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Ask Rufus: A simple framed Silver Star

 

The Normandy beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944, as seen from an American B-17 bomber from the 96th Bomb Group.

The Normandy beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944, as seen from an American B-17 bomber from the 96th Bomb Group. Photo by: Courtesy photo

 

Rufus Ward

 

Friday was the 70th anniversary of D-Day. It's a day when I always think of my Uncle Orman Kimbrough. Uncle Orman was really a cousin but since he was my parents' age and close kin he was an uncle to me. He lived in Greenwood but his mother was a Hardy from the Lowndes County Prairie. From my childhood I recall many happy trips to Greenwood where were played probably the best games of "kick the can" anywhere. 

 

Kimbrough was a classic soft-spoken Delta gentleman but on his den wall was a small, simple frame containing a Silver Star with an oak leaf cluster. When I was old enough to realize that it was one of America's highest medals I asked him what he had done. His response was that he had not done anything different than a lot of other people had done but someone saw him do it. My father's comment was that Kimbrough had been one of the heroes of Omaha Beach on D-Day. 

 

On the morning of June 6, 1944, Kimbrough was a 2nd Lt. in C Company, 116th Regiment, 29th Division, U.S. Army, in a landing craft off the coast of Normandy, France. His regiment was part of the first assault wave against what would become bloody Omaha Beach. 

 

As his company's landing craft headed toward shore in the early morning, current and the dodging of landing obstacles placed by the Germans resulted in the craft becoming several hundred yards east of its designated location. In addition, the seaman piloting the craft was about to drop the men in water over their heads in trying to avoid obstacles and enemy fire. Kimbrough forced the seaman to maneuver the craft into closer shallower water but water still over waist deep. From there the company waded ashore under heavy German machine gun fire. 

 

Kimbrough and a sergeant were able to cross the beach before being completely pinned down by machine gun and sniper fire. Another lieutenant and four men who had tried to cross with them had been shot. A German machine gun emplacement whose approaches were covered by sniper fire prevented further American advancement on that part of the beach. Kimbrough shot and killed the snipers as he directed his men in taking out the German gun emplacement. That action opened a hole in the German defensive wall for Americans to advance through and off the beach. 

 

After moving away from the beach, Kimbrough, with a mixture of men from different units, headed west in the vicinity of the village of Vierville. On a road there he saw the first American tanks moving off of the beach. The first tank seeing some soldiers in front thought they were Germans and turned its gun toward them. Kimbrough, realizing what was happening, ran in front of the tank and began jumping up and down waving his arms. The tank seeing Kimbrough's actions backed off. Later, one of the soldiers commented that they first thought Lt. Kimbrough "had gone crazy." They then realized he had just "saved our butts." 

 

Not long afterward, a German artillery shell hit near Kimbrough. It blew him across the road and blew the stock off of his carbine. He was wounded by shrapnel but as soon as his wounds were treated he returned to his men and combat . 

 

Later in the advance against German forces in the Brest area in France, Kimbrough and his company with other companies from the 116th were ordered in what was described at the time as "a suicide charge" to conduct a frontal attack against a German fortification. Kimbrough and his company made it into the German fort though the other companies of the 116th were pinned down by heavy fire. They captured it and took 43 German paratroopers prisoner. Later the Germans counter attacked in overwhelming numbers and retook the position capturing Kimbrough. Two days later he escaped and was hidden for 10 days by a French family until the American advance reached his location. Returning to Normandy in 1994 for the 50th anniversary of D-Day, he was reunited with members of that family. 

 

Kimbrough ended the war as a Captain and company commander. 

 

This soft spoken southern gentleman that I have such fond memories of visiting with and going duck and dove hunting with was awarded the Silver Star with an Oak Leaf Cluster (a second Silver Star award), two Bronze Stars, a Purple Heart with 5 Oak Leaf Clusters (he was wounded six times) and by the French government with the Croix de Guerre with Silver Star. 

 

Thanks to Orman Kimbrough Jr. and Ellen Kimbrough Upton, who have told me the stories that Uncle Orman would only comment on with, "I didn't do anything different than a lot of other people. Someone just saw me."

 

Rufus Ward is a Columbus native a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to Rufus at rufushistory@aol.com.

 

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