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November 23, 2006

Old soldiers, fading away.

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Ry sent me an email stream. It starts with two lines.

89th Division Association from WWII is dissolving. The greatest generation is slipping away.

Ry added:

We can't let that go unnoticed can we? I'm going nuts trying to write the China sub thing, keep Al's kids in line over at GX40, and answering HE. Can't we tap someone else to do this? Pleeeeeeease? ry

I suppose we can't, Ry. But we'll take it as a *good* thing, in a bittersweet way.

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The 89th Infantry Division, also known as the Rolling W and/or the Middle West Division, was raised at Camp Funston, Fort Riley, August 27, 1917, as a part of the National Army (the National Army was a distinct formation, raised for the purpose of the war, it essentially evolved after the war into the Army Reserve). The division was recruited in Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado and Missouri, and had a Donovan in it - my grandfather, a 2nd Lieutenant of Field Artillery. The Institute of Heraldry (the Army's official insignia designer) descriptions of the divisional patch aver that this patch designated the "Middle West" Division, as it can be read as an "M", turn it and it can be read as a "W". The description adds that the letter can also be read as a Greek sigma, the symbol of summation; and the circle implies the ability to exert force in any direction and to resist in any position. The unofficial explanation is that the "W" patch, created during World War I, pays tribute to the first three commanders of the 89th Division, Major Generals William Wright, Leonard Wood, and Frank Winn. Larry the Cable Guy stole the Division motto and southern-fried it... the motto is "Get it done! vice Larry's "Git 'er done!"

In World War I the division deployed to France in 1918, and received campaign credits for Lorraine, St. Mihiel and Meuse Argonne. (Say the last out loud - just where did the moose go?)

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When the Army Reserve was created, the Division was reactivated as a component thereof in 1921. It was recalled to active service in 1942 at then-Camp Carson, Colo. - and designated as the 89th Light Division. As the Division trained and organized, doctrine changed as a result of war experience and the division was reorganized and re-designated as the 89th Infantry Division in 1944.

The Division landed in France at Le Havre on 21 January 1945, They spent several weeks in pre-combat training before moving into the line near Echternacht on 11 March. On 12 March the Rhineland offensive kicked off, and the 89th crossed the Sauer and thence to and across the Moselle River on 17 March. The Division crossed the Rhine on 26 March, between the towns of Kestert and Kaub. In April, the 89th attacked toward Eisenach taking the town on 6 April. The next objective was Friedrichroda, in the heart of much-ballyhooed National Redoubt in Thuringia. The city was secured by 8 April. The Division continued to move eastward toward the Mulde River, capturing Zwickau by the 17th of the month. The advance halted on 23 April, and from then until VE-day, the Division saw only limited action, engaging in patrolling and general security. With only 57 days in combat, the division got off comparatively lightly in WWII (though not for any of the casualties and their families, certainly).

Killed: 222
Wounded: 692
Missing: 91
Captured: 1
Battle Casualties: 1,006
Non-Battle Casualties: 1,074
Total Casualties: 2,080
Percent of T/O Strength: 14.6

Earning the following awards:
Legion of Merit: 5
Silver Star: 45
Soldiers Medal: 1
Bronze Star: 164

I would note things were different then. Now, there would be a lot more Bronze Stars (due to changes in how the medal is awarded (a policy under review, btw) and, of course, every LTC would have to have a Legion of Merit these days).

It was the Rhine crossing at Oberwesal where the 89th gave us one of the iconic pictures of World War II. The baby-faced Lieutenant up in the front of a landing craft, looking back at the soldiers in the boat.

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Less well known is the picture of what he was looking at...

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The Division reactivated in 1947 with headquarters in Wichita - They were re-designated the 89th Division (Training) in 1959 - and again re-designated the 89th United States Army Reserve Command (ARCOM) in 1973.

In 2003 all Regional Support Commands were re-designated to Regional Readiness Commands.

In its 2005 BRAC Recommendations, DoD recommended to realign the Wichita US Army Reserve Center by disestablishing the 89th Regional Readiness Command. This recommendation was part of a larger recommendation to re-engineer and streamline the Command and Control structure of the Army Reserves that would create the Northwest Regional Readiness Command at Fort McCoy, WI.

I would note the Grand Army of the Republic no longer exists, either.

And the American Legion is actually struggling, in many areas, as is the VFW, though the GWOT will probably help in that regard.

Truth is, the Rolling W saw it's combat in WWI and II. And in WWII it was only 57 days of combat, with the highest award being some 45 Silver Stars.

And it hasn't seen action since. It hasn't been a true division since 1959, when it converted to a readiness command, and is going to dis-establish altogether as a result of the 2005 BRAC.

There simply isn't much of a binder anymore, as the last of the WWII veterans die out.

It's sad in a way, but it's also indicative, in the same way the passing of the GAR was, of the passing of an era.

Flip side, the societies of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 10th, 82nd, 101st Infantry, 1st Armored, and 1st Cavalry Divisions are all doing fine, as are the newly combat bonded elements of several National Guard divisional and brigade societies (which in some aspects is more important, as those guys are actually much more visible to the public eye and the bindings of their communities than the Regulars). But since we no longer have combat formations (except SOF) in the Reserve, and haven't had functional divisions (we've got some named such, but no *real* divisions) in the Reserve, this is not an unexpected outcome. In many ways, the Reserve is the bastard stepchild of the Army for good or ill.

Be wistful, not sad. It's combat that binds those associations - take solace in the fact that some of our old soldier's associations are fading away, and not growing strong with new blood.

In other words, today, be thankful that thus far, our wars since WWII have not taken an Army the size of the ones that fought WWI and WWII. Because in the final analysis, that's why the 89th Division Association is fading away. It's a Band of Brothers in a family that has not had to keep growing. In a very real sense, they did their job. And so, just as the Grand Army of the Republic is a memory marked by monuments and encampment medals for sale at militaria shows and antique shops, so to will the 89th Division hopefully never need to be resurrected and sent into battle for the Republic.

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Comments on Old soldiers, fading away.
John S. briefed on November 23, 2006 06:41 PM

Those brave Sojer boys are not crossing the Rhine in a "landing craft" or a "boat". They are enjoying a ride in the Army's nifty DUKW amphibious 6x6 truck. (note steering wheel). Nice to see the views both fore and aft. I have seen photos of LCM landing craft being hauled inland for river crossings, but have never seen any photos of them actually being used.

ry briefed on November 23, 2006 09:11 PM

I just hate to lose this history John. I really do. When the Afleck 'Pearl Harbor' came out I was in a Lyons in Davis when I heard some art major declare he had no idea of what happened(but then went off for fourty minutes about the genius of the Polack movie). Not a friend of mine, just a loud joker in the next booth while I studied for my last final in p-chem(literally the last final of my undergraduate career, and the hardest).

When we let these things pass away we forget something that shouldn't. We forget me and women who shouldn't be. We forget events that shouldn't. We become idjits. I don't want to be an idjit.

Heartless Libertarian briefed on November 23, 2006 11:40 PM

I'm not sure about the rest of the division, but as of next month, my brigade (AC/RC Training Support) will no longer be part of the 91st "Powder River" Division, instead becoming the 191st Separate Brigade.

Like I said, I don't know if the rest of the Division is still going to be there, or if it's going away too.

There's a huge monument to the 91st at one end of the parade field on Ft Lewis, right smack in front of the CG's house.

John of Argghhh! briefed on November 24, 2006 07:07 PM

I'll defer to your knowledge, John, never having been in a DUKW, even the ones currently used as tour boats.

I was just paraphrasing the official captions from the National Archives.