Rogers descendant was highly decorated Pathfinder in WWII

Published 12:11 am Saturday, October 18, 2008

In the past two columns, the Rogers family has been featured. It appears there was more than one Rogers line in Covington County, and future columns will hopefully cover the others. One family spells their name as Rodgers, and on occasions this is an alternate spelling for some of the Rogers descendants. It is not yet known if these two families come from the same ancestral line. There is an outstanding member in the Rodgers line who has been lauded as the most highly decorated veteran from Covington County to serve in World War II.

During World War II, Thomas Lloyd Rodgers, son of Evans and Eva Rodgers and a resident of the Carolina community south of Andalusia, was a member of C Company, (1st Battalion) of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division. It was in 1942 that Rogers volunteered for the paratroops. He had begun his military career as a member of the Alabama National Guard. He served first at Camp Blanding, Fla., and participated in the Army maneuvers in Louisiana. Additional assignments took him to Camp Bowie, Texas.

Only the most capable men were selected for airborne training, and only the toughest of these made it through the training period. Rodgers took his basic airborne training at Fort Benning, Ga., and had follow-up training at Fort Bragg, N.C. Receiving his parachute wings, he found himself assigned to C Company named above.

Rodgers was a part of the mission of landing on the Italian island of Sicily to help prevent the German forces from attacking the invasion beaches. His 504th Regiment invaded the Italian mainland at night in an unparalleled maneuver. It has been regarded as one of the best deliveries of parachute troops into a combat zone in the history of World War II. The men engaged in combat and made repeated assaults on the mountain towns of central Italy. They were next sent to England to prepare for invading France.

Rodgers was one of three volunteers selected from C Company to be a member of the Pathfinders who would provide security for the Pathfinder teams of the 507th and 508th when they landed in France. Unfortunately, a timing error led to their being dropped right into a German garrison within a farmhouse. Rodgers managed to escape for the moment, but he was killed on June 15, apparently while on patrol from the orchard where they had set up operations.

To quote David R. Berry, “Thomas L. Rodgers was an exceptional soldier. In an Army where the phrase ‘Never volunteer for anything’ was quite common, he seemed to have been one to volunteer for everything.”

Having volunteered for detached and hazardous duty in Normandy, he was part of a truly unique group of men in the history of his regiment. He was one of only two dozen men who represented the regiment in one of the most historically significant airborne operations in history. Wherever he went he made an impression on those around him, both in his own company and later in Normandy among men of many different companies. As Sgt. Ross Carter wrote in his memorable book, Those Devils in Baggy Pants, “Big Rodgers” was more than just a member of the platoon. He was a staunch pillar in our ranks both morally and physically. He radiated a quiet encouragement that sustained our confidence. In battle he manifested a courage that translated itself into deeds and a bulwark of security for us all. When on outpost or patrol duty with him, I always had the feeling that things were well in Hand.”

The Bronze Star Medal was awarded posthumously to Private First Class Thomas Lloyd Rodgers, Infantry, by direction of the President of the United States. Also, the U.S. Army awarded the Distinguished Service Cross posthumously. This made him the highest decorated Pathfinder of the 82nd in Normandy.

The citation read as follows: “Private First Class Thomas L. Rodgers, Infantry, United States Army for extra-ordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an enemy of the United States. Having jumped into Normandy in the vicinity of Amfreville, France, on 6 June 1944, PFC Rodgers, observing many of his comrades pinned down by enemy machine gun and small arms fire, moved without hesitation to destroy the enemy. Mounting a stonewall, in full view of the enemy, he neutralized the machine gun position and proceeded forward, driving back the enemy with effective fire from his Browning Automatic rifle. During the action PFC Rodgers killed or wounded 25 of the enemy and made possible the organization and advance of our troops in the area. His personal courage, aggressive leadership and courageous inspiration contributed materially to the success of his comrades and typified the highest traditional of the service. PFC Rodgers was later killed in action against the enemy. Entered military service from Alabama. Headquarters XVIII Corps (Airborne).”

In his first-hand account of those last days of Rodgers’s life, his comrade-in-arms, Ross S. Carter, wrote, “After he (Rodgers) died, a package arrived from his mother. Among its contents were several pairs of fine woolen socks. We distributed them among us and reserved them to wear only in battle. When we wore his socks, we had the feeling that Big Rodgers was with us in body as well as in spirit and could participate personally in his revenge.”

Thomas Lloyd Rodgers’s untimely death was a devastating blow to his family who lived in the Carolina community. Upon his death, the family had to endure the remainder of the war with his three brothers, John Thomas Evans Jr., Kenneth, and Burton, serving in the U.S. Navy. Their parents were John Thomas Evans Rodgers Sr. and Eva (Bass) Rodgers. They also had a sister, Sybil (Rodgers) Jacobs, who married Mandrake Jacobs, also of the Carolina community.

Upon Thomas Lloyd’s death, he was temporarily buried in a cemetery in France. Eventually the family was able to have the remains of their son returned to them, and they were able to have him buried in the family plot at the Carolina Baptist Church Cemetery where so many of his relatives rest. This brought a painful closure to the life of a very courageous young man who was dearly loved and appreciated by his family and friends.

Sources for this writing include the following: family records, Lloyd Rodgers’s veteran’s file, Ross S. Carter’s Those Devils in Baggy Pants, and a lifestyles story by Renee LeMaire in the Andalusia Star-News, Saturday, May 13, 1998.

Anyone who has additional information on any of the Rogers or Rodgers families of Covington County is requested to contact Curtis Thomasson at 20357 Blake Pruitt Road, Andalusia, AL 36420; call 334-222-6467; or e-mail