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For one veteran, no idea what he would get into
SoVaNow.com / November 07, 2012It was Feb. 3, 1941 when 25 year old Roland Pickett Bugg reported to Chase City, having been drafted into the Army. It was an inauspicious return home for Bugg — his family owned Buggs Island below Boydton, among other properties — who before being drafted was living in Farmville and managing a ladies shoe department.
Europe was enmeshed in a war that began Sept. 1, 1939 after Hitler sent his armies to attack Poland. But the United States would not officially enter the fray for another 10 months, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7.
After spending three months in Chase City, Bugg was transferred to Ft. Meade, Md. for infantry training. He was now officially in the National Guard. “We knew things were getting tough,” Bugg recalls, “but war had not been declared in the United States.” The whole time, he and the members of his company — Company E of the 29th Division of the 116th Regiment — were training.
On Dec. 7, 1941, the men of Company E, who were on bivouac at the time, were ordered back to Ft. Meade. These young men did not know what fate had in store for them as they prepared to ship out.
Their first stop was in Camp Blanding in Florida. This was the beginning of their training for Operation Overlord, but the soldiers were never told this fact.
“We sailed to Scotland on the Queen Mary,” Bugg says, and upon landing he and his fellow soldiers were packed into what were called “kids trains, they were so little.” They stopped at Tidewirth, a British training base, before eventually moving to Slapton Sands.
In late 1943, the area was a training ground for American and British forces prior to their invasion of Normandy. Buggs said Slapton Sands was picked as a training site because it was similar to Omaha Beach, where American troops were expected to land on D-Day: a gravel beach, followed by a strip of land and then a lake.
Bugg was the Commander for Company E. He remembers they trained all hours of the day and night, but were never told the details of their mission.
He recalls one tragedy during the course of their training, in early 1944. This training exercise, known as Exercise Tiger, was one of many designed to accustom troops to the combat conditions they were soon to face.
A flotilla of LSTs (landing ship, tank) was heading toward Slapton Sands, when out of the darkness, several German torpedo boats appeared. Bugg believes they were on patrol out of the French port of Cherbourg.
German torpedoes hit three of the LSTs. One lost its stern but eventually limped into port. Another burst into flames. A third keeled over and sank.
There was no warning and no time for launching lifeboats. Trapped below decks, hundreds of soldiers and sailors went down with the ships. Others leapt into the sea, but soon drowned. 749 soldiers lost their lives that day.
At approximately 6:30 in the morning on June 6, landing craft containing Companies A, G, E and F of the 116th landed at Omaha Beach. Bugg says the saddest part of that day was that they never received the big breakfast they were promised. Instead, the men “got cold toast, OJ and hot coffee.”
Bugg is proud that he never lost any men under his command as they struggled to cross the beach, though one member did take a bullet.
By the time Bugg and his men hit the beach, they were cold, tired and hungry. Even though “the Germans were just as afraid as we were and didn’t come out of their pillboxes at the top of the hill,” Bugg recalls, they still had the advantage and repeatedly sprayed Bugg and the rest of the landing forces with artillery fire from their perch high atop the cliffs.
“One thing I never told anyone” is that he reached his lowest point during the days it took to get off Omaha Beach. “We had little to eat [only C Rations], and no sleep. I’d gotten to the point that if someone was going to cut my throat, maybe I should just do it myself. You can get by without food, but not without sleep.,” recalls Bugg.
Bugg said God spoke to him and stopped him from taking his own life. “I knew I had to get free, find a place where I could go to sleep and get something to eat. It was a very sad time.”
He and his Company fought on. Five weeks after the D-Day landings they reached the French city of Saint-Lô. They were briefly held there, but then later moved on to Vire. By this time there was “not much left of the German Army,” Bugg notes, so they advanced south to Brest, and assisted in the attacks against that German-held city, which fell on Sept. 18, 1944.
It took a while for the Allies to retake Brest because of faulty intelligence. Bugg recalls he and his men were told there were only “15,000 defending the city. But, there were more. When it fell, we captured 20,000 and another 15,000 were killed.”
