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Decoration Day in Normandy

DECORATION DAY

 

“In a little country church-yard in Hall County, among the hills of Northeast Georgia, stands a block of granite with the simple inscription, ‘Lt. Col. Amzi Rudolph Quillian, Gentleman and Soldier. Born September 12, 1911 – Died August 4, 1944’.

Rudolph’s broken body, with those of his comrades, lies in the American Cemetery at Ste. Mere Eglise in Normandy, but his spirit is here – in the rolling red hills among which he grew up, in the blue mountains he loved, and in the little Methodist Church which he joined at an early age. His memory is indelibly stamped on the minds and hearts of those who knew and loved him, as man and boy here in North Georgia and in the service of his country.”

 

The paragraphs above are from a story printed in The Assembly, West Point’s alumni magazine. The soldier described was my Great Uncle. On this Memorial Day I hope you will give me a little leeway here. Usually this blog is devoted to health topics for pets. But on this Memorial Day, I would like to add a story which I feel important to remember.

 

Amzi Rudolph Quillian, (Rudolph, as he was referred to by my father) was only 10 years older than my father. I think my father (John R. Quillian) looked at Rudolph more like an older brother than an uncle. After graduating from West Point, Rudolph had tried to help John get an appointment to the military academy. Unfortunately, my father had a knee problem and couldn’t pass the physical to get into the Army.

 

During World War II, the Quillians from tiny Quillian’s Corner, Georgia were well represented in the Army. After the war started it seems my father’s knee was good enough for service, and he also entered the army. My father was a PFC serving with the Armed Services Network in the European Theater. My uncle, Jimmy C. Quillian, flew with a bomber crew on a B-17, flying bombing missions from Italy into Germany.

 

After graduating from West Point, Rudolph went into the 66th Armored Division of the 2nd Armored Division, which was commanded by General George S. Patton. The division was involved in the invasion of French Morocco in December of 1942. In June 1940, while at Fort Benning, Rudolph had married Eva Mae Ansley. The photo below is a classic. I think his men required their commander and his new bride to take a tank ride. I have probably never seen a happier new bride. This photo is now part of a video display at the National Infantry Museum at Fort Benning.

rudolph-evaa

In January of 1943 Rudolph was assigned command of the 3rd Battalion of the 66th Armored. In July of 1943 the 66tharmored was part of the Allied invasion of Sicily, code named Operation Husky. Near the town of Canicatti Rudy earned the Silver Star Citation for gallantry in action. The following is from his citation:

 “Lieutenant Colonel Quillian, unable to move by vehicle, went forward dismounted, between friendly and enemy machine gun fire, to coordinate the action of two columns, and drove the enemy out of the high ground they occupied. Again  at about 1799B, Lieutenant Colonel Quillian, unable to move by vehicle from his position, dismounted and went forward in the face of heavy enemy rifle and machine gun fire. While on foot under this enemy fire, he rallied stray tanks together and  personally led them in a successful  attack on the enemy occupied ridge. … By his heroic actions, Lieutenant Colonel Quillian set an example of brilliant leadership, calm courage and devotion to duty. Such coolness and disregard for personal safety over and above the call of duty in the face of the enemy reflect great credit upon himself and were in accordance with the highest traditions of the Armed Forces..”

 

 

The 66th Armored was moved from Sicily to Scotland and then to England to begin training for Operation Overlord, the Battle of Normandy. The 66th Armored began landing on Utah Beach on “D” plus six days. The fighting in Normandy was intense and the battle for St-Lo was a strategic goal for the American Army. After the breakthrough following all day and all night fighting, late at night, Rudolph was returning from Combat Command and was caught between the fire of American troops and that of a German raiding party. He was wounded on July 28th and died on August 4th.

 

In a letter to Rudolph’s mother, General George S. Patton wrote: “… (he) exemplified in his living and in his dying, the highest precepts of the U.S. Army and of the U.S. Military Academy”.

 

My father was the last family member to see Rudolph. Having been transported to England on the RMS Queen Elizabeth, John was able to meet up with Rudolph in London before D Day. After Rudolph died, there was some confusion with the family as far as where he was buried.  John was in contact with the family back here in Georgia, and attempted to visit Rudolph’s grave.

 

After Rudolph’s death, Eva wrote my father:

 “I’ve had this address and ready to write for over a week, but just haven’t been able to get it written before now. Seems like every time I start writing letters, I start remembering too many things. Of course, it’s still hard to realize that Rudy’s gone – I was always so sure that he was coming home. The part that hurts most is that he never saw Sally. He would have loved her so and been so proud of her. I am so glad that you had seen her when you saw him. I am looking forward to your coming home and telling me all about it.”

 

When Rudolph was in North Africa, he had found out that his daughter, Sally, had been born. Knowing that there was a real possibility that he might not survive the war, he wrote a letter to Sally to be opened in the future if he didn’t make it home. A gifted writer, Sally Quillian Gates wrote an article in the Columbus newspaper about her father and opening the letter , 40 years after it was written.

 

In the letter, Rudolph had written:

 “The reason for this letter is that because of the business I’m engaged in it is possible that I may never get to see you. If that should be the case I want to at least leave you one or two of my ideas. …….

We are living in a time now when soldiers must be willing to die for their county or else we won’t have a country — I won’t go into detail because I know you will read it all in your history books.

Of course I am willing to die if necessary but before I do I expect to  make many of the enemy die for their country. Don’t think we are martyrs either because this is an interesting and fascinating game and we are rather keen about it. I have under my command some of the best and bravest soldiers in the world and regardless of whether or not some of us fail to come back, the Germans will say we gave then the toughest fight they have ever had.”

 

 

In her article in the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, Sally Quillian Gates wrote

 “The letter was something I avoided reading for 41 years, until the 40th anniversary of D-Day in Normandy. It was addressed to me from someone I never knew. In retrospect, I wish it had been read aloud by my crib every night.”

 

 

 

 

In December of 2008 JoAnn and I received a call from a good friend in Florida. Betty and Steve  had been on a trip to France, and toured the American Cemetery in Normandy. She asked: “Do you have a relative buried in the military cemetery in Normandy?”

It turns out that the tour she was with had given them an opportunity to place flowers on a grave.  Betty had placed a flower on a grave she had picked out because the soldier was from Georgia. After getting home, Betty wondered if there might be a connection, since I have a fairly uncommon last name. She sent a photo, showing her placing a flower at Rudolph’s grave.

 

Betty-at-Normandy

Over 65 years after giving his life in a foreign country, fighting for his own country and the ideals it stands for, Amzi Rudolph Quillian was still being remembered. And that is as it should be. In World War II alone, over 400,000 Americans were killed. And like Rudolph, each man and woman who fell was much more than a soldier. They were brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, sons and daughters, fathers and mothers.

 

 

 

 

Since the founding of our country, over one million American service men and women have died in defense of our country and the ideals we stand for.

When each of these heroes, starting in the American Revolution and continuing up thorough today in Iraq and Afghanistan, gives “ the last full measure of devotion” it creates sorrow and disrupts lives for years to come.  So it is fitting that today we stop and remember and honor those have fallen in defense of our country. Through their sacrifice we are allowed to live in a free country. We owe a debt to these individuals that can never be fully paid.

 

 

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