Friday, July 26, 2019

It Shall Be Done: The 121st Infantry Regiment Enters Fortress Europe


By Maj. William Carraway
Historian, Georgia Army National Guard

Soldiers of the 121st Infantry Regiment, Georgia National Guard, advance across flooded terrain west of Utah Beach July 4, 1944. Georgia Guard Archives.
On July 4, 1944 the Georgia Army National Guard’s 121st Infantry Regiment splashed ashore on Utah Beach and entered the Normandy Campaign. Within a week of landing, the regiment would suffer its first casualties and in less than 10 months, the casualty list of the 121st would grow to 70 pages as the regiment fought its way from La Haye du Puits France to Schwerin Germany and the liberation of concentration camps near Wobbelin.[i]

Early History
The companies that would eventually form the 121st Infantry have a long and varied history. The first company to form was The Baldwin Blues, originally organized May 11, 1810 in Milledgeville, Ga.[ii] The Blues, along with other predecessor units of the 121st – the Albany Guards and Barnesville Blues were mustered into Confederate service as elements of the 4th Georgia Volunteer Infantry which would see extensive service in the eastern theater of the American Civil War.[iii]

On December 20, 1860, other early elements of the 121st Infantry Regiment were organized as the Independent Volunteer Battalion of Macon to include the Macon Volunteers and the Floyd Rifles.[iv] Mustered into Confederate service in April 1861 as part of the 2nd Battalion, Georgia Infantry,[v] the Macon unit served in the brigade of Brig. Gen. Ambrose Wright and was the skirmish element on the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg in which the brigade crested Cemetery Hill.[vi] The battalion surrendered at Appomattox Court House with the Army of Northern Virginia April 9, 1865.

1874 to 1917
The 2nd Battalion was reorganized June 15, 1874 in the Georgia Volunteers, precursor to the Georgia National Guard. The battalion was expanded and reorganized January 23, 1891 as the 2nd Regiment of Infantry. Elements of the 2nd Infantry were mustered into federal service in May 1898 for the Spanish American War and returned to state control in November 1898.[vii]

BARNESVILLE, Ga., 1898 – The Barnesville Blues, then Company F, 2nd Georgia Volunteers stand in formation on Main Street in Barnesville after volunteering for service in the Spanish American War.  Their commander, Capt. John Howard stands to the left. Georgia Guard archives

On July 2, 1916, the 2nd Regiment of Infantry was mustered into federal service and dispatched to the Mexican Border. For the next eight months, the Infantrymen patrolled the border from El Paso, Texas to Noria, N.M. in support of Brig. Gen. John J. Pershing’s punitive expedition.[viii] The regiment returned to Macon in March 1917 but remained in federal service. In August 1917, Companies B, C and F of the 2nd Georgia were reorganized as the 151st Machine Gun Battalion. The 151st would serve with the 42nd Infantry Division during World War I. The remaining companies of the 2nd Georgia Infantry were redesignated the 121st Infantry Regiment in October 1, 1917.

Soldiers of Company A, 151st Machine Gun Battalion in 1919.  Georgia Guard Archives.


Colonel Thomas and the Gray Bonnet Regiment
Col. James Adrian Thomas, commanding,
121st Infantry Regiment, 1912-1918.
Georgia Guard Archives.
The commander of the 121st Infantry Regiment in the years leading up to World War I
was Col. James Adrian Thomas Jr. of Macon, Ga. Thomas enlisted in the Southern Cadets as a private in 1887 at the age of 17. In 1893 he transferred to the Macon Hussars, Company F, 2nd Infantry Regiment, Ga. Guard. He was commissioned November 7, 1895. On November 18, 1912, Col. Thomas assumed command of the 2nd Infantry. Shortly after assuming command, Thomas designated the regiment the Old Gray Bonnet after the popular song "Put on your Old Gray Bonnet" by Stanley Murphy and Percy Wenrich which was first released in 1909.[ix] 

The 2nd Georgia Infantry was redesignated the 121st Infantry Regiment in September 1917. The regiment departed for France October 5, 1918 aboard the transport USS Orizaba. Arriving in the port of Brest, France the 121st was compelled to remain on board until the ship could be unloaded. It was in the harbor that Col. Thomas, beloved regimental commander, died of pneumonia October 16 having never set foot in France. He was 48.[x]

