My dad was a veteran of WWII, one of the youngest. He was made Captain by the age of 21. For his actions at Normandy, he received a Bronze Star–and didn’t even know what it was.
Here are my notes regarding the Bronze Star and events leading up to it, from an interview conducted with Si Ragsdale on May 27, 2006, at Camp Stewart for Boys, Hunt, Texas. “Some day” I will go back and edit, but for now, this is pretty much a transcript of Si’s recollections as they were recorded, complete with interruptions!
… We were put on a troop transport ship and went out in to the English Channel and were out there three days, and we figured this was it. Everybody kept wondering how were we going to know when the attack would happen. When it happened, there wasn’t any doubt! And I wish I could find the book. I forget how many thousands of planes. We had massive air cover— from U.S., Canada, French. Tremendous air superiority. So there wasn’t any doubt it was D-Day. What we could see 155 mm howitzers, all the naval ships firing into France, and air cover. There wasn’t any doubt that was it.
I happened to be standing in the “wrong place”, as we went down the net over the side of our troop transport into the landing crafts, and the battalion commander (I was not on his staff), they had four companies, but I was standing there, and he turned to me and said, “Ragsdale, you bring up the rear and keep everything, everybody closed up”. And I thought later, “how in the world can I do that?”
We were in three different landing crafts, and I couldn’t even control the one I was in, much less two more. Anyway, we did it, and I went to him and saluted, and said, “Sir, they’re all here”, and I thought he would say, “OK, well, go back to your company”, but he said, “OK, I want you to stay here on the beach; we have a package of men coming and I want you to meet them and bring them up to the battalion area”. So I said, “OK, what is a package of men?”
Well, it was a top-secret plan that the Americans had come up with, these packages were approximately 300 men and about 20 or so officers and they were pre-assigned to combat units already in France, based on the anticipated casualties. So I said, “Where do I meet them?” And he said, “If I knew that, I would have told you. Somewhere on the beach”.
As the troops landed on the beach, a full colonel rode up on a motorcycle, and said to whoever was in command said, “are these your troops?” Yes sir. “Well get them off this beach and up under the first cover”—that was the first trees, and they called that a transit area, and it was run by a corps of engineers company. Which we did.
So I went up to the lieutenant who was running our transit area and I asked him how it worked, and he said as soon as you got here, we would call up to traffic control and report that you were here, and incidentally, all of the units, instead of using their normal unit designation, and our battalion, the 41st reinforcement battalion, was part of the Fifth Corps, and the Fifth Corps was Victory, V for five, and each corps had three divisions in it.
I called traffic control, and our battalion was called Vamoose. I had just turned 19. “This is Lt. Ragsdale, and would you let me know when this package comes in.” Well, he had never heard of a package either, and said he didn’t have time to do that, so I’d have to call back. So I called him about every 30-45 minutes. It arrived in another transit area, next to ours, that was not only personnel, but a vehicular and personnel area, but it was about two miles down the beach.
So I hitchhiked down there, and I found the major that was commanding this package, and he was so glad to see me. I was the first one that he’d found that knew what he was supposed to do. So I told him that as soon as it got dark, we were going to march up to the battalion area. Well, it wasn’t long after that that another full colonel from Fifth Corps came up on a motorcycle and asked if I was the one that was in charge that was talking about marching on the road tonight. I said, yes sir.
He said, you can’t do that, because as soon as it gets dark, every vehicle in the First Army is going to be out on those roads, and if you put 300 men out there you will get it so boxed up, we never would get it straightened out. So I said I guess I’ll have to go across country. He said, have you reconnoitered your route? I said no sir. He said, you’d kill half of them; there are trip wires, land minds, you just can’t do that.
So I got a ride back to the battalion area, which had moved. We handpicked it out with a map reconnaissance, it really was a good area, but it was the First Army supply area, so we had to move. So I went back and I thought I was finished, I reported to the Major, and he says now there are two more packages moving in and I want you to go back and meet them, and I’m issuing you a Jeep and a driver. And I felt really important.
So I took the Jeep and the driver and we went down and met those packages, and I got them up, and then later I received for my effort on the beach, the Bronze Star. Well none of us in my battalion knew what a Bronze Star was, it was a relatively new decoration, so we looked it up and the only thing we could find was a reference to the battle stars, which later I got five battle stars for the major campaigns: one was the Invasion, one was the (Battle of the) Bulge, one was the thrust into France before the Bulge, and all the major engagements. Anyway, I got the Bronze Star medal.
Citation for the Bronze Star
Second Lieutenant Silas Baggett Ragsdale Jr, 0529021, Infantry, 41st Replacement Battalion, US Army. For meritorious service in connection with military operations against an armed enemy, France 12 June 1944 to 1 July 1944. As Receiving officer for troops arriving on the beaches of Normandy, France, as replacements for units of two Corps, 2nd Lieutenant Ragsdale, operating on the landing beaches, 12,000 replacements. This involved receiving masses of replacements from as many as 15 to 30 landing craft in a 24-hour period. It required that 2nd Lieutenant Ragsdale be on the beaches and constantly available at all times. The troops were received, segregated, and passed with their records through the proper transit areas. Though handicapped by a lack of transportation and communication, the task was completed by 2nd Lieutenant Ragsdale without the loss of a single man, piece of equipment, or service record. The most efficient work accomplished by 2nd Lieutenant Ragsdale by working untiringly under chaotic conditions is meritorious of the highest praise. Entered military service from: Houston, Texas, Restricted. Seal of V Army Corps.”