By Bob Bellin, TRADOC News Service
FORT JACKSON, SC, September 7, 2006 - A Combat Infantry Badge first earned at Normandy, France, in World War II has been passed down from soldier to soldier in the same regiment, and was most recently awarded to a soldier in Iraq supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.
PFC Bates Beckham, 1st Battalion, 506th Regimental Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, was awarded the CIB June 10 while on duty in Iraq.
The story of how the CIB ended up on Beckham's chest begins with Sherri Turner, his mother, a resident of Woodstock, GA.
"My husband (Chris Turner) had been searching online for history on the 506th and found the 101st Airborne, 506th Infantry Regimental Association web site," Turner said.
When she forwarded pictures from her son to the site, she was contacted by retired MAJ Tom Duckett, a high school coach and teacher in Plymouth, IN, who maintained a section of the web site dedicated to modern-day soldiers in the regiment.
During their correspondence Turner and Duckett discovered they had something in common -- they had both grown up in Conway, SC.
Turner wrote to him about her son in Iraq and how his commander had given him a special coin with orders to give it away to the most deserving soldier in the battalion.
Duckett was so impressed by Beckham's sense of duty, he said, that, "as much as Bates wanted the coin, he followed orders to the letter and passed it on ... as he was told to do."
He promised to send Beckham a 506th Regimental Association coin and also something else, a CIB a neighbor in Conway, retired MSG Leroy Tolson, a Green Beret, had passed on to him when Duckett was a first lieutenant on his way to Vietnam.
As an 18-year-old soldier in the 506th Infantry Regiment, Duckett said, Tolson had parachuted into Normandy, France, where he first earned the CIB in combat. He also had combat jumps into Holland, fought at Bastogne, France, and later saw combat in Vietnam and Laos.
[Correction to article: MSG Leroy F. Tolson served in the 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment in the Pacific theater during WWII]
In a letter Duckett sent to Beckham, the only thing Tolson asked when he gave the CIB was that "when the time (is) right, pass it on to the next generation of the 506th."
Duckett had worn the badge first for combat in the A Shau Valley and then for such battles as the Tet Offensive in Vietnam and a combat jump in Grenada.
"I wore it on my Dress "A" uniform for 21 years," Duckett wrote, "and then had it on display in a glass case at home. It is getting rather worn, but can shine up when it is important."
Beckham, on leave after eight months in Iraq, said, "My mom told (Duckett) I was 18," he said, "and the original guy who got it was 18, so he decided to pass it on to me."
Duckett sent the CIB and the letter to Beckham's mother, who sent them on to Beckham, who was attached to Troop B, 1st Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment at Camp Rustamiyah on the outskirts of Baghdad.
"I was honored," Beckham said. "It was like, wow, this is coming to me?"
He believes it is one of the original CIBs issued, since Duckett wrote that it was first pinned in 1944, and the War Department first established the badge in October 1943.
Beckham possessed the badge, but according to Army Regulation 600-8-22 dated Feb. 25, 1995, an infantryman can only wear the CIB after engaging in active ground combat.
"You have to be in combat to get it," Beckham said. He experienced his first fire-fight in Iraq shortly before the CIB arrived. "Before I got in my first combat, I didn't even know the (badge) existed."
When LTC Brian Winski, commander, 1st Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, "pinned that actual CIB on me," Beckham said, "I wore it for an hour; then put it away."
He said he considers it too valuable to wear on a regular basis.
Wearing the CIB, he said, makes him feel connected to all the other soldiers of the 506th Regiment who have worn the badge in so many other conflicts. "I feel a part of it, a part of history."
His first fire-fight was the first of many, Beckham said. His mother said Beckham's commander recommended him for an Army Commendation Medal for valor for his actions during a battle in June, where he shot an enemy fighter who was about to fire a rocket propelled grenade at his unit's position.
Just as Duckett passed the CIB to him, Beckham said he would also like to pass the CIB on to a future soldier in the regiment. "More than likely, it would be a young gentleman my age. Maybe someone I met, maybe talking to someone's mom."
Whatever the future holds, this well-traveled emblem, with its wreath and rifle, will become even more worn from the gritty battlefields of Iraq, and its burnished surface will shine well enough on the chest of one more proud soldier in one more war.
photo from PFC Bates Beckham (Troop B, 1-61st, 506th RCT)
At Camp Rustamiyah, Baghdad, LTC Brian Winski, 1st Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment commander, pins the historic Combat Infantry Badge on PFC Bates Beckham, 1st Battalion, 506th Regiment Combat Team, 101 Airborne Division on June 10. The CIB was originally earned by a 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment paratrooper for combat in Normandy during World War II.