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Normandy veteran dies at age 100

South Boston News
Roland Pickett Bugg, Sr.
SoVaNow.com / January 04, 2017


Two days after Christmas, another member of the Greatest Generation passed away. Roland Pickett Bugg, Sr., a Mecklenburg County World War II veteran who fought in the beach assault of D-Day, died Dec. 27. He was 100 years old.

Buggs’ legacy in the area is greater than that of a soldier and patriot who persevered through difficult times. He is also a member of the family that owned the island below the dam in Boydton for which Buggs Island Lake is named. Deed books show his relative Samuel Bugg III purchasing the island in 1752 from John Hyde of Lunenburg County.

In 2012, Bugg shared his memories of being among of the first wave of soldiers to hit Omaha Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944. That story, which first ran in The Mecklenburg Sun on Nov. 7, 2012, is republished here, with light editing:

It 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 — as he was living in Farmville and managing a ladies shoe department at the time he was drafted.

Europe was enmeshed in a war that began Sept. 1, 1939 when Adolph 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 recalled, “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 said, 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 remembered they trained all hours of the day and night, but were never told the details of their mission.

He recalled 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 believed 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 said 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 was 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 reached land, 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 recalled, Nazi forces 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” was that Bugg 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,” recalled 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 noted, 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 said 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 him right now, the man with tears in his eyes,” Bugg recalled years later. “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 later said of his experience in WWII. But he would come to see the importance of sharing what happened during the war. In his later years, he even served as an advisor on the movie “Saving Private Ryan.”

Nearing his 97th birthday, Bugg said, “Many, many things have happened in my life. But I have been fortunate. Mostly I enjoyed life.” In his mid-90s, he was able to officiate at the wedding of his granddaughter.

On Memorial Day, friends and family gathered at the VFW Hall in Clarksville to celebrate the centennial of the patriarch of the Bugg family. It was the last major celebration for the man from one of the first families of Mecklenburg County — and who stood at the forefront of the nation’s defense in World War II.

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God bless you, sir, for your service to our country. May your family and friends find peace and comfort in your passing.


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