,300 were serving stateside or fighting on other battle fronts.
The estimate that 400 Fauquier men and women were with the battle forces in France and Italy or supporting the invasion from bases in England or Africa was based on overseas circulation of The Fauquier Democrat at the time.
News from the battlefront
It took nearly a month before families began receiving letters from the troops fighting in France. Casualty reports from the War Department took even longer.
Artillery fire “like the constant roll of thunder” was described by Pfc. H.L. Kirby from the American lines in France in a letter received in July by his mother, Mrs. Henry L. Kirby of Marshall.
“I left England and am now in France, and there is plenty going on. I crossed the English Channel on an LST that carried trucks and tanks and all that kind of stuff,” wrote Pfc. Kirby. “I am driving a jeep now, and we are sleeping in pup tents and taking baths in our helmets.”
Another Fauquier soldier, Gordon Barnewell, said the beach landing on Normandy was “the worst hell.” In a letter to his mother, Mrs. William G. Barnewell of Washington, he wrote, “I can understand why there are a lot of things in combat you don’t like to speak of. I know now, why. By the grace of God, we are alive.”
Lt. Robert M. Stribling of Markham was in the first unit ashore on D-Day. “I have quite a comfortable foxhole now,” Lt. Stribling wrote in his letter to his mother, Mrs. W. C. Stribling. “I have lost every piece of clothing and equipment I own. Our battalion had the honor of being the first troops ashore on French soil.”
News of casualties Fauquier suffered during the invasion began to come in after the War Department notified their families. Reported killed in action on D-Day were Pvt. Lester Laing, 26, of Warrenton, and Delaplane native Tech. Sgt. 1st Class Abner L. Adams.
Laing, an infantryman, was a former member of the Warrenton Rifles, and the first member of the local company to be lost in action.
Adams served in a trucking company of the Quartermaster Corps and was in charge of 80 trucks during the invasion. “I am doing my utmost to shorten this war,” Adams wrote in a letter to his mother dated May 21, 1944. “You and father take care of yourselves, and don’t worry about me.”
The first man from Fauquier to be wounded in the invasion was Tech. Sgt. Harold J. Davis of Remington, for whom American Legion Post 247 in Remington is named.
On the day of the invasion, Davis suffered a head wound, but he soon returned to duty. He would later see combat in October at Crucifix Hill in Germany and at the Battle of the Bulge in December and January. Davis returned from the war with four Purple Hearts and the Bronze Star.
Pfc. Marvin M. Creel of The Plains, a member of the 29th Division, 116th Infantry, was among the first to hit the beach. Interviewed in 1994, Creel recalled the treacherous landing at the shoreline and crawling through the barbed wire fortifications, which were wired with explosives. “There were a lot of guys getting killed there, and a lot of guys wounded,” he said. Engaged in the fighting inland, Creel escaped injury for two weeks, until losing a finger in a bombing raid – by friendly forces.
Others who escaped injuries would be affected by what they endured on D-Day, and the fighting that followed.
Also interviewed in 1994, John “Penny” Cornwell, of Remington recounted the 24 hours he spent in a landing craft going around in circles in the English Channel before landing on Utah beach. “They gave us all those seasick pills,” he recalled. “I ate a whole bottle.” Years later, Cornwell stated after that ordeal, he would never again set foot in a boat – any boat.
Warriors to the end
The liberation of Europe after the D-Day invasion was costly, both for the U.S. and Fauquier County. In less than a year – from June 6, 1944, until the surrender of Nazi Germany on VE Day (May 8, 1945), more than 40 soldiers and airmen from Fauquier died in the European Theater of Operations alone – the greatest number of men lost in the shortest span of time.
Contact John Toler at firstname.lastname@example.org