FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Nov. 9, 2022) -- Ruffner Hall, the 10th Mountain Division Artillery headquarters building, is named after the division’s first artillery commander, who led his troops across the battlefields of Italy during World War II.
Maj. Gen. David L. Ruffner was born May 26, 1896, in Charleston, West Virginia, to Joel and Dorcas (Laidley) Ruffner. His friends called him D-D, and they spent their idle time playing in the Kanawha River swimming holes.
His father went into business with family members to establish the Ruffner Bros. Wholesale Company and the Ruffner Hotel. Instead of joining the family trade, Ruffner left home to pursue a military career.
Ruffner graduated from the Virginia Military Institute in August 1917, the same year his father died.
Accepting his commission in the field artillery, Ruffner was assigned to Fort Myer, Virginia. But his stay there was short, and he deployed overseas in December with the 26th Division during World War I.
Ruffner commanded a battery of the 103rd Field Artillery Battalion in the Toul, Ainse-Marne and Chateau-Thierry sectors of France for 14 months. After the war ended, he served as an instructor with the 351st Field Artillery School at Le Valdahon for two years.
On his return, Ruffner commanded a battery of the 81st Artillery in July 1919 at Camp Knox, Kentucky. He was promoted to captain in July 1920 and commanded the 128th Field Artillery of the Missouri National Guard for three years.
Ruffner married Louise Oetting in 1921, in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and then his career took a turn to academics. From 1925 to 1929, Ruffner taught military science and tactics as an assistant professor at Harvard University.
Afterward, he went to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where he served as battery commander in the 5th and 16th Field Artillery Battalions for three years.
In the spring of 1932, Ruffner deployed to Panama with the 2nd Pack Artillery. His unit was the first to successfully march across the isthmus of Panama, completing an almost uninterrupted journey along the route of the present-day Colonial Trans-Isthmian Highway that runs from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
He was promoted to major in 1935 and served as district commander of more than 75 companies of Civilian Conservation Corps personnel in Wisconsin for the next four years. The establishment of these companies was a way to provide relief and recovery after the Great Depression by recruiting unemployed men to enroll in peacetime operations. The CCC recruits worked on diverse environmental and infrastructure projects, such as tree planting, fire protection and waterway improvements. Most CCC camps operated until World War II when men were reallocated to the Regular Army to fight overseas.
Following a year at the Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, Ruffner commanded the 76th Field Artillery at Fort Warren, Wyoming, and he facilitated the battalion’s move to Monterey, California. In June 1940, he was selected to organize the 98th Field Artillery Battalion at Fort Lewis, Washington. Ruffner’s success in both battalion commands led to his promotion to lieutenant colonel in August. He would remain at Fort Lewis for another two years as commander of the 183rd Pack Artillery.
In 1942, Ruffner went to Camp Hale, Colorado, to develop an artillery training regimen at the Mountain Training Center and supervise it as commander of artillery. In November of that year, the 601st Field Artillery Battalion arrived from Camp Carson, Colorado, as the first artillery unit for the 10th Mountain Division. The 602nd would arrive by late December.
According to a historical chronology compiled by the National Association of the 10th Mountain Division, from July 5-15, 1943, the 604th Field Artillery Battalion marched 170 miles on foot and by mule from Camp Carson to Camp Hale. When asked what kind of transportation would be required for the trek, Ruffner responded, “None! My men are tough. We’ll walk it!”
Another time, Ruffner ordered several 75 mm rounds fired on a mountain face to see if his howitzers could create an avalanche. Watching as tons of snow thundered down the mountainside, Ruffner considered this a possible combat tactic against an oncoming enemy force – though never employed.
In preparing pack artillery battalions for mountain combat, Ruffner first ensured both men and mules could endure the austere conditions of Colorado. Knowing that they would rely heavily on the strength and health of its mules – which could carry up to 300 pounds – Ruffner made sure his animals were rarely on sick call. He would emphasize, “Take care of your mule – give him first echelon maintenance every day.” Ruffner was said to have personally selected each mule assigned to his pack artillery units.
Ruffner admitted that the Army had effective transport vehicles for most environments, but none that could navigate rugged, roadless terrain like a mule.