Reeling from the loss of their commander, the Soldiers of the 121st were dealt a second blow. Having reached Le Mans October 22, the Soldiers of the 121st were informed they would be parceled into replacement units rather than enter combat as a regiment. Having trained so long for combat, many of the Soldiers of the 121st would reach the front lines just as the war was coming to a close.[xi]

Following World War I, the Georgia National Guard was reorganized. The 121st Infantry Regiment was federally recognized May 31, 1921 as the 1st Georgia Infantry Regiment. It would not regain its 121st designation until 1924 by which time the regiment was part of the 30th Division. [xii] By 1939, on the eve of war, the 121st Infantry was comprised of three battalions based in Macon, Brunswick and Dublin, Ga.

Colonel Lewis Pope, The Gray Bonnet Insignia and Federalization
Colonel Lewis Cleveland Pope in 1941.
Georgia Guard Archives.
In September 1940, the 121st was accepted into federal service under the command of Col. Lewis C. Pope. Pope was born June 23, 1884 in Laurence County, Ga. and enlisted in Company A, 2nd Infantry, Georgia Sate Troops November 24, 1899. He served through the ranks from private to sergeant before commissioning as a second lieutenant in Company K November 7, 1906. Pope was appointed captain of the Dublin Guards August 28, 1919, was promoted to major January 25, 1921 and lieutenant colonel July 22, 1922. Upon the unexpected death of Georgia’s Adjutant General, Brig. Gen. J. Van Holt Nash, Pope was promoted to brigadier general and appointed as Nash’s successor by Governor Thomas Hardwick. Pope served as the adjutant general until January 13, 1923 when he was appointed colonel, commanding the 121st Infantry Regiment.

During a ceremony in Macon, Ga. October 14, 1928, ten years after the regiment sailed for France, the 121st regimental colors were presented amidst much fanfare. The ceremony also marked the first appearance of the unit’s distinctive insignia as described by Capt. Charles F. Stuart, regimental adjutant:

“All of the men were equipped and wearing the Old Gray Bonnet insignia, and it looked mighty good in its first appearance.”[xiii]

Twelve years after the first appearance of the Gray Bonnet Pope was still in command
The 121st Infantry Regiment marching through Manchester,
Tenn in 1941 during the Tennessee Maneuvers. Georgia Guard
Archives.
of the 121st Infantry Regiment when it was dispatched to Fort Jackson, S.C. for sixteen weeks of initial training.[xiv] In June, the 121st participated in the Tennessee Maneuvers followed by the Carolina Maneuvers. In September, Col. Pope was succeeded by Col. Aaron J. Becker.[xv] Shortly after Becker assumed command the reorganization of Army divisions resulted in assignment of the 121st to the 8th Infantry Division.[xvi]

The 8th ID participated in the Second Army Maneuvers in Tennessee in September 1942 before transferring to Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. In December.[xvii] After wintering at Leonard Wood, the regiment departed for the Desert Training Center in Yuma, Arizona where they would endure combat training under harsh drought conditions before returning to Camp Forrest, Tenn. in August 1943. Finally, on November 25, 1943, the Soldiers of the 121st boarded a train bound for Camp Kilmer, N.J. before embarking from Brooklyn, N.Y. aboard the U.S.S. Beanville and Columbia. After a ten-day voyage, the Gray Bonnets arrived in Belfast Harbor.[xviii] Over the next six and a half months, the 121st conducted field problems and combat training in anticipation for the Normandy Invasion.

Nissen Huts in which the Soldiers of the 121st lived in Belfast. Chaplain Peter Wiktor noted that these
huts “wouldn’t hold heat in hell.” Georgia Guard Archives.


Normandy
On June 30, 1944 the 121st began loading transports in Belfast Harbor. Five days later, on July 4, the first Soldiers of the Gray Bonnet Regiment splashed ashore on Utah Beach.[xix] Leaving their landing crafts, the troops marched 22 miles to Monte Bourg, north of Ste. Mere Eglise in full gear in one of the hottest Julys on record. From Monte Bourg, the 121st was dispatched south to La Haye du Puits where the U.S. VIII Corps was attempting to dislodge German forces and advance out of the swampy lowland terrain. Three American Divisions, the 79th, 82nd Airborne and 90th, had thus far been unable to effect a penetration of German lines and establish a crossing of the Ay River east of Lessay. Arriving on July 8, the 8th Division was assigned as the main effort of the attack which would strike a narrow front between Lessay and Perriers.[xx]

