Our resident historian Steve Smith of Rocket Werks fame is in France. We assume but can’t confirm that he is spending all his time researching for future RVA Legends and RVA Must-See. This assumption is confirmed by the following story he relayed to us over the weekend.
Steve was taking a tour of the Omaha Beach Cemetery, located in Colleville-sur-Mer, Basse-Normandie. At some point like all good historians, he wandered off and began randomly walking around the cemetery. It wasn’t long before he noticed the gravestone you see above of Jimmie Watters Monteith Jr.
Noticing the Virginia birthplace he did some quick Google-Fu and found the Jimmie was from Richmond.
Jimmie Watters Monteith Jr. was born on July 1, 1917 in Low Moor, Virginia. His family moved to Richmond, Virginia, when he was nine years old. After elementary school, he attended Thomas Jefferson High School, where he played a year each of varsity football and varsity basketball. Known in high school as “Punk,” he graduated in 1937. He attended Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (then known as Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College and Polytechnic Institute, shortened in popular usage to Virginia Polytechnic Institute or simply VPI) for two years, 1937–1939, majoring in mechanical engineering. While at VPI, he was a member of K Battery in the Corps of Cadets and the Richmond Sectional Club. He returned to Richmond at the end of his sophomore year and worked as a field representative for the Cabell Coal Company, where his father was vice president.
He was drafted into the army in October 1941 and sent to Camp Croft, South Carolina, for basic training. During basic training, he was promoted to corporal and applied for officer training. He was accepted and sent to Fort Benning, Georgia, completing the course in March 1942, when he was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant. He was then transferred to Fort McClellan, Alabama, where he helped train the 15th Battalion. In February 1943, he was transferred into the 30th Division at Camp Blanding, Florida, to begin training in preparation for being shipped overseas to fight in the war.
In April 1943 he was shipped to Algeria, where he joined the 1st Infantry Division (Big Red One). The division moved to Sicily in July 1943, and he received a field promotion to 1st lieutenant during the campaign. The division moved to England in November 1943 to prepare for the Normandy invasion. It was during the D-Day invasion that he was killed.
Jimmie received a Purple Heart, a European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, and the Medal of Honor (Posthumously) for his actions during the D-Day Invasion.
Medal of Honor Citation
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty on 6 June 1944, while serving with 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, in action near Colleville-sur-Mer, France. First Lieutenant Monteith landed with the initial assault waves on the coast of France under heavy enemy fire. Without regard to his own personal safety he continually moved up and down the beach reorganizing men for further assault. He then led the assault over a narrow protective ledge and across the flat, exposed terrain to the comparative safety of a cliff. Retracing his steps across the field to the beach, he moved over to where two tanks were buttoned up and blind under violent enemy artillery and machinegun fire. Completely exposed to the intense fire, First Lieutenant Monteith led the tanks on foot through a minefield and into firing positions. Under his direction several enemy positions were destroyed. He then rejoined his company and under his leadership his men captured an advantageous position on the hill. Supervising the defense of his newly won position against repeated vicious counterattacks, he continued to ignore his own personal safety, repeatedly crossing the 200 or 300 yards of open terrain under heavy fire to strengthen links in his defensive chain. When the enemy succeeded in completely surrounding First Lieutenant Monteith and his unit and while leading the fight out of the situation, First Lieutenant Monteith was killed by enemy fire. The courage, gallantry, and intrepid leadership displayed by First Lieutenant Monteith is worthy of emulation.
A little more internet researching and we found this excellent article from Virginia Tech Magazine. It includes portions of his letters to home and a few photos.
He seemed to be satisfied with his role in the war: “… I would not change if I were given the chance–even to have some easy job in the rear area. Of course I can’t say that should I ever be lucky enough to have a son that I would want him to go through something like this. But if events forced him I would want him to prove himself…. As for the 1st Division, every time I look at the shoulder insignia (the red one) I get a thrill–there is no better fighting unit in the world. When the Germans were confident of victory on several occasions and all circumstances were against the 1st, the men rose to the occasion and hurled them back in great confusion and disorder…. There is a great feeling of satisfaction that one gets within oneself. I would not change.”
It’s an amazing coincidence that one of our writers was walking a cemetery over 3,000 miles away found a bit of Richmond history. Personally I’m thankful to learn just a little bit about a Richmonder that paid the ultimate price so many years ago on a beach in France.