When the 10th Mountain Division was activated in July 1943, Ruffner was promoted to brigadier general and took command of the division’s artillery. He continued to train his units in all extremes of terrain and weather – from 40-degree-below blizzards at Camp Hale, to 130-degree heat waves at Camp Swift, Texas.
When the 10th Mountain Division arrived in Italy in late December 1944, Ruffner faced the challenge of reorganizing and re-equipping the battalions to create a mechanized force that did not rely completely on mules for artillery transport.
With undaunted tenacity, Ruffner led his artillerymen during the assault on Mount Belvedere in February 1945, and then across the Po River. He temporarily took charge of Task Force Duff when its leader, Brig. Gen. Robinson Duff, the assistant division commander, was wounded.
The task force was assembled to lead the division’s advance to the Po River on April 21, 1945. They successfully captured two bridges – including Bomporto Bridge over the Panaro River – by the end of the first day. But when the Soldiers were an hour away from the Po, the lead tank rolled over a mine and Duff caught shrapnel from the explosion.
Ruffner would continue the mission that saw Task Force Duff advancing 55 miles in two days. He accompanied one of the lead elements in the crossing by assault boat, while under constant artillery fire.
Upon reaching the north bank, Ruffner made a reconnaissance through a sniper-infested area to expedite forward movement of his forces. He pressed his men forward through the disorganized enemy to the foothills of the Alps and Lake Garda. When his forces were pinned down by rifle and machine gun fire, Ruffner directed tank fire to knock out the resistance.
The division commander, Maj. Gen. George P. Hays, awarded Ruffner the Silver Star for his valiant leadership and tactical expertise during the Italian campaign.
Hays wrote of Ruffner:
“Faced with the almost insurmountable problem of re-equipping, retraining and supervising divisional artillery before and during battle … (he) tackled the gigantic task with characteristic decisiveness and efficiency. Though the reorganization included changing from mule pack to motorized transportation and retraining many of his men to use a larger caliber gun, in an incredibly short time he had accomplished his mission so well that the artillery was able to claim much of the credit for the success of the division in combat.”
Ruffner continued to serve as the division’s artillery commander until it disbanded in November 1945. He then served as commanding general of the War Department Personnel Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
Ruffner made a return trip to Camp Carson, Colorado, in June 1946, to serve as commandant of the Winter Warfare School and Training Center. He also served as Camp Carson executive officer until May 1947. Later, he was assigned special duty at the Nuremberg military post in Germany and in Switzerland from February 1948 to April 1950.
Ruffner commanded the 5th Armored Division and then, in 1952, he was promoted to major general and assumed command of the 45th Infantry Division in Korea. Coincidentally, both units were stationed at Pine Camp (now Fort Drum) in 1941 for training before deployment to Europe.
He distinguished himself yet again as a combat commander during a period of the Korean War when the most vicious engagements were fought. Tasked with holding the right flank of the I Corps line, Ruffner devised Operation Counter to capture and hold 12 outposts. The division withstood more than 20 counterattacks and inflicted roughly 3,500 casualties in the fight for the outposts before being relieved by the 2nd Armored Division.
Ruffner retired from the Army in March 1953. In a career that spanned more than 35 years, among his awards and decorations, he received the Distinguished Service Medal, the Silver Star, Purple Heart, the Legion of Merit (with Oak Leaf Cluster) and Bronze Star.
Ruffner died Aug. 2, 1973, at the age of 77, in his nephew’s home in Metairie, Louisiana. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery, beside his wife, who died in 1967.
The DIVARTY headquarters, Bldg. 10500, was originally named Ruffner Hall when the unit was activated at Fort Drum in 1987. The unit was inactivated in 2004 during the transition to brigade combat teams. DIVARTY reactivated in 2015 and personnel would once again occupy the renovated headquarters building. It was rededicated as Ruffner Hall on June 19, 2020.
Ruffner was among the first inductees of the 10th Mountain Warrior Legends Hall of Fame, with the inaugural ceremony conducted on Sept. 2, 2020, inside Magrath Sports Complex.
(Editor’s Note: Material used in this article was collected from Camp Hale and Fort Drum publications, the Denver Public Library digital archives and the 10th Mountain Division and Fort Drum Museum archives. Portions of Ruffner’s personal history came from the Ruffner Family Association website, written by Betty Lou Gaeng, RFA historian.)