The D-Day Warriors of Bob Slaughter’s Order of the Day, Co. D, 116th Infantry
“Soldiers, sailors and airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force: You are about to embark upon the great crusade…” So began a message from General Dwight David Eisenhower to the men under his command, a force preparing for the biggest invasion of history. It was June 6th, 1944, a date that would become known as D-Day. The target was the coast of Normandy in France, the ultimate goal “nothing less than full victory” against Nazi Germany.
Tens of thousands of allied servicemen received a printed copy of this message from Eisenhower, known as the Order of the Day. Many of them recognized the historical importance of the document and determined to save theirs; some had their comrades in arms sign their copies.
One in particular was John Robert “Bob” Slaughter of Roanoke, VA, a sergeant in Company D, 116th Regiment, 29th Division. Aboard the transport ship HMS Empire Javelin, he circulated amongst his buddies and had 75 of them sign their names to his copy of the Order of the Day.
Of those 75 men, eleven would die within hours on a blood-soaked stretch of sand known as Omaha Beach. Eleven others would die in following weeks. They were only a handful of men who paid the ultimate price to free Europe from Hitler’s tyranny.
In Slaughter’s memoir “Omaha Beach and Beyond” he recorded his recollections of the Order of the Day: “Each of us was given a letter signed by General Eisenhower, the same message broadcast over loudspeakers by Eisenhower himself to all Allied assault troops: ‘You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade,’ it famously began. I shoved a pen and the Eisenhower missive into the hands of a few men standing nearby, who autographed my copy. I wrapped it in plastic, folded it neatly, and tucked it into my wallet. This piece of paper was carried with me throughout the war, and became one of my most treasured possessions.”
Bob Slaughter would go on the be the founder of the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, VA, and by his death in 2012 he was perhaps the best-known D-Day veteran in the United States. He often used his framed Order of the Day in public appearances and educational programs. It is now in the collection of the National D-Day Memorial, one of the most important documents in the archive.
The Slaughter Order of the Day is more than an artifact—it is a glimpse back through time, a chance to meet American heroes whose “courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle” impressed even the Supreme Commander. Other documents, photographs and artifacts in the Memorial’s collection can help illuminate the service of these men.
Some 150,000 allied personnel were involved in Operation Overlord, the D-Day landings. Only a few dozen have their names here. But here are their stories—stories which need to be remembered.
The text of Eisenhower’s Order of the Day, considered a classic of American military literature:
Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force!
You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.
Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is will trained, well equipped and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely.
But this is the year 1944! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man-to-man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our Home Fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to Victory!
I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full Victory!
Good luck! And let us beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.
These are the names inscribed on the Slaughter Order of the Day. An asterisk (*) indicates a death on D-Day; a pound sign (#) indicates a fatality later in the Normandy campaign.
Joseph A. Avolio
Romeo E. Bily #
Aaron Bowling #
Rufus B. Carr *
Roland Coates *
Vittorio J. Crimone
John Carl Dylik *
Edward J. Fatula
J. T. Hendrix
Stanley Koryciak #
Thomas McArtor *
Lundy McClanahan #
Roy McKay #
James Ohler *
James Paulick *
David Powers *
Frenchman Ratliff #
Wallace Riddick #
Donald Sawyer #
Johnnie Singleton *
Alvin Smith *
William Solomon #
George Stearns *
Edward Walton #
Walfred Williams #
Company D of the 116th Regiment, commanded by Captain Walter Schilling, began as a National Guard unit based in Roanoke, VA (a brother unit was Co. A from Bedford, from which came the famed Bedford Boys of D-Day). As the war progressed and the army exploded in size, men from across the country were folded into Co. D, resulting in a good deal of culture shock as Virginia farm boys got to know sons of immigrant families from New York or Philadelphia.
In 1942 the 29th Division was sent to England to begin training for the inevitable cross-channel invasion. Little did any of the men yet understand the place in history that would be their destiny.
Slaughter’s Order of the Day is not the only collection of autographs from Company D in the war. The WWII generation was steeped in the tradition of collecting signatures of friends, classmates, or neighbors: autograph books and school yearbooks were prized possessions.
Another soldier from Co. D who wanted to preserve the names of his comrades was Bernard “Rocky” Latakas of Wisconsin. On May 31, while the invasion force was confined in barbed-wire enclosures called “Sausages” by the men, Latakas had 100 of his brothers-in-arms sign two sheets of paper, which he mailed to his girlfriend at home to keep.
Note Bob Slaughter's autograph sixth down from the top.