Operations in the vicinity of La Haye du Puits July 8-13, 2019.  Blumenson, 1961.
The next morning, the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 121st assaulted La Haye du Puits from the northeast moving out under cover of artillery. Having advanced perhaps 500 yards, the Gray Bonnets were checked by withering German machine gun fire. The 1st Battalion, in the vicinity of Hill 95 found itself in a particularly desperate situation with elements of Company A temporarily isolated. Though outnumbered, the German Infantry were well entrenched in strong hedgerow positions with interlocking fields of machine gun fire and mortar coverage.[xxi]

The attack resumed at 6:00 am the next day with the 3rd Battalion entering combat in
Medics of the 121st Infantry Regiment attend to casualties of the 
early fighting in the vicinity of La Haye du Puits, France.  
Georgia Guard Archives.
support of its sister battalions. By the end of the day, the 121st had advanced another 200 yards. Blame for the slow progress was placed at the feet of the 8th Division commander whose troops were encountering the enemy for the first time. In short order, the division commander was relieved as were two regimental commanders including Col. Albert Peyton of the 121st. With new leadership, the 8th continued to move cautiously and methodically through the hedgerows.[xxii] The new commander of the 121st, Col. John Jeter, continued to direct his battalions forward in the face of punishing enemy resistance. A key piece of terrain, Hill 112 which came to be known as “Purple Heart Hill” was taken on July 13 following an all-out assault.

The ferocity of the action in the vicinity of La Haye du Puits is written in the blood of those who fell. In five days of combat, 26 Georgia Guard Soldiers were killed in action. Lieutenant Colonel Burton Morrison, commander of the 2nd Battalion, was killed July 9. His successor, Maj. James Mallory was killed four days later. The commander of 1st Battalion, Lt. Col. Robert Jones was killed July 11. Captain William McKenna, a native of Macon, Ga. received the Silver Star for leading 2nd Battalion Soldiers in restoring a battle line and destroying an enemy strong point with hand grenades.[xxiii]

Capt. William Andrew McKenna, Georgia Guard Archives
Having secured La Haye du Puits, the 8th Division continued moving south to secure a crossing of the Ay River. The ensuing offensive would take place across a narrow division front. With the 79th Division to the right confronted with impassable swampy terrain and the 90th Division facing heavily mined terrain choked with obstacles to their front on the left, the 8th Division would be called upon to strike enemy forces and establish a breach for the follow-on divisions.

First Lieutenant Richard Blackburn joined Company A, 121st Infantry Regiment as a replacement officer July 13, 1944 along with other officers and 30 to 40 enlisted men. Blackburn was appointed executive officer of the company and experienced his first combat the following day as he later recalled:

“On July 14, the 121st was ordered to attack to the south toward the Ay River. From its mouth west of Lessay to a bridge southeast of St. Patrice de Claids, the river was a continuous stretch of swampland that was firmly held by the German Army. Bands of enemy small arms fire, throngs of mortars, and repeated German 88 artillery fire pushed us deeper into the mire. At first, the mud was only ankle deep; but as we pushed on through the swamp, the muck was soon knee deep. Teamwork from the 79th and 90th Divisions was of great help in winning the battle and the Germans eventually pulled back.”[xxiv]

Staff Sgt. Carl Gowan in 1941. Georgia Guard
Archives.
Staff Sgt. Carl Gowan of Company F was particularly notable for his actions in the face of the hedgerows. When his company was held up by machine gun fire, Gowan crawled forward on his stomach with a satchel of grenades. He single-handedly destroyed a machine gun nest and killed several snipers that were holding up his company’s advance. Gowan was killed before he could return to his company. He was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for his actions.[xxv]

The actions of McKenna, Blackburn, Gowan and others propelled the 8th Division and its sister divisions across the Ay River. In the final days of July 1944 the 121st Infantry was poised to break the back of the German Seventh Army and clear the way for Lt. Gen. George Patton’s 3rd Army and the breakout that would herald the liberation of France.

