History of the 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division, during WWII:
The 116th Infantry Regiment was a National Guard unit from Virginia which entered Federal service with the rest of the 29th Infantry Division on February 3, 1941. Ten days after Federalization it moved from Virginia to Fort George G. Meade, Maryland, headquarters of the 29th Infantry Division’s Major General Milton A. Reckord.
The division trained throughout the year at Fort Meade until September 13, when it moved to Camp A.P. Hill, in the 116th’s home state of Virginia. The regiment had only a brief stay at Camp Hill, however, before moving to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, on September 27 to participate in war games.
After the official entry of the United States into World War II on December 8, 1941, the 116th Infantry Regiment and the rest of the 29th Infantry Division was given the responsibility to guard coastal defenses along the East Coast, with headquarters at Fort Monroe, Virginia.
On March 12, 1942, the War Department converted the division to the new “triangular” structure of three infantry regiments. The division reorganized while at Fort Meade, Maryland.
The 116th continued to train for the next six months before being ordered to deploy to a staging area at Camp Kilmer, New Jersey. The 116th Infantry Regiment, along with most of the 29th Infantry Division set sail aboard the Queen Mary on September 26, 1942. The regiment reached Scotland on October 5. After a short stay in Scotland, the men moved to southern England before arriving at Slapton Sands in May 1943, where they conducted amphibious training for the next year in preparation for the anticipated invasion of France.
As the final preparations for Operation Overlord were made, the 116th was given their objective. They were to spearhead the assault against Omaha Beach for the rest of the 29th Infantry Division. Sharpened by their training, the officers and men of the 116th boarded transport ships in the English Channel and awaited the order to go. On the early morning of June 6, 1944, they were given the order to attack.
When the transports had successfully crossed the Channel and had come within ten miles from the Normandy coast, the men of the 116th climbed into their British built LCAs and at 0430 started the two hour trip to the beach.
Four companies from the 116th comprised the first wave: Companies A, E, F, and G, with Company A actually being the first American unit to land in occupied France.
As the LCAs drew closer to the beach, German artillery and mortar fire grew increasingly heavier, and several boats were hit and sunk before making it to the beach. As the boats ground to a halt and dropped their ramps, the men of the 116th were exposed to withering machine gun fire, and they were helpless as they waded ashore. Within fifteen minutes all of the officers and most of the NCOs of Company A were killed or wounded with one exception, and the rest of the company suffered over 60% casualties.
The rest of the regiment faired little better as the Germans swept Omaha Beach with artillery and small arms fire. As reinforcements from the 29th Infantry Division were landed, the Germans could no longer hold back the tide of GIs, and the 116th with its sister 115th Infantry Regiment, and the 2nd and 5th Ranger Battalions, was able to fight its way to the bluffs above the beach. The victory was at a high cost, for the regiment suffered 341 casualties (most of them from Co. A).
The actions of the 116th on D-Day led to its first Presidential Unit Citation. But there was no rest for the weary, for the 116th continued to fight its way through the Normandy countryside, and after five weeks of bloody combat in the bocage, they finally liberated the strategic city of St. Lo on July 18, 1944.
As the Allies began their assaults on vital ports, the 116th, together with the rest of the 29th Infantry Division, was given the task of capturing the city of Brest and the German garrison defending it. The regiment commenced their attack August 24, 1944, and the battle with the garrison lasted nearly a month, when the last defenders finally surrendered September 18.
The 116th then spent the rest of the year attacking strong points along and just behind the Siegfried Line in northern France and Germany as the Battle of the Bulge raged to their south. The 29th Infantry Division was the first unit to reach the Roer River, where they remained until February 23, 1945 when they crossed the Roer, in support of operations against the Ruhr Pocket. By April 19 they had reached the Elbe River, and a few days later made contact with Russian forces coming from the East.
With the surrender of Germany and the end of fighting in Europe, the 116th assumed occupation duties in and around Bremen, until they began leaving for the United States in December 1945.