Featured Article and Did You Know That?.....

May 2001

Memorial Day

Memorial Day will be celebrated this year on Monday, May 28. Some of us will take advantage of shopping specials; some will be busily getting their special dishes ready for the traditional picnic; and some will just look forward to sleeping late on this extra day off. These are all wonderful, relaxing activities, but sometime during this day please take a few minutes to give thanks for those who fought to enable us to enjoy them.

I would like to take this opportunity to offer my deep, heartfelt appreciation to just a few of the many soldiers who served from the early times of Maryland and then to just two men from one of the later wars.

To William Ashmore who, on May 10, 1635, was the first man to lose his life while defending St. Mary's from William Claiborne, I thank you.

To John Jarboe and William Evans, my appreciation for having recaptured the fledgling Maryland Colony from the likes of Richard Ingle in 1645.

To William Eltonhead, William Lewis, and Thomas Hatton, all of whom were executed after the Battle of the Severn on March 25, 1655, despite promises from the Puritans to the contrary, your lives were not lost in vain.

To Thomas Truman, who commanded the Maryland Militia in 1673, when Maryland and Virginia made a joint attack against the Susquehanna Indians, I applaud your mercy and detest those who tried to bring dishonor to your name.

To William Claw, who was "slain before the Susquehanna Fort" in 1675, your sacrifice is appreciated.

To John Vadry, who, beginning in 1669, with many others, were "soldiers in the last Indian march up the Bay; they being carpenters and persons having no crops. They were out 11 weeks and 5 days and for the encouragement of others, they shall be called to serve the country as soldiers hereafter." I acknowledge the many hardships this must have brought to you and your family, and thank you for your service.

To the many thousands of other Southern Marylanders, between 1669 and 2001 who have served, whether it was for a Maryland cause or a national cause, space prohibits your acknowledgement as individuals, but know that I am grateful.

Now we'll move on to more "modern" times. This portion of the article will be devoted to two men who served both Maryland and their country over 200 years later. They were both at Normandy. One was there on D Day and the other on D Day 1.

George Francis "Billy" Forbes, Jr. was born on September 21, 1919 in Aquasco, Prince George's County, Maryland. He is just as handsome today as he appeared in the photo above which was taken in 1946. Mr. Forbes is a gentleman, a term that is almost forgotten today. There is no doubt that, particularly in his youth, he was a rascal and a heartbreaker.

After graduating from Charlotte Hall Military Academy in 1936, Billy worked with his father on the family farm until he was drafted into the U.S. Army on April 29, 1941. He was inducted as a private and assigned to the Anti-Tank Company of the 175th Infantry Regiment, a part of the 29th Infantry Division "The Blue and Gray". The majority of the men in the 175th were from Baltimore. He was trained in radio operation at Ft. Meade, Maryland, in Florida, and in England. He would eventually become a high-speed radio operator and attain the rank of Sergeant.

The first 17 months of Billy's service was on American soil, but in 1943, while in training in Florida, he and the other members of the 29th Division were called up and sent to England.

Billy dated various English girls after his arrival in England. There was one girl in whom he had a particular interest. When he asked this girl how old she was, she told him she was 18. One day, some time later, he went to her home to await her arrival from work. Her parents asked Billy how old their daughter had told him she was and he told them 18. They told Billy that she was really only 15 and they wanted him to "respect her as such". Billy decided she was too young and that was the end of that.

That same evening, July 17, 1943, Billy returned to the Red Cross Club where the soldiers, while on leave, could stay for 25 cents per night. Dances were also held there each evening. He said he was on the lookout for prettiest girl there; she had to have blonde hair; and she had to be the best dancer. Billy needed someone who could keep up with him, because he was, as he termed it, "the jitterbug specialist".

As luck would have it, Miss Barbara Mary Geldard was there that evening and she met all of Billy's criteria. She was blonde, she was the prettiest girl there, and she was surely the best dancer. The problem was that he spotted her as she danced by him with another partner! Billy, however, was undeterred and the rest of the dances that evening were his.

This time Billy was taking no chances, so he asked Barbara Mary how old she was and she told him she was 15, but that she would be 16 the next day, on July 18. She passed the age test! I said "that one day made all the difference, right?" "Yep" was my answer. Obviously, it did. He was so self-assured that shortly after that evening, he sent a picture of Barbara Mary home to his parents and wrote on it "my future wife".

My thought was that Billy would have spent every possible moment with Barbara Mary after that, but he didn't. He said he could not spend every pass with her, because he needed to be with his buddies. "Typical male", I thought to myself, but didn't say it. Billy told me "your buddies were the ones who kept you alive. You watched out for them and they watched out for you". I asked if the relationship between buddies was as close as brothers and my answer was "closer".

On June 6, 1944, the 175th Infantry was sent to Omaha Beach for the D Day Invasion, but would not go on shore until the following day, as their job on June 6 was to serve as reserves to parts of the 1st Division and other parts of the 29th Division. There was still much German resistance the next day when the 175th landed. Billy Forbes served with the 29th when they took St. Lo, a fight that would cost them 7,000 casualties. The 29th eventually fought every step of the way into Germany and finally to the end of the war. Sgt. Billy Forbes was officially discharged from the Army on July 28, 1945 and made his way back to his Maryland home.

The pretty, dancing blonde and the jitterbug specialist were married on July 6, 1946 at the Forbes family home in Aquasco.

And, now I say to you Sgt. Forbes, it was my honor to meet you and to learn about the many sacrifices you made for your country. This brief excerpt does little justice to the many, many contributions you have made.

The second person from World War II was William Philip Davis, who was known throughout his life as "Boy". He was born on February 4, 1924 in Oraville, St. Mary's County. Exactly one month after his birth, on March 4, 1924, his mother died as a result of complications from childbirth and his paternal grandmother raised Boy, at least during his younger years.

