Sunday, July 19, 2009


An Officer, a Gentleman, and a Hero

I first met Captain Raymond Talbird at his pool side apartment in his son’s backyard. Captain Talbird, a native of Macon, lived most of his life in Florida before moving to Dublin. He was a hero. He is still a hero. The evidence of his heroism hangs on his bedroom wall - not one, but two Silver Stars for gallantry in action, a Bronze Star for heroism, as well a plethora of service and campaign ribbons. He, like many of his generation, saw their mission in World War II as a job to do . Do it, do it well, and hope like heck that you would make it back home. His sometimes atypical leadership style led to the saving of many of the lives of his men.

Captain Talbird was placed in Command of Co. A, 395th Infantry Reg., 99th Infantry Division. The company’s first combat was just before the Battle of the Bulge. Talbird remembered, "There were three rifle companies in our battalion. The company commander of Company B was real "gung ho." The Colonel asked the company commanders what they thought about going into battle for the first time. The Captain of Company B was ready to go. The Captain of Company C said about the same. When the Colonel asked Talbird what he thought, Talbird said, " I told him that I had never been in combat before. I didn’t know if I would run or not, but I would have to wait and see. B Company took the point. They made a cardinal sin when they moved through an open field. The company commander was shot and killed. C Company took the town, but their company commander was dressed highly and walked with a swagger. When one of his men saluted him, he was shot and killed. After that, A Company took the lead most of the time," Capt. Talbird said.

Capt. Talbird relates the following story: "After the Battle of the Bulge, we got orders to pull back from the position we were holding. Col. Hendricks told me that we were trying to dodge the Germans. At the time we had no contact with the Germans. The company commanders talked with the Colonel to figure out where was safe. We finally found out that it was the Germans who told us to pull back and that it was a false report. Things got rough after that. We got separated. I was on a road leading back to the area where we were supposed to congregate. A jeep driver found me and asked me if I wanted to ride back. I told him that there were things I needed to do and that I would walk back. I think it was about fifteen miles. My wife always said that I stretched it to twenty five miles. I saw many men with their feet frozen. While I was walking back my feet began to hurt terribly. I kept walking then had to sit down beside the road. I cut my boots off and my feet were badly swollen. I put on a pair of fleece lined shoes and started walking again. By the time I got back to battalion, my feet had stopped hurting. I had a doctor look at them and told myself that if they were too bad, that I might get to go home. I couldn’t feel the pain any more and thought it must be really bad if I couldn’t feel the pain. The doctor took one look at them and told me that they were fine - that I had done the right thing and the reason that they didn’t hurt anymore was that they had circulation in them."

The Captain’s own words tell his story best. " One time we had to dig in opposite some German pillboxes. We had to occupy that position because we were being stymied by those pillboxes. You couldn’t move during the day because they would take pot shots at you. We had to move at night. They brought our food in at night. We had two men in a foxhole. One would stay while the other went back to eat. One time one of the men went to sleep in the foxhole. When his buddy returned, he was startled and fired his rifle killing him. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want his family to learn how he was killed. I reported that he was killed in action."

"I was ordered to take one of those pillboxes. We attacked at night. I instructed one platoon to take the pillbox. They came back and said that they could not find it. It was hidden in the snow and very hard to find at night. I sent another platoon and they came back with the same story. You couldn’t use your compass, because you would have to light it to see it. I called battalion and told them I was going to take the whole company to find it. I had no compass, so I just started walking like I would walk around the block at my house. I told my men to go around the knoll and when daylight came to shoot toward any movement. It sounded like a war going on. The Colonel called on the radio, I told him that I was trying to take a pillbox and that I would get back with him as soon as I could. We found the pillbox and took it out. I always walked up front with my company. I learned that the Germans would shell us with their mortars at the rear of the company, where the company commanders were usually positioned. I can’t remember, but I think that was when I won my first Silver Star."

"We were following General Patton who was moving lickety split after Normandy. We were to move in behind him and to mop up the towns. Normally we had two tanks and the infantry walked in behind them. But as we went along we would find vehicles beside the road. We were way behind Patton, so I used every vehicle we could find so that my men could ride instead of walking. Sometimes we had to get out the vehicles and walk into town. Patton had sent out orders that the infantry should walk like it was supposed to do. So I continued to let my men ride on the tanks and put the others in trucks. We were told that we would be sitting ducks. I told them to put a machine gun on my jeep and that I would lead them in. We entered one town and I saw a German officer at the end of town waving a white flag. He told my interpreter that he wanted to surrender to the highest ranking officer. My interpreter told him that I was the highest ranking officer. He told my interpreter that I looked like a private. I showed him my captain’s bars to show him I was an officer."

On March 25, 1945, fifty five years ago this week, Capt. Talbird personally led a squad of riflemen and three bazooka teams in an attack. During the action, he continuously exposed himself to heavy enemy fire in supervising the movements of his men. Capt. Talbird was directly responsible for knocking out two of the deadly German 88 guns. He was also responsible for the destruction of a personnel carrier and an anti aircraft gun, in addition to the capture of twenty-two prisoners. For his gallantry in action, Capt. Talbird was awarded his second Silver Star, a truly remarkable feat.

"We were supposed to cross the Danube River on April 27th. At 1100 hours, I went to the bank to oversee the loading of the boats and to get the boats across the river. I had no inkling there were Germans across the river. I saw no activity over there. The engineers were ending their preparations and the first elements were preparing to cross. I was the S-3 of the first battalion. Suddenly, I had an awful feeling that we should cross further down with no problems. I tried to get the regimental commander to delay, but he responded that this would be just a routine crossing. I was on the phone to the 2nd Battalion commander. He said that I was fooling regiment, but I wasn’t fooling him. I informed him that the first battalion was lost and not prepared to cross. I thought to myself that it would be suicide. The 2nd battalion went down to the bank, loaded the boats, and moved out into the war. Then all Hell broke loose. They were shot all up out in the water. There was nothing I could do. I waited and crossed the river five to six hours later about five to ten miles away with no problems," the Captain remembered. For his meritorious service in deploying his troops in a manner which saved their lives, Captain Talbird was awarded a Bronze Star.

Captain Talbird will tell you right up front that he had done things that he didn’t want to do and didn’t think he could do. His primary mission was to do what was best for his men - an attribute which naturally led to the accolades of his heroism. The next time you pass by Pineridge Subdivision, remember that the gray-haired man who lives out by the Al Talbird’s pool is and will always be an officer, a gentleman, and most of all, a hero.

1 comment:

  1. I am SO going to forward this to Raymond Trevor Talbird. He is my fiance and I know he doesn't know this blog exists.
    I didn't get the pleasure of meeting Captain Talbird, but I know his family will be quite greatful you painted Cpt. Talbird so well.
    Thank you.
    (I have no clue how I even found this blog. I just wander around the internet sometimes.)