Next Chapter: Operation Cobra




[i] The Gray Bonnet: Combat History of the 121st Infantry. Baton Rouge, LA: Army & Navy Publishing Company, 1946, 85.
[ii] Gray Bonnet, 18.
[iii] Lyle, Thomas E., Larry O. Blair, Debra S. Lyle, and J. Harmon. Smith. Organizational Summary of Military Organizations from Georgia in the Confederate States of America. Marietta, Ga. 1999, 61.
[iv] Lyle et al,40-41.
[v] Center for Military History. Lineage and Honors Certificate, 121st Infantry Regiment
[vi] Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Series I, Vol XXVII/2. -- SERIES I--VOLUME XXVII/2: JUNE 3-AUGUST 1, 1863--The Gettysburg Campaign. Washington DC: War Department, 1897.
[vii] CMH
[viii] Carraway, William. We Are Having a Big Time Now: January-March 1917. April 17, 2017. http://www.georgiaguardhistory.com/2017/04/we-are-having-big-time-now-january.html
[ix] The first official authority for this designation appears March 24, 1924 in GO No. 1 in which the 121st Infantry was officially designated the Old Gray Bonnet Regiment. This much was affirmed in an October 28, 1926 outline of the history of the 121st Infantry certified by Charles H. Cox, Georgia's Adjutant General.
[x] The Georgia State Memorial Book Adopted as the Official Record by the Military Department of the State of Georgia. Atlanta: 1921, 31.
[xi] Gray Bonnet, 18.
[xii] Pictorial Review of the National Guard of the State of Georgia, 1939, 44.
[xiii] Gray Bonnet, 17.
[xiv] Pictorial Review, 45.
[xv] Gray Bonnet, 20.
[xvi] Ibid
[xvii] Ibid.
[xviii] Ibid, 8.
[xix] Ibid 11
[xx] Blumenson, Martin. Breakout and Pursuit. Washington, D.C.: Office of the Chief of Military History, Dept. of the Army, 1961, 124
[xxi] Gray Bonnet, 27.
[xxii] Blumenson, 125.
[xxiii] Gray Bonnet, 30.
[xxiv] Berry, Jerald W. In the Company of Heroes: The Memoirs of Captain Richard M. Blackburn Company A, 1st Battalion, Xlibris Corporation, 2013, 153-154.
[xxv] Gray Bonnet, 30.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Nescit Cedere: The 118th FA in Normandy

By Maj. William Carraway
Historian, Georgia Army National Guard


Soldiers of the 118th Field Artillery train with a 75 mm gun at Fort Jackson, S.C. in 1941. Georgia Guard Archives



On June 13, 1944, the Georgia Army National Guard’s 118th Field Artillery Battalion landed on Omaha Beach. The 118th entered the Normandy Campaign three days after its sister battalion, the 230th FA Battalion arrived in support of the 29th Infantry Division. With the arrival of the 30th Infantry Division in Normandy the 230th returned to its former division assignment and was reunited with the 118th in division artillery. The two Savannah-based field artillery battalions had trained together in the lead up to European deployment and would soon fight together.

Prelude
Elements of the 118th predate the American Revolution and served with distinction in the Revolution, War of 1812 and American Civil War before mobilizing for the World War I in 1917. In 1921 the Georgia National Guard was reorganized following the demobilization of federalized Guard units. As part of that reorganization, Savannah was allocated the 1st Field Artillery.[i] One year later the unit was redesignated as the 118th Field Artillery and assigned to the 30th Division.[ii]From 1921 to 1942, the 118th fielded the 75 mm artillery piece which was, until 1934, horse-drawn artillery.

Officers of the 1st Field Artillery in Savannah, Ga. in 1921. Georgia Guard Archives

The Regimental Headquarters Battery of the 118th, the Republican Blues, were formed in 1808 and had participated in every conflict since the War of 1812.[iii] The 1st Battalion, 118th FAR was comprised of batteries of the Savannah Guards under the command of Maj. Henry Mayer, who had served as a non-commissioned officer with the 118th FAR in World War I. The battalion commanders during the inter-war period were Maj. Henry Blunn, Maj. W. R. Gigilliat, Maj. Kingman White, Maj. Sheftall Coleman and Mayer.[iv] The batteries of the 1st Battalion were initially designated Battery B, D and F to match their designations in World War I. In 1942 these batteries were redesignated as A, B and C.

The 2nd Battalion, 118th FAR was initially comprised of Batteries A, C and E under the command of Maj. Charles Peterson and included the Irish Jasper Greens and Chatham Artillery. Following reorganization, the batteries of the 2nd Battalion were redesignated as A, B and C. Major Patrick Seawright, executive officer of 2nd Battalion served in the U.S. Navy during World War I and would command the 197th FA Battalion during the World War II. He subsequently commanded the division artillery of the 48th Infantry Division before accepting command of the 48th Armored Division from 1956-1957.