His grandmother was widowed just a year later. She struggled along for several years and finally, out of necessity, married a widower from the neighborhood. As they were leaving the church after the marriage ceremony, the new husband demanded to know why her children were following them and she had to remind him that her children went with her.

Life for this family, which had already been hard, became even worse with the onset of the depression. There was no money for anything except the bare necessities of life, and sometimes not even for that. The house they lived in could be described as "ramshackle" at best. Further, the new living situation was very unhappy and the children left home as quickly as possible to get away from their stepfather.

In 1936, Boy began and ended his high school career in one day. During those days, high school began in the seventh grade. He had no decent clothes, hardly any food to eat, and the one pair of shoes he owned had to be tied to his feet. So, at the ripe old age of 12, he began his working career at the local grocery store. It wouldn't be long before he too left his beloved grandmother to get away from his step grandfather.

In 1943, like so many other young men of that time, Boy received his draft notice and was sent to Ft. Benning, Georgia for basic training. He became a member of Company D, 26th Infantry, 1st Division, "The Big Red One". He was trained as a mortar handler.

Immediately after completion of basic training, Boy went to New York with the rest of his Company and from there they were shipped to England. His luck had not improved any, as his first wartime battle was the D Day Invasion at Omaha Beach.

Although he was reluctant to talk about his war-time experiences over the years, he did talk of being in the landing craft approaching Omaha Beach and that the men had to get off further from the beach than planned. Often, they were killed before they could get off the craft. When Boy walked off the craft, he immediately went to the bottom since he couldn't swim and because the soldiers were all loaded down with heavy equipment. Another soldier saved his life and then immediately lost his when they got on shore.

One has only to see the opening scenes of "Saving Private Ryan" to get an idea of what these men endured. Many living veterans have stated that these scenes are extremely accurate. I know that I had a hard time watching it and it showed me, in a very graphic way what Boy had talked about so many years before.

The same day or the next, his unit overtook a house on the shore of Omaha Beach, taking a group of German soldiers as prisoners. These soldiers were between the ages of 12 and 15. Boy went on to participate in battles across France. His battlefront experience ended with the Battle of the Bulge.

The Battle of the Bulge was fought in the winter of 1943-1944. It was the worst winter that Europe had experienced in over 40 years. It is said that when men were killed, their bodies would be frozen within an hour. The winter clothing the soldiers were issued was inadequate against the extreme cold and deep snow. They had no boots, only rubber galoshes. They would take their blankets and tear them into strips to protect their extremities from freezing. Many men died, not as a result of battle, but simply from the cold.

Boy was returned to the U.S. due to frost bitten feet while serving in the Battle of the Bulge. He was sent to a convalescent hospital in North Carolina about February of 1945.

Boy, like Sgt. Forbes, was a bit of a rascal too. Just prior to his induction into the Army, he became engaged to a young lady from the neighborhood who wrote to him throughout the war. While in North Carolina, he met the daughter of a minister and became engaged to her as well. So, now there were two potential wives.

Then, in the late spring, while on a weekend pass, Boy met Nellie Agnes Phillips, a native of Sumner County, Tennessee who he immediately nicknamed "Kitty". In early June, the Red Cross notified Boy that his grandmother was dying and he was allowed to go home to Maryland. Sadly, he arrived the day after her death. Kitty went to stay with her sister in Indianapolis.

Many letters passed back and forth and on July 13, Kitty boarded a Greyhound bus and came to Washington, D.C. The next day, she and Boy drove to the courthouse in St. Mary's County and were married. The first order of business (or maybe it could have been the second), as I understand it, was to notify the other two prospective brides.

Boy Davis lived the rest of his life in his beloved St. Mary's County. He died on July 30, 1991 and was buried with full military honors.

And, so I say to you, my beloved father that I will always be proud of you. Even though I was very young at the time and didn't realize everything that was being said, I remember the many times you cried out in the middle of the night from the nightmares that haunted you. I cried too, not because I understood, but because I couldn't stand to hear Daddy cry. You are my hero.

Until recently, I didn't realize that there were words to "Taps". These haunting words, I believe, are a fitting tribute to our brave soldiers.

Day is done, Gone the sun, From the lakes, From the hills, From the sky, All is well, safely rest God is nigh.

Fading light, Dims the sight, And a star, Gems the sky, Gleaning bright, From afar, Drawing nigh, Falls the night.

Thanks and praise, For our days, Neath the sun, Neath the stars, Neath the sky, As we go, This we know, God is nigh.

 

Prepared by: Linda Davis Reno, May 24, 2001

Did you know that...

Jacob Gilliams (1784-1868), the husband of Ann Sothoron (1788-1858), daughter of Richard Sothoron and Catherine Tubman of St. Mary's County, was one of the founders of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia? In 1824, he discovered a new species of fish which he named Scolopsis sayanus (aka pirate perch).

 

The first naval battle in English America occurred in 1638 when the St.Mary's Militia took Kent Island?

 

The second wife of Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois (of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates) was Adele Cutts (1835-1899) and that she was the niece of Dolly Madison and the granddaughter of John O'Neale and Eliza Henrietta Hamilton of Prince George's Co., MD?

 

Franklin Buchanan (1800-1874) married Ann Catherine Lloyd and that her ancestors included Ann Rousby (of Calvert Co.); Rebecca Plater (of St. Mary's Co.); and James Neale and Elizabeth Gill (of Charles Co.)? Incidentally, her aunt was Mary Tayloe Lloyd, the wife of Francis Scott Key.

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Copyright 2002 Linda Reno, Charlotte Hall, Maryland and Marcella Jehl Dawson, Houston, Texas. All rights reserved.. No part of these pages may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without written permission of the author(s).

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