RALEIGH, N.C. - On this Veterans Day, like in the past, our nation asks her citizens to take time out of their day to honor, thank, spend some time with and sincerely recognize the service and sacrifice of our military veterans. Winston Churchill while praising the British Air Force during the Battle of Britain said, "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few." With less than one percent of the American population having served in the military, it can also be said that our nation's veterans, who are so few in numbers are also owed a debt of gratitude by the many, especially on Veterans Day.
Today there are roughly 500 soldiers/veterans still alive who were members of one of World War II's greatest infantry divisions, the 30th Infantry Division. With the exception of some senior officers and non-commissioned officers, the 30th ID was an all National Guard force with soldiers from North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia. How good was the 30th Infantry Division during the 1944-45 European Campaign? Colonel S.L.A. Marshall, Gen. Eisenhower's chief historian in the European Theater of Operations (ETO) ranked the 30th as the No. 1 division in its category in the ETO.
In a letter to the 30th Infantry Division commander, Maj. Gen. Leland S. Hobbs, Marshall said, "The 30th Division was among five best divisions in the infantry division category. We picked the 30th Division No. 1...... the most outstanding infantry division of the ETO."
The 30th Infantry Division (nicknamed Old Hickory in WWI) landed at Omaha Beach on Jun. 10, 1944 and entered combat five days later. The division took part in every major campaign in the ETO's western front: Normandy, Northern France, Rhineland, Ardennes - Alsace and Central Europe.
Notably during WWII, the 30th Infantry Division twice decisively engaged and defeated the German Army's elite tank divisions of the 1st and 2nd SS Panzer at Mortain, France, and the 1st SS Panzer Division, specifically Kampfgruppe Piper Battlegroup's spearhead for the 6th SS Panzer Army, at the Battle of the Bulge. The 30th ID was a key element in the spearhead to break through the Siegfried Line.
The 30th ID spent 282 days in almost constant combat. The division suffered 3,435 killed in action and 12,960 wounded. Six Medal of Honors were awarded to Old Hickory soldiers, 65 Distinguished Service Crosses, 1,718 Silver Stars, 6,319 Bronze Stars and 20,000 Purple Hearts.
Many subordinate units of the 30th earned Presidential Unit Citations (PUC), but none for the division level.
Today, the 30th Infantry Division Association, the North Carolina National Guard Association, former 30th veterans from WWII and others have reinvigorated efforts to request the Army re-examine award submission documents requesting the 30th Infantry Division receive the PUC for its exemplary performance and extraordinary heroism and gallantry in action against the enemy in Europe.
Shortly after WWII, due to a log-jam of awards paperwork especially for divisions, Gen. Eisenhower and Gen. Marshall agreed to conduct a thorough review to determine the most outstanding divisions in the ETO and submit that list to the War Department for citations. There were 60 divisions that fought in Europe during WWII. After months of research, the review board picked eight divisions deeming them worthy of unit citations. The 30th Infantry Division was among that very short list of eight divisions recommended for citations.
Gen. Eisenhower, while Commander of U.S. Forces, European Theater (USFET), carefully reviewed the list of divisions, their operations on which each recommendation was based, and believed that each division's performance was clearly exceptional and warranted a unit citation.
Eisenhower's positive review of the "list of eight" went nowhere and in a strange twist of fate, in 1946, the War Department, acting on instructions from Gen. Eisenhower, disapproved all eight divisional PUC recommendations.
Eisenhower's disapprovals were based on the established 1940's War Department policy that only under the most unusual and exceptional circumstances would a division be considered for a PUC. Other subsequent requests to award citations to units in the "list of eight" were disapproved based on a 1951 policy by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Lawton Collins to refrain from further action regarding divisional PUCs for WWII because too much time has passed and further enforced by Eisenhower's 1946 decision.
From WWII to the present, the soldiers of the 30th Infantry Division who served proudly and gave their all on the long march from Omaha Beach to Germany have waited patiently for the recognition that they believed they earned. Several of these veterans have petitioned their elected state officials and Congressmen to address this oversight, and several state officials and Congressmen have done so. To date, however, the issue has not been resolved, at least in the hearts and minds of surviving 30th Infantry Division soldiers who braved the battlefields of Europe.
In yet another twist of fate, on Dec. 31, 2001, the Headquarters of the Department of the Army reversed their long-standing policies regarding awarding PUC to WWII divisions and awarded the 96th Infantry Division the Presidential Unit Citation for actions in the Pacific in 1945.
Will the 30th be the next WWII division awarded a PUC for their actions? As of this Veterans Day, the surviving brave and gallant men of Old Hickory still patiently wait.
In 2008, Frank Denius, a highly decorated 30th Infantry Division WWII veteran wrote a letter to the Chief of Army Military Awards Branch, Lt. Col. Sylvia Bennett. His closing paragraph of that letter follows: "Most of these heroes are now at rest, yet those few who are still with us continue to wait for a long overdue recognition. As with its namesake, Gen. Andrew Jackson, these dedicated veterans of Old Hickory remain just as determined to see the final fruits of their efforts as they were when they pushed through the nightmare of pillboxes, dragons teeth, artillery, mines, and numerous other obstacles as they punctured through the German West Wall - The Siegfried Line. They will agree with the assertion of Col. Marshall, the European Theater's Chief Historian, "We picked the 30th Division No. 1 on the list of first category divisions ... It was our finding that the 30th had been outstanding in three operations and that we could consistently recommend it for citation.
Like all WWII era units, the 30th Infantry Division's ranks are growing smaller and smaller. What a fitting and overdue honor it would be if the surviving members of one of America's greatest WWII divisions get the recognition they deserve before there are no more Old Hickory veterans left.