By Maj. Michelle Lunato, 98th Training Division (IET) Public Affairs Officer
Soldiers of the 98th Training Division (Initial Entry Training), past and present, were honored during a plaque dedication ceremony at the War Memorial in Rochester, New York on January 5, 2019.
Gathered in the audience were community leaders, veterans from across the military services, alumni of the 98th Training Division (IET) and current U.S. Army Reserve Iroquois Warriors.
The 98th Training Division (IET), which started in 1918 as the 98th Infantry Division, was headquartered in Rochester in 1947 and remained there until its move to Fort Benning, Georgia in 2012. With so many years in New York, the 98th Division became an important part of the city, said James Smith, deputy mayor for the city of Rochester.
"We all know that the 98th Division holds a special place of honor in Rochester history and all of Upstate New York. And many of our community leaders are veterans of this division...so I am just very happy to be here."
Smith then turned the podium over to Frank Puidokas, the President of the 391st Regimental Officers Association, which donated the bronze 98th Division plaque to the War Memorial.
"Thank you all for being here today as we dedicate this bronze plaque to commemorate the 98th Division and its long-standing history and ties in the Rochester community, and the men and women who served honorably as part of the Iroquois Division," said the retired command sergeant major who personally served a number of years in the 98th Division. "The 391st Regiment was one of the initial regiments of the 98th Division and its distinctive unit crest reflects its home base of Rochester."
Puidokas then reflected on the Division's years of rich history in New York, and told the audience that the New York ties didn't disappear during its relocation to Georgia-they just got wider.
"Although we are now separated by 1100 miles, the Rochester connection will continue. The building that the Division occupies at Fort Benning is dedicated in honor of Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Elmer W. Heindl. A native Rochesterian, Chaplain Heindl served in several parishes here in Rochester. He is one of the most decorated chaplains of World War II, and served as the 98th Division Chaplain from 1959 to 1970. I believe the Chaplain continues to keep a watchful eye on the Soldiers of the Division," explained Puidokas as he nodded over to the niece of Chaplain Heindl, Kathleen Nichols, who attended the ceremony as an honored guest. And that combination of past, present and future Soldiers is the reason and motivation behind the plaque, said Puidokas.
"This plaque is dedicated to all 98th Division Soldiers: the many thousands who have served as part of the Division from its initial organization in 1918 to those who are currently serving and to the future generations of Iroquois Soldiers."
Honoring veterans is a regular community occurrence at the Rochester War Memorial. In fact, it has been happening in that very building for more than 150 years, said Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Norbert Rappl, who served as the commanding general of the 98th Training Division from 1982 to 1987 and also various other positions from 1968 to 1981.
"A Memorial Day service has been conducted every year, in this atrium. In 2018, the City of Rochester conducted its 150th consecutive Memorial Day Service. Think about that for a moment," urged the retired general. "For 150 years, since three years after the Civil War, in good times and bad, during years of war and peace, during years of economic prosperity and deep depression, people in this city kept alive the tradition of a Memorial Day observance during which veterans who died the previous years were remembered."
However, with times changing and the Division relocating, Rappl cannot deny the challenge in keeping the Division's once strong presence in the community alive.
So with the Division headquarters moving to Georgia, Puidokas said it is even more vital to preserve the heritage of the 98th Division in New York. But preservation is not only to remember those who have served but to ensure future generations get to know and honor them too. And to prove that point even more, the retired command sergeant major stated a well-known quote by George Washington.
"The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive veterans of early wars were treated and appreciated by our Nation."
With that, the current commanding general of the U.S. Army Reserve Training Division took the podium to let the audience know that their dedication would not go in vain, and that the current Iroquois Warriors under his care would continue to answer the Nation's needs, just like they have the past 100 years.
"To the members of the 98th Division Alumni Association, thank you for your unwavering support to the Soldiers, families and legacy of the 98th Division," said Brig. Gen. Miles Davis.
"Rest assured, the legacy and the connection with this great city continues and will continue."