Forest County native among those killed on D-Day

Photo provided to the Times Observer Clairus Riggs, born in Forest County south of Marienville, was one of 2,500 American soldiers killed on D-Day, June 6, 1944, 79 years ago today.

Today marks 79 years since the D-Day invasions, the mainland assault on the French coast that, in a year’s time, would free Europe from Nazi oppression.

More than 2,500 Americans were killed that day, including a Forest County man born in Hottelville, a tiny crossroads south of Marienville.

A non-profit initiative aimed at keeping his story alive is highlighting his sacrifice on this D-Day anniversary.

Stories Behind the Stars, which is focused on honoring all 421,000 fallen Americans from World War II, is looking to highlight the contributions of the 116th Infantry Regiment of the 29th Infantry Division.

Clairus Riggs was one of 56 men in that regiment to die on D-Day.

He was born on Oct. 22, 1922 to Charles and Elva Riggs and, according to the 1940 Census, was working as a coal miner before enlisting in the Army on Jan. 5, 1943. By the time of the war, the family had moved south to Cambria County.

The 116th was sent to England six months later and spent the following year training for the invasion at the U.S. Army Assault Training Center on Woolacombe Beach and in Exercise Fabius I weeks before the invasion.

Chris Moyer, the state media director for Stories Behind the Stars, said the 116th was to lead the assault on Omaha Beach.

The landing craft approached the beach.

The most iconic photos of that day were taken from those craft with the ramp open and soldiers pouring into the water and onto the beaches.

Multiple accounts confirm that Riggs never made it that far.

He was shot and killed on the landing ramp door, buried in France in the days after the invasion.

Fast forward three years and families were given a choice – leave their loved one on the field where they fell or repatriate their remains.

Riggs’ family chose the later option and he was one of 12 returned in Dec. 1947 and buried at the Gettysburg National Cemetery.

“On D-Day, 3,100 men of the 116th Infantry Regiment entered combat. By the end of June 6, 1944 the unit suffered 1,007 killed, wounded, or missing during the Omaha Beach assault,” Moyer said. ” Their courage, bravery and sacrifice helped create a foothold that allowed Allied forces to continue the invasion and to defeat Nazi Germany within a year.”


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