The 29th Division originates from the amalgation of National Guard units from Delaware,Maryland, Virginia, New-Jersey, and District of Columbia.
This decision, a posteriori considered, had been born from a sort of prospective bet. In fact, some units which were to built up the 29th Division had not been fighting on the same side during the Civil War. A t Seat-Girt, New Jersey, when the decision for amalgation was made up, in July 1917, a surge of doubt swept over the people in charge : "They will fight one another, not the Germans !"
History did not prove the pessimists right. After assembling at Camp McClellan (Alabama) and ten months of boot-camp, the "Doughboys" of the 29th Division took on board, bound to France.
The union of all the Divisions units was given a concrete expression in their shoulder patch. The choice was the Corean symbol for eternal life, a circle in which the " Yankee " blue is associated to the "Confederate" Gray. The "Blue and Gray" Division could sail to France ; its men would no longer fight one another.
The units were :
The 113rd, 114th, 115th, and 116th Infantry Battalions.
100th, 111th, 112th Machine Guns Battalions.
110th, 111th, 112th Field Artillery Battalions.
104th Mortar Battery.
104th Engineer Battalion.
One HQ Company.
Very soon, they will come onto action during the Meuse-Argonne offensive on September 22nd 1918.
On October 8th 1918, the 29th Division, once more at the front, is able to break through the ennemy positions as far as 6 miles deep at the expense of some 4,800 casualties ( K.I.A, wounded or M.I.A.). The cease-fire on November 11th 1918 catches up with our " 29ers " in the vicinity of Metz, prepared and ready for new battles.
Back to the States, the 29th Division is discharged of Federal Service to be handed back to the National Guards authority.
The eleven combat companies of the 115th Infantry Regiment are distributed throughout Maryland. Stationed in Baltimore are the 175th Infantry Regiment and the 104th Medical ; the 110h Artillery Regiment is garrisoned at Picksville,Maryland.
Twelve small towns in Virginia welcome the 116th Infantry Regiments Companies. One among these cities, Bedford, will be part of history as we will seen very soon. Enlisting in the National Guard was more a financial matter than a display of frantic patriotism. The few dollars earned by the son of the family for his training sessions brought home some bacon. This situation will prevail during the 1929 economic slump. Organized in urban military units, the National Guard companies will bring together young men of the same town, and later on, pals of the same Saturday nights parties,or patrons of the same little downtown movie houses. All of them had been born and raised within the middle-class, the one which gave so much whenever it was required. They were units of "buddies", same street neighbors.
In 1936, the Guards regiments are assigned to Indiantown Gap (Pennsylvania) for joint maneuvers. Twice again, the companies will meet before the United States entering war : at Manassas ( Virginia) first, during the reeactment of the first battle of Bull Run, and then, in New York state for the 1st Army maneuvers.
On September 1st 1939, Poland is invaded by Adolf Hitlers armies. It was the beginning of WWII. Great-Britain and France declare war on Nazi Germany.
June 1940 : German troops proudly parade in occupied Paris. A hurricane has swept over France and Great-Britain itself is under the threat. Nazis are about to build up their "New Order", for a thousand years ! "Light has been blown out of the World !"
Stubbornly dug in their islands, the British people still hold on. They turn their pleading eyes to the West, to the high seas, that is towards the one and only democracy still able to turn back the tides which are about to carry them away too, into the consuming fire of Nazi Hell. Their only hopes still remain in the will and decision of the American people to come onto action, once again, and free Europe from its abcient fiends. The idea of going to war was ot yet very popular among the Congressmen of the U.S.A, and the famous tune "Over There" was no longer song in chorus by the common people. The issue of the economic crisis was still rough. American forces hardly totalled 190,000 men, i.e. exactly 6% of the German troops. Equipment and weapons were completly obsolete, and with the exception of about half a score aircraft-carriers, hopelessly needed a total renewal. A few months only will be enough to see the birth of the first modern equipment that will, very soon, be fielded to a great many allied armies.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in his N° 8633 decree, orders the National Guard units to get to Fort George G. Meade for a one years training period. The companies left their home-towns with, very often, the warm wishes of the " Great war " veterans. In Roanoke, Virginia, the young guardmen parade on Campbell Avenue. An announcement from Post 64 of the 29th Division Association is publicly read aloud by the Mayor : " ...We know that we can count on you to do your duty. " The young men, who, for some, had never spent one night out of their homes, were thinking they would be away for one year, at the most...In fact, they were leaving their families, homes, and friends behind for a 50 months ordeal.