Major General Patrick Seawright (right) with Lt. Gen. Joe Fraser shortly after
assuming command of the 48th Armored Division in 1956. Georgia Guard Archives

Col. Sheftall Coleman in 1939. Georgia Guard
Archives
On September 16, 1940, the 118th was activated for federal service under the command of Col. Sheftall Coleman.[v] Coleman’s military career began in 1908 when he enlisted in the Republican Blues as a private. He served through the ranks as a corporal and sergeant before commissioning as a 2nd lieutenant in Company M, 1st Infantry Regiment, Georgia National Guard June 24, 1916. Exactly one month after commissioning, Coleman and the Georgia Guard were activated and dispatched to the Mexican Border. In September 1917, the 1st Georgia Infantry Regiment was redesignated the 118th FAR and Coleman deployed with the regiment to France in 1918. Following World War I, Coleman remained in the 118th rising to command the 1-118th in 1926. Upon receiving promotion to colonel in 1931 he assumed command of the regiment. By the time the regiment was activated in September 1940, Coleman had been in the unit for 32 years, nearly one third of which as its commander.[vi]


Training and Maneuvers
A gun crew of the 118th Field Artillery operates a 37 mm gun near Beech
Grove Tenn. in June 1941. Georgia Guard Archives
Upon activation, the 118th was dispatched to Fort Jackson, S.C., for initial training with other units of the 30th Infantry Division, including the 121st Infantry Regiment of the Ga. National Guard.[vii] In June, the 30th ID mobilized for the Tennessee Maneuvers which put the Soldiers of the 118th in the field training with 37 mm guns until August 1941 when they returned to Fort Jackson.[viii] The following month, Coleman retired from service as a brigadier general and was replaced by Col. Albert C. Stanford of the regular Army. Stanford had barely commanded for a month when the 118th departed for the Carolina Maneuvers, a massive training exercise conducted in North and South Carolina. During the maneuvers, the 30th Infantry Division was part of the I Corps, First Army.[ix] In November 1941 the 30th ID was charged with defending Cheraw, S.C. against attack from the 2nd Armored Division, commanded by Maj. Gen. George S. Patton. During a coordinated assault, Patton advanced part of his armored force to assault Cheraw from the west and fix the defenders in place while sending a force of more than 40 tanks and scout vehicles to strike the defenders on the flank. Patton’s flanking force overwhelmed antitank positions and rumbled into Cheraw to the chagrin of the 30th ID and its commander, Maj. Gen. Henry Russell.[x]

Soldiers of the 118th FA compute firing data at a firing direction
center during training at Fort Jackson, S.C. in 1941. Georgia
Guard Archives
Returning to Fort Jackson, the ranks of the 118th were thinned by Soldiers volunteering for Airborne and Air Corps positions and officer candidate school. Of more than 100 Soldiers sent to OCS, only one returned to the 118th.[xi]

In the summer of 1942 the 118th turned in its 75 mm guns and received 105 mm towed howitzers. In October, the 118th traveled to Camp Blanding Fla., where it conducted training with the new weapons systems through May 1943. A training stint at Camp Gordon followed after which the battalion mobilized to Camp Tick, Tenn., where the battalion tackled field problems and maneuvers. This training rotation ran through November 1943 when the 118th was dispatched to Camp Atterbury, Indiana. Here, the battalion honed its expertise with the howitzer in preparation for deployment to the European Theater. In February 1944 the battalion was transported by rail to Camp Miles Standish, Mass. From there, the 118th set sail for England on the John T. Erickson on February 12, 1944.[xii] The 118th was part of the same convoy that transported the 230th FA.

In the early hours of February 20, the convoy came within sight of the Irish coast and the ships began to make their way to various ports. Whereas the 230th FA proceeded to Scotland, the ship bearing the 118th arrived February 22, 1944 in Liverpool. Traveling by rail, the battalion arrived at Bucks Green and Five Oaks where the men were lodged in Nissen huts – British versions of the venerable Quonset hut. Over the next few months, the battalion would train for the coming invasion of Europe.
The 118th was in camp on June 6, 1944 when Operation Overlord was launched. As was the case with the 230th FA, Soldiers of the 118th recalled the increased air activity that heralded the start of a large operation. The rumors were proven correct later in the morning when a radio broadcast by Gen. Eisenhower confirmed the start of the Normandy Invasion.