In 1994, Latakas gave the priceless document to Bob Slaughter, then preparing to return to Normandy to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the invasion. Latakas’ roster is now also a part of the archive of the National D-Day Memorial. Some 45 of the men on Latakas’ roster also signed the Order of the Day.
Yet another example, albeit earlier, of Co. D signatures was this softball autographed by several players from the unit, eager athletes who won an army tournament in England. Romeo Bily, Kyle Catron, Victor Crimone, Eddie Walton and Willard Norfleet, all signers of the Order of the Day, are among the softballers who autographed the ball.
Capt. Schilling encouraged his men to pursue athletic excellence while stationed in England—it built comradery, provided exercise, helped the active young men in his command to burn off energy, and gave the company a chance for bragging rights. These Co. D soldiers won a 1943 football championship, and as a reward received passes to London from their captain (where this photo was taken). Biley, Crimone, Norfleet, Edward Fatula and James Paulick from the Order of the Day list were members of this team.
One of the most popular members of Co. D was Victor (Vittorio) Crimone (left), affectionately given the somewhat offensive nickname “Dago” by his buddies. Crimone would remain close friends with Bob Slaughter for decades after the war. He is pictured here with Jimmie Hamlin (center) and Rufus Carr. All three signed Bob Slaughter’s Order of the Day, and Carr would perish on Omaha Beach on D-Day.
Walfred Williams was a close friend of Bob Slaughter, who greatly admired his strength, determination, and courage under fire. Years after the war Bob would call Williams “one of the bravest combat soldiers I served with in World War II.” But it would take half a century for Bob to discover another legacy of Walfred Williams, involving another set of signatures of Co. D comrades.
The custom of the “short snorter” goes back to the early days of aviation. By WWII it was tradition that when you crossed an ocean (usually by plane, but also by ship) you took a dollar from your wallet and had your companions sign it. Tens of thousands of WWII servicemen kept short snorters as mementoes.
These two bills were collected by Walfred Williams of Company D, who mailed them home before the invasion to his girlfriend Betty Morrill. After Wally was killed in action, she kept these in a scrapbook for decades along with photos and letters from her beloved.
In 1994, as the 50th Anniversary of D-Day loomed, Betty Morrill saw a television story about the men of the 116th and recognized some of the names on her dollar bills. She contacted Bob Slaughter to discover that he had been a close friend of Williams. Later she sent these “pieces of history” to Bob for the future archives of the National D-Day Memorial he was then developing in Virginia.
Many of the men who signed Williams’ bills also signed the Order of the Day, and both artifacts bear witness to heroes proved in the heat of battle.
Ten years after D-Day, Milliron’s mother Nettie was shocked to get a letter from a stranger asking if her son had survived the war. In follow-up correspondence, Carl Barbee, a veteran of the 1st Infantry Division, informed Mrs. Milliron that he had her son’s dogtag and would be happy return the memento of a fallen soldier to the grieving mother.
Barbee told Mrs. Milliron that while taking cover in a fox hole on Omaha Beach, a nearby explosion blew a single dogtag into the sand next to him. Automatically, Barbee picked it up and stuck it in a pocket. Weeks later, he put it in his shaving kit, where it disappeared into the bag’s lining and was forgotten. Barbee found it again in 1954, and returned it to the Milliron family.
As the 29th and the 1st Divisions landed in different parts of the beach hundreds of yards removed, it is unclear how the tag ended up next to Barbee. However, the inexplicable coincidence brought great comfort to the loved ones of one fallen hero from Company D.
Bob Slaughter's Order of the Day is a highly significant document for the history of D-Day, revealing much about the service of the men who stormed those beaches on June 6, 1944.
Unfortunately, it is also a threatened document, greatly in need of conservation. The Slaughter Order of the Day has been twice named to Virginia's Top 10 Endangered Artifact poll. Efforts are underway to restore the document, and we welcome your support.
To learn more about Bob Slaughter's Order of the Day, the men who signed it, and the Memorial he built to then, see this video or visit www.dday.org. Thank you!
Seventy-five men signed Bob Slaughter’s Order of the Day as they awaited their destiny on June 6, 1944. For eleven of them, it was probably the last time they ever wrote their name. These are names we must never forget. Whether they gave their lives or served and survived, their valor, fidelity and sacrifice deserve recognition and honor.
Let us close this exhibit with some fitting words from Alfred, Lord Tennyson, as tribute to the men on Bob Slaughter’s Order of the Day, and all of their comrades who defied the odds by storming the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944:
“When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made…
Honour the charge they made!”
All photos, documents and artifacts are from the collection of the National D-Day Memorial Foundation, Bedford, VA. Text written by John D. Long, Education Director.