Charles D. W. Canham
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|Charles D.W. Canham|
Maj. Gen. Charles D.W. Canham
|Died||1963 (aged 61–62)
Walter Reed General Hospital
|Buried at||Arlington National Cemetery|
|Allegiance||United States of America|
|Service/branch||United States Army|
|Years of service||1919-1960|
|Commands held||29th Infantry Division
3rd Infantry Division
82nd Airborne Division
|Awards||Distinguished Service Cross
Combat Infantryman Badge
Major General Charles Draper William Canham (January 26, 1901 - August 21, 1963) was the commander of the 29th Infantry Division's 116th Infantry Regiment, which landed on Omaha Beach in Normandy, France on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
Canham joined the Army on May 23, 1919. In 1921, as a sergeant, Canham took a course in the Army's first preparatory school to allow soldiers from the ranks to attend the United States Military Academy. He was chosen and graduated from West Point in 1926.
Prior to World War II, he served in the Philippines and Shanghai and was one of the purchasers of the Shanghai Bowl. During these years he acquired a reputation as a strict disciplinarian and superb leader of troops.
World War II
In 1942, as a colonel, he took command of the 116th Infantry Regiment shortly before it sailed for England. Canham's 116th Infantry, alongside the 1st Infantry Division's 16th Infantry Regiment, was chosen as the first to land at Omaha beach on D-Day. The opening scene of the movie Saving Private Ryan depicts the conditions under which Canham's regiment landed on the Dog Green sector of Omaha Beach along with one company of Army Rangers. Shortly after hitting the beach, Canham was shot through the wrist, refusing evacuation, he moved his men off Omaha and inland. Sergeant Bob Slaughter (D Company, 116th) remembers Canham screaming at soldiers to move off the beach and go kill Germans. Slaughter remembers him yelling at one lieutenant hiding in a pillbox from a German mortar barrage, "Get your ass out of there and show some leadership!". Don McCarthy (Headquarters Company, 116th) remembers seeing Canham walking upright along the beach in the face of enemy fire, "I got the hell out of there and moved forward. I was more afraid of Colonel Canham than I was of the Germans."
For his actions on Omaha Beach, and the fighting to take Saint Lô, he received the United States' second highest award for valor in combat, the Distinguished Service Cross.
Soon afterwards Canham was promoted to Brigadier General and was named as the Assistant Division Commander of the 8th Infantry Division. It was in this capacity during the surrender of the German garrison at the Port of Brest (see Battle for Brest) that Canham unknowingly gave the 8th Infantry Division its motto. Upon entering the headquarters of Generalleutnant (Lieutenant General) Hermann-Bernhard Ramcke, a famed leader of German paratroops, Ramcke demanded to know the lower ranking Canham's credentials as a condition of surrender. Unruffled, Canham pointed to the dirty and tired American soldiers he had brought with him to witness the surrender and said, "These are my credentials." The account of this event, which was reported in the New York Times, saw in this spontaneous statement of a combat leader the greatest tribute ever paid to the real power of the American Army, the individual soldier.
By the end of World War II, Canham had earned every award for valor less the Medal of Honor from the United States. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order by General Bernard L. Montgomery of the British Army and several awards for valor from France.
After the war, Canham was Assistant Division Commander of the 82nd Airborne Division and later became commanding general of the 82nd. He was also the commanding general of the 3rd Infantry Division and the commanding general of XI Corps.