Companies are on the move to Camp A.P. Hill (Virginia) and take part in joint maneuvers in Nothern and Southern Carolinas, that will last until November.
"The Day of Infamy". Attacked without warning by Japanse planes at Pearl-Harbor, the United States accept its situation of war with the Rising Sun Empire. Adolf Hitler declares war on the U.S, followed by his Italian ally Benito Mussolini. Which gives birth to the "Axis" Berlin-Rome-Tokyo. The war is turning "World-Wide".
The Companies are getting back to Fort Meade.
The 29th Division is re-activated.
The Division moves to Camp A.P Hill.
The "Blue and Gray" is transferred to Camp Blending (Florida)
The Division moves to Camp Kilmer (New Jersey)
Leaving Camp Kilmer en route to Jersey City.
Two-third of the Division sail out of New-York harbor aboard the "Queen Mary" bound for Great-Britain. The rest of the unit is to follow on October 5th aboard the "Queen Elisabeth".
The 29th Division, under General Leonard T. Gerow lands in Scotland, on October 3rd and 11th to be conveyed by train to Tidworth, in the south of England. Its destiny as a unit devoted to an amphibious operation is very soon stressed upon. The young guardsmen, reinforced by draftees, are now engaged in highly chancy exercices, leading to the belief that they will be, one day, part of a most important action, that might be an invasion launched against Adolf Hitlers "Fortress Europe". The high morale of the Division is taking this possibility onto account. The boys of the " Blue and Gray " are deeply conscious of their sailing back home depending on a long, long way leading them deep in the heart of nazi germany. Their battle-cry " 29 Lets Go! " being roared aloud at any opportunity over the Cornish moors gives much satisfaction to their new boss, General Charles Hunter Gerhardt, and does not leave anybody in the uncertainty about their resolution to do battle ! The sooner, the better !
The assault companies of the 115th and 116th Regiments board the troop-carriers "Empire Javelin" and "Thomas Jefferson" They are bound for the Normandy beach known now as "Omaha Beach" in other words the western sector of the long stretch of beach separating Colleville-sur-Mer from Vierville, the center of the sector being a hamlet called "Les Moulins", part of Saint Laurent sur Mer.
"A" Company, 116th Infantry Regiment, got the honor to land first in front of Vierville-sur-Mer. It was June 6th, at dawn. After enduring so much on bobbing assault crafts (LCAs), frozen stiff by sea spray, and sea-sick to death, all these youngmen were desperatly longing for reaching the coast. The German soldiers of the 352th Division, who strongly helds the bluffs, did not let them any opportunity of comfort ! Ten minutes after landing, "A" Company no longer existed as a combat unit. 96% of its man power were casualties. The small town of Bedford (Virginia), home of "A" Company did not know, yet, that its sons would never come back from Normandy...During the whole morning, wave after wave of assault companies of the 29th Division got such a punisment from the enemy that General Omar Bradley thought about evacuating Omaha Beach and diverting all reinforcements to "Utah Beach" where the situation was far more promising. The 1st Division, the "Big Red One" having beached onto the Eastern sector of Omaha was bleeding through the same ordeal and was nailed to the sand and shingles. No one could forget the apocalytic sight of this beach, scattered with corpses, screaming wounded, men precariouly taking cover behind "C elements",heaps of equipment on fire or mopped out, the hellish sounds of explosions, of the staccato of automatic weapons which were "cutting down" any one trying to move, or even simply seeming to move, from the top of the bluffs. How could one forget the piteous wailing of wounded young men pleading for help : "Medic ! Medic !".And these aid-men, unable to stand it any longer, who were sneaking between volleys to deliver such care and comfort as they could and were hit, too ! It took hours to see the end of the torture. On that very day, there were many heroes. Such as general Norman D. Cota, XO of the 29th Division, howling away at the top of his voice : "We are being slaughtered on this damned beach, better lets go and be killed a little further more ! " Or Colonel Canham, too, in command of the 116th Infantry Regiment, shouting at his officers : "Get these men the hell off this beach ! Go and kill some goddamned Krauts !" And as an officer, expecting to do the right thing warned him : "Colonel, youd better take cover, or youre going to be killed !" and Canham stark retor : "Get your ass out of there and get these men off this goddamned beach !"