Six days later, the 118th left camp just after 3:00 in the morning and arrived 12-hours later at a marshaling point near Dorchester.[xiii] Headquarters and Battery C loaded onto Landing Ship Tank (LST) 30 for transport to the continent and arrived the next day.

Omaha Beach
On June 13, 1944, the first elements of the 118th Field Artillery Battalion went ashore on Omaha Beach. The battalion assembled its vehicles and howitzers in the fading daylight and were guided from the beach under blackout conditions. Like the 230th before them, the men of the 118th FA had been trained to expect every inch of terrain to be mined or guarded by German Soldiers. Thus, as the column of vehicles slowly moved its way to the high ground overlooking the beach the tension was palpable.
Reaching a position near Neuilly, France, the Soldiers of the 118th established their first firing positions in an orchard outside of town. Three days later, an observation post overlooking the Vire Et Taute Canal called in a fire mission which was routed to one of the howitzers of Battery C. Thus, on the afternoon of June 16, 1944, with the pull of lanyard cord, the 118th sent its first combat round down range.
The next day the battalion displaced to Lison where they were joined by Batteries A and B. Over the coming weeks, the 118th supported the 30th ID’s drive to the Vire River. On June 22, having crossed the Vire and secured the Mont-Martin en Grainges, the 30th ID was ordered to hold a defensive line along the Vire while the 2nd and 29th Infantry Divisions pressed the attack towards St. Lo.[xiv]

Epilogue:
The next chapter will follow the 121st Infantry Regiment from the sands of Utah Beach through the hedgerow battles of Normandy and end with them poised for the Normandy Breakout. Succeeding chapters will revisit the 230th and 118th and introduce the 179th and 945th Field Artillery Battalions as they arrive in France.



[i]Smith, Gordon Burns. History in Action: 118th Field Artillery, 30th Infantry Division 1942-1945, 2nd Edition. Washington, D.C.: Florida “Gator” Chapter, 1988, preface.
[ii] Center for Military History. Lineage and Honors Certificate, 118th Field Artillery
[iii] Pictorial Review of the National Guard of the State of Georgia, 1939, 160
[iv] Smith, preface.
[v] GO 13
[vi] 1939, 161
[vii] 121st Infantry Chapter 1
[viii] Smith, 7
[ix] Gabel, Christopher R. The U.S. Army GHQ Maneuvers of 1941. Washington, D.C: Center of Military History, U.S. Army, 1992, 200.
[x] Ibid, 139
[xi] Smith, 6
[xii] Smith, 19
[xiii] Smith, 33
[xiv] Harrison, Gordon A. Cross-Channel Attack. Washington, D.C.: Office of the Chief of Military History, Dept. of the Army, 1951, 377-379.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

The Georgia Guard Response to the Flood of 1994


By Maj. William Carraway
Historian, Georgia Army National Guard

ALBANY, Ga., July 7, 1994 - Georgia Army National Guard Soldiers of Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion 121st Infantry Regiment construct a protective sandbag wall around the Palmyra Medical Center in Albany, Ga. following Tropical Storm Alberto. Photo by Spc. Mike Carr, 124th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

Operation Crested River
In July 1994, the Georgia National Guard conducted its largest natural disaster response prior up to that date. On July 3, 1994, Tropical Storm Alberto began tracking north across Georgia inundating the state with unprecedented rainfall. Twenty-one inches of precipitation was recorded in 24 hours in Americus Georgia. With the ground already saturated from previous rains, Alberto swiftly overloaded streams and rivers with surface runoff. Flooding was widespread from the southwest Georgia counties to Atlanta. 
MONTEZUMA, Ga. July 8, 1994 - Flood waters from the Flint River flooded downtown Montezuma to the rooftops leaving approximately 2,000 residents stranded. Georgia Guardsmen with the LaGrange-based Company C, 560th Engineer Battalion repaired bridges so that water and food could be delivered.  Georgia National Guard photo by Spc. Rob Hainer