During the fighting in Brest, Bugg was hit. The blast sent his stomach up into his diaphragm. After some surgery and two weeks of rest, he returned to his Company and the fighting.
Bugg said he has no memory of the time between the fall of Brest and his company’s arrival in western Germany. But once there, two incidents are burned into his memory. The first involved the capture of a German soldier, a major.
Bugg was ordered to take the soldier into a nearby basement and shoot him. Descending the stairs, Bugg came upon a makeshift altar with people praying. In the background was a stack of dead bodies. He could not bring himself to shoot the officer. Instead, he stripped the officer of his medals and insignias and handed him over to a jeep driver with the order to take the soldier to a prisoner of war camp.
Another incident bothered Bugg “more than anything else”: He and his company came upon an old man dressed in a heavy brown coat. “I knew a little German and was able to understand. He asked us to look inside a nearby building.” The family had sought refuge there during a bombing raid. As he climbed down into the shelter, Bugg could see the five family members laid out, as if they were sleeping. The bomb, which killed them, also covered them with dirt, leaving only their heads exposed.
“I returned to the man, and told him ‘all is kaput.’ I can still see right now, the man with tears in his eyes. He never said a word, he just turned away. I often think of him.”
World War II ended on May 8, 1945. Shortly thereafter, Bugg returned home and to a job with Colonial Stores. He married and started a family, and eventually took over his father-in-law’s insurance business. He also earned two Purple Hearts for injuries sustained during the war. He could have earned more, but declined the medals.
Eventually he was called to the ministry. In 1953 he entered seminary to become a Methodist minister. He would spend several decades serving as a minister and counselor with the police department in Hampton.
“When I went into the ministry, I tried to forget much of this,” Bugg says of his experience in WWII. Now, he sees the importance of sharing his experiences. A few years back he even served as an advisor on the movie “Saving Private Ryan.”
Bugg, who is nearing his 97th birthday, says, “Many, many things have happened in my life. But I have been fortunate. Mostly I enjoyed life.” Last year he was able to officiate at the wedding of his granddaughter.
CommentsI thoroughly enjoyed this article by Ms. Kyte. It reminded me of the Tom Brokaw book, "The Greatest Generation." Mr. Bugg is a remarkable man and his willingness (and fantastic memory) to share poignant details touched me. Thanks for researching and sharing this interview.
- By Victoria L Sondecker on 11 / 07 / 12
Did you know Albert David Doggett, my "uncle"-husband of Mrs. Margaret
Dawn Matthews Doggett, Public Health Nurse, Mecklenburg Co. 1952-1966?
David was in Normandy, as well. I was in Sarajevo, Bosnia, two tours in Korea. The Military bonded my uncle and me together more closely,
he understood deployments and what I endured, without even having
saying too much. God be with you, sir. Thank you so very much.
- By jtwilliams on 11 / 07 / 12
CommentsWhat a wonderful article by Susan Kyte about Mr. Bugg, who is a true American hero. Mr. Bugg shared a remarkable story of his service during World War II. The story touched home for me, because my uncle, John Doran, was also in the 29th Division of the 116th Regiment, but in Company K. My uncle also landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day, was wounded in that action on June 9th, and returned to duty to engage in the assault upon St. Lo and Brest. Uncle John was killed in the storming of the gates of Brest on August 30, 1944.
This article helped to remind me of the sacrifices and courage of the young people, like Mr. Bugg, and my father, and especially my uncle, who sacrificed so much by serving during World War II. God bless you Mr. Buggs, and thank you for sharing your story. This interview is a keeper, and should be shared with others on Veterans Day!
- By Maryann Barnes on 11 / 08 / 12
CommentsDe Oppresso Libre to all Veterans-it is an honor to be in the trenches
to learn, to know what real leadership and government is all about!!
To all members of the DAV, VFW, etc-in memory of Albert David Doggett,
George Klise, De Oppresso Libre, and seal 6, Libya seals, and all SOF.
God be with all of the echelons and military-without you, freedom is none.
- By jtwilliams on 11 / 08 / 12
CommentsCorrection: De Oppresso Liber.
- By jt.williams on 11 / 08 / 12
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