Small groups of men had been trying here and there to leave the precarious shelters behind which they had been stuck since dawn. A few yards gained, then a few more and so until they could reach a comparatively safer one, and finally climb over the bluffs and "wipe them out clean" with the support of the guns of some warships.
In the evening, the "bloody Omaha beach" was secured but the G.Is of the 29th Division had paid their jumping off the beach a very high price indeed. The bridgehead was about 1,800 yards in depth, in some places, and according to Staff Sergeant J. Robert (Bob) Slaughter "D" Company, 116th Regiment, having reached the top of the bluff, as the night was coming, his exhausted outfit had to be content with makeshift fox-holes, and went to sleep not farther than 25 yards from a German position !
"Omaha" was but the first step of the long way back home. A long way full of blood and miseries. The battle for Saint-Lô carried out across a thousand hedges was the Divisions private Calvary. The advance was a few yards a day. On some dayss, nothing at all. Nazi had stuffed the innumerable hedges and sunken lanes with scores of machine guns and murderous 88mm guns. Saint-Lô, the crucified town, hardly 25 miles from Omaha Beach, saw the first elements of the 29th Division no sooner than on July 18th. The body of Major Tom Howie "The Major of Saint-Lô", killed in the suburbs of the town, covered with the Stars and Stripes, was driven onto "the Capital of Ruins" and remained, lying in state on a heap of rubble, near Sainte-Croix church, a token from General Gerhardt to Saint-Lô, tremendously wounded, but free, at last.
The France campaign, for the 29th Division, was also driving across Vire and also Brest. Liberation of the Conquet peninsula from August 26th to September 1944. Sergeants Frank Peregory, 116th Regiment and Sherwood Hallman, 175th Regiment, were posthumously awarded the "Medal of Congress", the highest American medal only awarded for extraordinary actions and exceptionnal bravery. The campaign of France had ended. Only memories were left. On July 23rd, at La cambe, a small village near Omaha Beach, the "Blue an Gray" were paying tribute to their dead. Two thousand graves were lined up for a last parade. When the ceremony was over, the 29th Divisions units left the cemetery, in close order drill, while the Divisions band was playing "The Beer Barrel polka", famous after the Marx Brothers film... A last wink to the lost buddies !
A noise had been running down the grapevine. "The Division is sailing back to the States to train green units about to be committed on the Pacific front line"... What a strange way back home ; the Division is transported by rail on the Röer. It takes part in the capture of Aachen, seizes all by itself Siesdorf, Setterich, Dürboslar, then Jülich and Munchen-Gladbach. Crossing of the Rhine takes place in February 1945. Five days later, the 29th Division attacks and seizes 48 cities or small towns. The advance deep in enemy territory never slows down. The "Blue and Gray" is on support of the 5th British Division in the sector of Neu-Dachau. The 175th regiment passes the Klötze forest. On the left flank of the 84th Division, the "29ers" reach the Elbe river on April 26th and hold a more than 40 miles long front-line. They link up with Soviet troops on May 3rd 1945.
Cease-fire is signed. A new page turns over.
The first "29ers" getting their discharge heard of the good news on May 13th 1945... and the last ones, not before January 16th 1946 at Camp Kilmer. Staff Sergeant Bob Slaughter was among the happy few privileged, he tells : "May 13th, I was on my way home. I left the Company so fast that I didnt say goodbye to anyone. My war was over."
At Camp Kilmer, there was no parade under arms whatsoever, not even a band or mere colors. The weather was pretty awful. The official order fell down: "Order #48. The 29th Infantry Division, US Army is de-activated as from january 17th 1946 2359 hrs..."
WW II cost the 29th Division 20,324 casualties ( KIA, wounded or MIA).
Nowadays, the flag is hoisted up by the 29th Infantry Division (Light), garrisonned at Fort Belvoir (Virginia). This unit is the guardian of traditions and maintains : "To keep alive the spirit of the 29th Division in the military History of our nation".
Which conclusion was drawn by General Gerhardt as soon as the war was over ? We do not know. But let us bet it was his long favored compliment :
" MIGHTY FINE, MIGHTY FINE ! "
29 Let's Go!