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.
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 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.
Canham retired from the Army in 1960 with 41 years of service. He died on August 21, 1963 at Walter Reed General Hospital aged 62 years and is interred at Arlington National Cemetery.
Major General C. D. W. Canham entered the service May 23, 1919.
In 1921 as a sergeant he took a competitive course in the Army's first preparatory school school for soldiers to go to West Point from the ranks. He was chosen and graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1926.
During the years prior to WWII he served in the Phillipines and Shanghai and was one of the purchasers of the Shanghai Bowl. During these years he acquired the reputation as a strict disciplinarian and a troop leader.
In 1942, he took command of the 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division before it sailed for England. This regiment and the 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division were chosen as the first to land at Omaha beach. Shortly after hitting the beach, Canham was shot thru the wrist, refusing evacuation, he moved his men off Omaha and moved inland. For his actions on Omaha Beach and the fighting to take St. Lo he received the Distinguished Service Cross and was promoted to Brigadier General and took over command as the Assistant Division Commander of the 8th Infantry Division. It was in this capacity that he took in the name of his 8th Division troopers, the surrender of Brest.
Upon entrance to the German command headquarters of General Ramcke, commander of the German 2nd. Parachute Division, Canham was asked for his credentials, without hesitation he turned to the GI's accompaning him 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.
By the end of WWII, Canham had earned every award for valor less the Congressional Medal of Honorfrom 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 and later became Commanding General of the 82nd. He was also the Commanding General of the 3rd Infantry Division, Director of Posts, Europe, and Commanding General of XI Corps.
Canham retired from the Army in 1960 with 41 years of service. He died on 21 August 1963 at Walter Reed General Hospital aged 62 years and is intered at Arlington National Cemetary.
"Soldiers are our credentials" is the creed of Army Chief of Staff Gen. Dennis J. Reimer today. Taken from the motto of the Army's 8th Infantry Division, it came from the reply of assistant division commander Brigadier General Charles Canham, during World War II, to a German general who refused to surrender until he saw the American general's credentials. Turning to the two GIs who had accompanied him, Gen. Canham said, "These are my credentials."
"'[Colonel Charles Canham] was yelling and screaming for the officers to get the men off the beach. 'Get the hell off this damn beach and go kill some Germans!' There was an officer taking refuge from an enemy mortar barrage in a pillbox. Right in front of me Colonel Canham screamed" Get your ass out of there and show some leadership!'" To another lieutenant he roared, "'Get these men off their dead asses and over that wall!'" --Sergeant John R. Slaughter
Beginning at 0730, regimental command parties began to arrive. The main command group of the 116th RCT included Colonel Charles D. W. Canham and General Cota. LCVP 71 came in on Dog White, bumping an obstacle and nudging the Teller mine until it dropped off, without exploding. Landing in three feet of water, the party lost one officer in getting across the exposed area. From the standpoint of influencing further operations, they could not have hit a better point in the 116th one. To their right and left, Company C and some 2d Battalion elements were crowded against the embankment on a front of a few hundred yards, the main Ranger force was about to come into the same area, and enemy fire from the bluffs just ahead was masked by smoke and ineffective. The command group was well located to play a major role in the next phase of action.
The most important penetration on the western beaches (Map No. VII) was made by Company C, 116th Infantry, and by the 5th Ranger Battalion, which had landed partly on top of Company C. Both units were in relatively good condition after the landings and had suffered only minor losses, but the men were crowded shoulder to shoulder, sometimes several rows deep, along the shingle at the base of the timber sea wall.
Intermingled with these troops were one or two boat sections from other units of the 116th, and some engineer elements. Reorganization for assault was spurred by the presence of General Cota and the command group of the 116th Infantry, who had landed in this area about 0730. Exposed to enemy fire, which wounded Colonel Canham in the wrist, they walked up and down behind the crowded sea wall, urging officers and noncoms to "jar men loose" and get moving.
EPTEMBER 19, 1944: The capture of Nazi General Herman Bernard Ramcke was pure and unexpected velvet, but the right climax to the finish of the Crozon Peninsula campaign. Ruthless, hard-bitten, he had already turned down two chances to quit, and had just ducked out of Brest. He was the extra dividend on the training in the Deep South, the Arizona desert, Northern Ireland, and then the hard hacking down from the Ay River into the knowledge of what it is to play for keeps.
Smashing ahead on the heels of its own artillery barrage, one hour before the attack of September 19, the 3rd Battalion, 13th Infantry, caught the Germans piling out of their shelters, before they reached their positions. As the assault companies drove north, the reserve company, Company I, was left to clear a strip of west beach, heavily salted with pillboxes and coastal guns.
Platoon Commander 1st Lt. James M. Dunham, leading his men through the emplacements, spotted the white flags first. And so Lt. Gen. Ramcke might have been his baby. But a German medic insisted in precise English that the general was waiting below in a dugout for the American commanding officers. He wanted a first class surrender.
In a few minutes Brig. Gen. Charles D. W. Canham, assistant division commander; Col. R. A. Griffin, 13th Infantry commander; and Lt. Col. Earl L. Lerette, 3rd Battalion commander, had gone to inspect their catch, 75 feet underground.
"I am to surrender to you," Ramcke told Gen. Canham through his own interpreter. "I want to see your credentials."
Gen. Canham pointed to the eager dogfaces crowding the entrance with their M-1s. "These are my credentials."
This blunt phrase put the Nazi in his place, and paid dramatic tribute to the real power behind America's armies — the G.I.
The peninsula campaign folded when a truce was signed that evening. In two months the 8th had accounted for nearly 15,000 prisoners, vast quantities of supplies, and a lasting crimp in the enemy's morale. It was a combat achievement that put the division into the big time play for Berlin.