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The men of Bedford’s National Guard company, Company A, gathered at the National D-Day Memorial Saturday morning for a change of command ceremony.
The heart of the ceremony consisted of outgoing company commander Captain Miguel Lickliter accepting the company guidon from the company first sergeant, handing it to the battalion commander who, in turn, passed it to the 1st Lieutenant Sidney Leslie, who then returned it to the company 1st sergeant.
In earlier times, a unit’s colors served as a unit’s rallying point in battle and a company guidon is the company level extension of those colors. Company A’s guidon is unique because it carries its own battle streamers. These represent the Presidential Unit Citation and the French Croix de Guerre with Silver Star that it received for the nighttime seizure of Hill 203 outside the French town of Vire during World War II. It is the only company in the battalion to be so honored.
According to the unit’s history, Company A traces its linage to the War Between the States when the ancestors of today’s company formed Company B of the Bedford Rifle Grays and parts of the 18th and 28th Virginia Infantry Regiments.
When the United States entered World War I, companies of the Virginia Volunteer Infantry were called into federal service in August, 1917 and organized into the 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment and assigned to the 29th Division. Company A took part in the Meuse-Argonne and Alsace campaigns and earned a reputation for never giving ground in a fight.
Company A was called to federal service again on Feb. 3, 1941. On D-Day, the unit formed part of the first wave to land on Omaha Beach and 19 of the 30 Bedford Boys still assigned to the company were killed that morning. As a result, Bedford suffered the highest per capita D-Day loss of any community in the nation.
The company was next called to federal service on March 1, 2004, for deployment to Afghanistan. This marked the first time since WWII that members of the company were awarded the Combat Infantryman’s Badge. This is awarded for service in a combat zone. The company has also had two deployments to Iraq in 2007 and 2010.
“To my soldiers, thank you for the countless hours you have devoted to this company, joining me in the constant pursuit to achieve the very best in all things,” Capt. Lickliter said to the men of Company A. “Through deployments, annual training periods and drills you have always achieved the mission regardless of how difficult it was. I owe all of my success to you fine men. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t have a job, so once again from the bottom of my heart, thank you.”
Capt. Lickliter was commissioned as Army infantry officer in 2003 from the New Mexico Military Institute.
“I am taking on an awesome responsibility,” said 1st Lt. Leslie after taking command.
1st Lt. Leslie has been a platoon leader and, most recently, Company A’s executive officer. He holds a bachelor of science degree in criminal justice administration from the University of Phoenix.
Joining the ranks, standing in the rear, was Robert E. Key, of the Keytown area of the county. When Ray Nance, the company’s executive officer on D-Day, restarted the company after WWII, people told him that nobody would join after what happened on D-Day. Nance was determined to prove them wrong, and he did. Young men flocked to the company and Key was among those first recruits. He was 16 at the time and lied about his age to get in.
After the change of command ceremony, the company held a family day at the Armory in Bedford. Members of 29th Division Living History Inc., were on hand with displays of the equipment and weapons, most of it actual vintage equipment, that would have been used by the 29th Division in WWII. One item was a steel mirror that Nance carried ashore with him on D-Day.