FORT GREGG-ADAMS, Virginia – Among a wave of heroes being newly commemorated across the Army this year is a Richmonder whose daring exploits as a Soldier in World War II earned him the Congressional Medal of Honor.
During a quarterly Civilian Military Council meeting at Fort Gregg-Adams (formerly Fort Lee) Aug. 31, installation leaders announced the recent renaming of an on-post street in honor of 2nd Lt. Ernest Dervishian, recognizing his heroism and symbolizing the Army's commitment to inspire Soldiers with exemplary tales of valor and service.
"The redesignation of our post to Fort Gregg-Adams this year not only honored two incredible Army sustainment officers,” said Col. James Hoyman, Fort Gregg-Adams garrison commander, “but it also gave us a chance to recognize and commemorate other highly worthy individuals with strong ties to our mission and values, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and our neighboring communities."
Dervishian's journey from the streets of Richmond to the battlefields of WWII is a testament to the indomitable spirit of selflessness and bravery. Born in the Virginia capital in 1916 to Armenian immigrants who owned and operated a candy shop, Dervishian had become a practicing lawyer in the city by the time the war broke out. In 1941, Dervishian voluntarily left his blossoming private practice to enlist in the Army, like many other Americans.
He was assigned to a regiment with the 34th Infantry Division, which took him to Northern Ireland for training in 1942 – by then with the rank of sergeant. His unit joined the fight in North Africa at the end of the year during the Tunisian Campaign. He was promoted to staff sergeant in June 1943. That fall, the division landed at Salerno, Italy, and eventually made its way to the coastal city of Anzio, where Allied forces encountered fierce enemy resistance.
It was during the Battle of Anzio that Dervishian – now a technical sergeant – undertook actions earning him the nation’s highest military decoration. His Medal of Honor citation reads as a testament to his courage:
“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty on 23 May 1944, in the vicinity of Cisterna, Italy. Second Lt. Dervishian (then TSgt.) and four members of his platoon found themselves far ahead of their company after an aggressive advance in the face of enemy artillery and sniper fire. Approaching a railroad embankment, they observed a force of German soldiers hiding in dugouts. Second Lt. Dervishian, directing his men to cover him, boldly moved forward and, firing his carbine, forced 10 Germans to surrender. His men then advanced and captured 15 more Germans occupying adjacent dugouts. The prisoners were returned to the rear to be picked up by advancing units. From the railroad embankment, 2d Lt. Dervishian and his men then observed nine Germans who were fleeing across a ridge. He and his men opened fire and three of the enemy were wounded. As his men were firing, 2d Lt. Dervishian, unnoticed, fearlessly dashed forward alone and captured all of the fleeing enemy before his companions joined him on the ridge. At this point four other men joined 2d Lt. Dervishian's group. An attempt was made to send the four newly arrived men along the left flank of a large, dense vineyard that lay ahead, but murderous machine-gun fire forced them back. Deploying his men, 2d Lt. Dervishian moved to the front of his group and led the advance into the vineyard. He and his men suddenly became pinned down by a machine gun firing at them at a distance of 15 yards. Feigning death while the hostile weapon blazed away at him, 2d Lt. Dervishian assaulted the position during a halt in the firing, using a hand-grenade and carbine fire, and forced the four German crewmembers to surrender. The four men on the left flank were now ordered to enter the vineyard but encountered machine-gun fire which killed one soldier and wounded another. At this moment the enemy intensified the fight by throwing potato-masher grenades at the valiant band of American soldiers within the vineyard. Second Lt. Dervishian ordered his men to withdraw; but instead of following, jumped into the machine-gun position he had just captured and opened fire with the enemy weapon in the direction of the second hostile machine-gun nest. Observing movement in a dugout two or three yards to the rear, 2d Lt. Dervishian seized a machine-pistol. Simultaneously blazing away at the entrance to the dugout to prevent its occupants from firing and firing his machine gun at the other German nest, he forced five Germans in each position to surrender. Determined to rid the area of all Germans, 2d Lt. Dervishian continued his advance alone. Noticing another machine-gun position beside a house, he picked up an abandoned machine-pistol and forced six more Germans to surrender by spraying their position with fire. Unable to locate additional targets in the vicinity, 2d Lt. Dervishian conducted these prisoners to the rear. The prodigious courage and combat skill exhibited by 2d Lt. Dervishian are exemplary of the finest traditions of the U.S. Armed Forces.”
According to the Library of Virginia, Dervishian returned home in January 1945 to a hero's welcome. The City of Richmond honored him with a Feb. 1 “Dervishian Day” parade with a reported 30,000 spectators. He also received tributes from the local Armenian community, the Richmond Bar Association, the city Chamber of Commerce and the University of Richmond.
Although he returned to the practice of law following the war, Dervishian continued his uniformed service in the U.S. Army Reserve and retired as a colonel in 1968. He died in 1984 and is buried in Henrico County’s Westhampton Memorial Park.
During the meeting, Hoyman introduced a framed commemoration of the street renaming and shared with attendees – mostly leaders and officials from Fort Gregg-Adams and neighboring localities – its short synopsis of Dervishian’s life and service, printed underneath a photo of a Dervishian Road sign at its intersection with Sustainment Avenue, also a recently renamed street.
“What’s really great about this is the symbolism of the intersection of Richmond and our post through the achievements of a local hometown hero and our role as the Army Sustainment Center of Excellence,” Hoyman said of the photo. He was then joined by Maj. Gen. Mark Simerly, Combined Arms Support Command and Fort Gregg-Adams commanding general, to present it as a gift to the City of Richmond, which was accepted on behalf of the city by Richmond Security Manager Dr. Michael Winborne, who was joined by Brian Anderson, ChamberRVA president and CEO.
"A lot of people probably never heard the name 'Ernest Dervishian' or know how he earned the Medal of Honor, but we hope that having his name on one of our streets will change that,” Hoyman said, emphasizing the great value to the Army’s newest Soldiers. "For the Soldiers training and assigned here, his story will be a source of inspiration and a clear example of what it means to 'Be All You Can Be' in selfless service to the nation.”