By July 6, the rain had washed out roads and dams, and the Georgia National Guard had opened six armories as shelters for people displaced by floodwaters. The next day, the units of the Macon-based 48th Infantry Brigade under the command of Col. William Thielemann began to mobilize. By the end of the July, more than 3,600 Guardsmen had been called to active duty. They came from units ranging from Toccoa to Valdosta and from Savannah to Columbus. They came together with one mission — to help Georgians in need. The response became known as Operation Crested River.[i]

The Infantry Company Executive Officer[ii]
These Soldiers of Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion,
121st Infantry Regiment constructed a sand bag dam to
protect an emergency power generator at an Albany, Ga.
 hospital.  Their actions saved the lives of critically ill
patients who depended on power for life sustaining care.
Photo by Spc. Mike Carr, 124th MPAD
Major General Thomas Carden, Adjutant General of the Georgia Department of Defense was a first lieutenant when Alberto struck in 1994. As the executive officer for Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 121st Infantry, Carden was responsible for a detachment of Soldiers at the Georgia Guard armory in Tifton. Upon the declaration of a state of emergency by Governor Zell Miller, Carden and his detachment reported for duty.

“We rallied at Cordele and were sent to Albany,” said Carden.
Upon reaching Albany, the 2-121 Soldiers were tasked with building a sand-bag dam for a local hospital.

“Some of the patients were too weak to evacuate,” recalled Carden. “The power was out and the critical patients at the hospital relied on a generator to supply power to ventilators and life support. “If that generator went out those people would not have survived.”

Thanks to backbreaking effort, the dam constructed by the Soldiers of 2nd Battalion held, and the patients were saved.

The Army Veteran on His First Guard Response Mission[iii]
Retired State Command Sergeant Major Phillip Stringfield was also assigned to 2-121 during Crested River. Having recently transferred into the Georgia Army National Guard from the 82nd Airborne Division, Stringfield was on his first disaster response mission.

“It was my first call out as a Guardsman for state activation,” said Stringfield “It was a unique experience because I will always remember how the service members, whose homes were destroyed, reported for duty. That was so amazing to me, and that will always remain in my mind as an example of the true character of our service members and what we do in this organization.”

Despite the passing of time, Stringfield still vividly recalls details of the flood response.

“I remember driving through Albany and feeling amazed at the destruction of all those buildings,” said Stringfield. “The cries for help from the people in the area were devastating.”

Stringfield was among the first Guardsmen to reach Albany. With 24,000 evacuees in the area, large public facilities were converted into temporary living quarters for displaced families.

“I was assigned to a shelter that I worked at during the day,” Stringfield said. “We provided security and brought hot meals for citizens who had been displaced. Once the permanent housing became available, we transported them there.”

With trucks and tactical vehicles capable of negotiating damaged and debris-strewn roads, transportation became a key component of the Georgia National Guard response. In areas such as Leesburg, that were completely cut off by flood waters, Georgia Guard helicopters delivered relief supplies and transported residents and medical personnel.[iv]

A UH-1 Iroquis of the Marietta-based 148th Medical Company deliver relief
supplies through southwest Georgia following Tropical Storm Alberto.
“We also transported doctors and first responders who couldn’t get to their jobs because of the flood,” noted Stringfield of operations in Dougherty County.

The Engineer[v]
Retired Lt. Col. Matthew Shannon was a captain with the Statesboro-based 648th Engineer Battalion (now the 177th Brigade Engineer Battalion of the 48th Infantry Brigade Combat Team). Working as the assistant operations officer of the battalion, Shannon relayed assignments to units within the battalion after they came down from the 48th Infantry Brigade.

“(The operations center was) located on a college campus and we were tasked to assist local police,” Shannon said. “Part of the mission was recovering bodies that had come up through the graves because of the flood.”

Shannon described how the Soldiers of his unit not only recovered bodies dating back to the Civil War, but also ensured artifacts were recovered.

“I remember them saying they recovered a lot of sabers, other weapons and artifacts from the Civil War,” he said. “They would then take everything to a central location for graves registration. Their goal was to try to put as much back together for re-burial.”

Shannon recalled how strange it was to have so much flooding in the south when much of the rain had fallen in the north of the state.

“It was such an oddity because there was a lot of sun and a lot of water,” he said. “It’s not something you would have expected to see.”

Engineers of the Georgia National Guard assess roads in southwest Georgia
following Tropical Storm Alberto.

