The legacy of PFC Harry J. Fridley


On January 27th, 1944, Private First Class Harry Justice Fridley died of wounds he received on the Anzio beachhead during the Allied invasion of Italy.  On June 11th, 1960, the PFC Harry J. Fridley United States Army Reserve Center in Covington, Virginia was dedicated in his memory.  On the 10th of March, 2017, the Fridley Reserve Center was decommissioned as an active Reserve Center and was turned over to the 99th Regional Support Command for disposition.  The story of PFC Fridley and the center named after him is a testimony to the Citizen-Soldier that spans three generations of my family and more than half a century in the life of a small town in western Virginia.

Young Harry Fridley was inducted into the Army at Camp Lee, Virginia two months after his 20th birthday.  The son of a blacksmith and farmer from Covington, he was the third youngest of eleven brothers and sisters and worked at the local paper mill.  My grandfather was his oldest brother.  After basic and advanced Infantry training, Private Fridley was promoted to Private First Class and shipped overseas into the grueling North Africa Theater.

Just 10 months after signing up, he was wounded in North Africa and awarded his first of two Purple Heart medals.  After recuperating in the hospital for about a month, he rejoined his unit – Company D, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Division, “Rock of the Marne” — just days before the Allies invaded southern Italy at Anzio on January 22nd, 1944.  On Anzio beachhead, the Germans quickly brought in reinforcements and the battle bogged down for months.  After near constant artillery bombardment and furious German assaults, PFC Fridley was mortally wounded on January 27th, several days after the battle had begun … one year to the day after his enlistment.  He was initially interred at the cemetery in the small town of Nettuno, Italy, but was eventually laid to rest at the family plot outside Covington several years later.  The Army posthumously awarded him the Bronze Star ‘for heroic achievement’ and his second Purple Heart.  It would take the Allies until May of 1944 to break out of the beachhead and eventually take Rome in June 1944.

Construction on the original 4,200 square foot Covington Army Reserve Center began in December 1958, and was completed less than a year later at a cost of just over $100,000.  During construction, the higher command in the Salem Reserve Center sent a letter to the XXI United States Army Corps (Reserve) at Fort Indian Town Gap, Pennsylvania requesting that the new Reserve Center be named for PFC Harry J. Fridley.  Second U.S. Army approved the request after much ‘proof of service’ paperwork, and a committee from the town planned a dedication ceremony for summer of the following year.

Complete with the local high school band playing the National Anthem, Senator Harry F. Byrd, Jr. dedicated the center to much fanfare on the 11th of June, 1960.  Harry’s mother, Mrs. Stella Fridley and the commander of the XXI Corps, Major General Ralph C. Cooper were present, as were the mayor and many from the community.  At the time, the center was the home for Soldiers from the 7615th USAR Transportation Unit, the Mobilization Designation 60 (Quartermaster School), and the 673rd Transportation Company.

The legacy of citizen-soldiers in PFC Harry Fridley’s family is alive and well.  In 1961, my father, Harrison Fridley, Jr., nephew of Harry Fridley, graduated from Virginia Military Institute and served two  years in the active Army and five years in the Army Reserve after returning home to Covington to take over his father’s pharmacy business.   My cousin Harry Hunter Fridley, named after his uncle Harry Fridley, joined the Army in the mid-1970s and served three years at the Covington Reserve Center before retiring with 20 years of service.  I graduated from VMI and entered active duty in 1989, and after leaving active duty in 1995, joined the Reserves in the 80th Division, serving as the Company Commander of Bravo Company 2/319th and therefore, the commander of the Covington Reserve Center named after my great uncle.

Throughout the Vietnam War era and the 1980s, our Army Reserve ebbed, flowed, and transformed, and the small reserve center in western Virginia did as well.  In 1993, the center underwent a million dollar renovation that doubled its size and capacity and modernized the facility.  At the time, two companies from the 80th Training Division occupied the facility, totaling over 80 troops.  Major Hunter Fridley spoke at the rededication ceremony attended by well over 100 people, and once again by the Covington High School band.  In a speech to the gathering, Major General Stephen H. Sewell Jr., commander of the 80th Training Division, said, “Today we rededicate this reserve center in the name of one of your own residents.  It is a special building.  Special, because the people who train here represent the tradition of the citizen soldier as old as the nation itself.  They train for war, but strive to achieve such a position of military strength that war can be avoided.”

I returned to Salem, Virginia as the battalion commander of 2/319th in December 2009.  This time I was under 3rd Brigade, 104th Division, 108th Training Command, as the USAR reorganized and changed patches several times.  Once again, I found myself in charge of the reserve center named after great uncle Harry Fridley.  For three years, my battalion of incredibly professional Soldiers in Salem and  Covington distinguished themselves by training ROTC Cadets at Summer Camp at Fort Lewis, Washington.

After some time on staff at brigade headquarters, a year at the War College, and two years as the G7 at the 80th Training Command, I once again found myself coming full circle for the third time; the Army saw fit to select me to command 3rd Brigade, 104th Division, which is the higher headquarters for the PFC Harry J. Fridley USAR Center.  However, this time would be bittersweet.  As part of the Reformation and Reorganization process currently occurring in the 108th Training Command, the Covington center was selected for closure; the numbers were down (both on the rolls and demographically as a recruiting base) and small rural standalone facilities are expensive to keep operational.

On the 10th of March this year, my father and I traveled over the mountain from my home in Lexington to a small deactivation ceremony in Covington.  The Soldiers and I saluted, as my father and girlfriend put their hands over their hearts.  The NCOs lowered the flag for the last time.  All of the offices and cages were cleared out, paperwork signed, and the 99th RSC took the keys.

I believe my Great Uncle Harry would feel that his sacrifice was well worth it, and that he was well memorialized by his family legacy and more than a half a century of Citizen-Soldiers serving from his home town … training countless new recruits and future officers, deploying in defense of their country, living lives according to the Army Values, and doing all of it from a small reserve center in Covington.  He made a difference in our world by his valorous selfless service.  I am proud to have had the opportunity to lead the men and women of the Army Reserve, and to honor the sacrifice and legacy of my forefather PFC Harry J. Fridley.

Sources for this article include family correspondence, original photos and documents, and several articles from the “Virginian Review,” the local paper from Covington, Virginia.

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