ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill.— Veterans who served in conflicts around the world in jungle environments gathered Wednesday, Sept. 8, to commemorate an Army division established exclusively for expertise in that environment.
Members of the Americal (23rd) Division were present to participate in the unveiling of a stone memorial slab dedicated to the division, sponsored by the Americal Legacy Foundation. The monument can be found along the tree-lined path called Memorial Walkway, located within the National Cemetery Administration’s property located on the arsenal.
On-hand to assist with the unveiling was 97 year-old World War II Americal veteran Walter Lehman, a local resident from West Liberty, Iowa.
With 15 Medal of Honor recipients among its members, the Americal Division was established in 1942 during World War II in New Caledonia, a French territory comprising dozens of islands in the Southwest Pacific Ocean, according to Roger Gilmore, president of the Foundation. It was formed from what was then known as Task Force 6814 and the “Americal” name was a fusion of “Americans in New Caledonia.”
The division had three unique periods of activation in Army history. According to the foundation’s historian, Les Hines, the unit banded in Guadalcanal, one of the Solomon Islands, for operations in the jungles of the Southwest Pacific during World War II. The next activation was for operations in the jungle environment of the Panama Canal Zone during the Cold War, and the final missions saw the division maneuver through the rugged jungle terrain in the Vietnam War.
In fact, each time the division has been activated, it has occurred outside the continental United States. The division has always received a mission in jungle warfare, which earned them its special moniker, “The Jungle Warriors,” Hines said.
The Americal is also the only Army division to have a name and not a number. After its formation, according to Hines, it did received the division numeral “23”, but that was only on official documents and no one was ever known to call it that outside of official capacity.
As a specialized division with unique operational capabilities, the last time the Americal was activated was for the Vietnam War, and was deactivated on Nov. 29, 1971, at Fort Lewis, Washington, said Hines.
As years have passed, the surviving Americal veterans have united and come together to ensure the bravery and sacrifice of their fellow service members is never forgotten. Some sobering combined statistics from the unit include 4,955 killed in action, 16 missing in action and 15 prisoners of war.
That was the genesis of the foundation, and its current commitment to preserve the division’s legacy through monuments, public media, museum displays, and scholarship programs, said Gilmore.
“Our mission is to keep moving forward with ongoing initiatives to place monuments at national cemeteries and memorial parks to commemorate the unique contributions of the Americal Division,” he said. “We want these monuments to be a beacon to all and recognize the hard-fought history of our service members.”
Col. Heather Carlisle is assigned to the U.S. Army Sustainment Command and was a featured speaker at the event. Her remarks centered on the importance of honoring the service of veterans and how important it is to recognize their accomplishments, especially those in the halls of history at risk of being overlooked due to the natural passage of time. And, even that, she reflected, is not enough for all they gave in defense of our nation.
“Our veterans are owed all of the recognition and appreciation that we have to offer – yet, when balanced in the scales, it cannot help but to fall far short of what they offered us, gave to us, and willingly sacrificed for us,” she said. “All that is left for us to do is to thank them, and remember them, and honor them.
“Let us never forget the Americal Division, nor any of the units who served, nor any of the courageous individuals who served in them,” she said.
“What is etched in stone here should also be etched in our hearts and minds – eternal remembrance, of those who we hope have found or will find eternal peace.”