Engineer units of the Georgia National Guard were pressed into service surveying damage and repairing roads. Soldiers of the Columbus-based 560th Engineer Battalion worked around the clock to construct a berm around an ammonia tank in Bainbridge. Had flood water breached the berm the entire town would have had to evacuate.[vi]

By July 18, command and control of response operations shifted from the 48th Infantry Brigade to the 265th Engineer Group. Throughout their portion of the response, the Soldiers of the 48th Brigade operated more than 500 vehicles filled nearly 55,000 sandbags and transported more than 400,000 of drinking water.

The Operations Sergeant Major[vii]
The Georgia Guard coordinated the statewide response from the tactical operation center in Atlanta. Retired Sgt. Major Jacqueline McKennie was assigned to the TOC Emergency Operations Center during the flood relief.

“The EOC was the central command and control facility over all of the National Guard units—both Air Guard and Army Guard—throughout the state of Georgia,” said McKennie.

McKennie was responsible for personnel control. She assisted with the mobilization of units and made sure the units knew where they were supposed to go while maintaining accountability for personnel. Once the units were dispatched, the EOC handled the command and control for each of them.
A Soldier with the Georgia Army National Guard's Decatur-based 170th Military
Police Battalion provides directions to citizens following Tropical Storm Alberto.
From July 6 to August 5, a myriad of units with specialized equipment and capabilities were dispatched across the state. The Decatur-based 170th Military Police Battalion augmented law enforcement in impacted areas. The Georgia Air National Guard’s
A Georgia Air National Guard Airman of the
116th CES monitors water filtration
at Lake Tobesofkee in Macon.
116th Civil Engineer Squadron were dispatched to Macon after the city’s drinking water source was overwhelmed. The 116th conducted water purification operations with the assistance of 20 Alabama National Guard Soldiers of the 1,200th Quartermaster Company as well as the Fort Stewart-based 559th Quartermaster Battalion.[viii] The massive purification and distribution mission resulted in the production of nearly five million gallons of drinking water for Bibb County residents.[ix]

“It was kind of hectic at first, because the flood hit so hard and so fast that it caused so much death and destruction,” said McKennie. “But things eventually returned to normal once we got people into place where help was needed.”

The Aftermath
Flooding from Tropical Storm Alberto claimed 30 lives in Georgia[x]. The ages of the victims ranged from 2 to 84 years old. The storm forced more than 35,000 citizens from their homes and caused more than $203 million in infrastructure damage. The Georgia Guard responded by mobilizing, 3,683 Guardsmen - nearly one third of the state’s force. In the weeks that followed, These Guardsmen, in partnership with first responders and civil authorities from impacted counties distributed more than 10.2 million gallons of water, served 154,000 meals and repaired hundreds of miles of damaged road.[xi] For those who served, the memory of the response remains, and the lessons learned have been applied to ensure that the Guard remains ready to respond.

In the years following the flood of 1994, the Georgia National Guard has honed its ability to respond to natural disasters. From Hurricane Katrina in 2005 to Hurricanes Matthew, Irma and Michael of recent memory, the Georgia Guard has responded and partnered with state and local agencies to assist Georgia’s citizens in times of emergencies and to minimize the impacts of natural disasters. For those who participated in the response in 1994, the memory of Operation Crested River remains fresh.

“It does not seem like it was so long ago,” said Carden. “Helping our fellow citizens is one of the most rewarding things we do in the National Guard.”[xii]




[i] “The Georgia Guard Response: Our Communities Under Water." The Georgia Guardsman Magazine, September 1994, 4.
[ii] "Interview with Col. Thomas Carden." Interview by author. May 19, 2014.
[iii] "Interview with Command Sgt. Major Phillip Stringfield." Interview by author. May 20, 2014.
[v] "Interview with Matthew Shannon." Interview by author. May 11, 2014.
[vi] Operation Crested River. Produced by James Driscoll and the124th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment. https://www.flickr.com/photos/georgiaguardhistory/48191055782/in/album-72157645103919701/.
[vii] "Interview with Jacquelin McKinnie." Interview by author. May 22, 2014.
[viii] The Georgia Guardsman Magazine, 8-9.
[ix] Georgia Department of Defense Annual Report 1994. Marietta, GA: 1994, 19.
[x] "Flood-Related Mortality -- Georgia, July 4-14, 1994." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed July 02, 2019. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/00032058.htm.
[xi] The Georgia Guardsman Magazine, 24.
[xii] "Interview with Maj. Gen. Thomas Carden." Interview by author. July 3, 2019.