|Pfc. Nick Gillaspie, 29th Infantry Division, was in the first wave to land on Omaha Beach.|
Nick Napoleon Gillaspie never had a chance to reach 100 years old today. Instead, he sacrificed his life for our freedom.
He was born on March 28, 1918 in Bedford, Virginia. His parents Charles and Ella were also both born in Virginia. His father died when Nick was eight months old. Nick had four older brothers and one younger brother. By 1930 Nick's mother had remarried and her husband Christopher worked as a farmer. By 1940 Nick had completed six years of schooling and worked on the family farm.
He enlisted in the army on February 3, 1941 when his Virginia Army National Guard unit was mobilized into the regular army. He became a private first class in Company A, 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division. 34 other men from Bedford were also in the 1st Battalion, most of them in Company A.
The 29th Infantry Division arrived in England at the early date of September 1942. While other units were sent to fight in North Africa, Sicily, and Italy, the 29th Infantry Division stayed in England, training for 21 months and then being selected to be the first to land on Omaha Beach on D-Day at section Dog Green, June 6, 1944. Company A was the tip of the spear -- its men went in on the very first wave divided among seven landing craft.
Pfc. Gillaspie was likely on the same landing craft with Company A commander Captain Taylor Fellers (also from Bedford), a total of 30 men. As soon as the ramp went down Pfc. Gillaspie and the others surged for the beach. The pre-landing bombing and naval bombardment did nothing to take out the enemy in this sector, nor were there any shell holes they expected to be there to use for cover. They faced at least three German MG-42 machine guns that fired more than 1,000 rounds per minute and at least two dozen snipers. All 30 men, including Pfc. Gillaspie, were killed within yards of each other.
By the end of D-Day only 18 of Company A's 230 men were unhurt.
Pfc. Gillespie was a frequent letter writer, so when the letters stopped coming after the invasion, his family had to be worried. It would be a month before official word got back home. At the Bedford Western Union telegraph office on July 17 the notices kept coming, one right after the other. Towns folks divvied up the telegrams to take the bad news to families.
The small 3,200 strong community of Bedford lost 22 men in Normandy, 19 on D-Day. It was the greatest loss per size of home town from all of the war. The National D-Day Memorial in Bedford commemorates this sacrifice.
|I had the opportunity to visit The National D-Day Memorial earlier this year. |
Here is the monument to the Bedford Boys with Nick Gillaspie's name circled.
His grave is at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial at Colleville-sur-Mer, France.
An excellent book on this subject is The Bedford Boys, by Alex Kershaw. Highly recommended. It is also available for Kindle or Audiobook.
Last year on this date I profiled P-47 pilot Hugh Wallace who served in India. You can read about Hugh here.
On behalf of the fallen, if you would like to see more people become aware of this project to honor the WW2 fallen, be sure to share with others on Twitter, Facebook, etc. Thanks for your interest!
I created this video to explain why I started this project: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vXt8QA481lY.
Please consider joining the public Facebook group to increase the exposure of this project. Go to: WW2 Fallen 100