The All-American Division
There's a very elite group of military men who meet once a month to remember and stay connected with their peers. They are the men of the 82nd Airborne, or the All-American Division, as they are known.
Even before the 82nd started its historic and heroic parachute jumps, the unit made a proud name for itself. It was actually in 1917 that the group began and the nick-name "All American Division" was given. The famed (and coveted) AA shoulder patch was born at that time as well.
They did such a good job in WWI that there was no need for them after the war and the group was demobilized, but the memory and stories of their heroic deeds lived on.
82nd Airborne Division Mission
Within 18 hours of notification, the 82nd Airborne Division strategically deploys, conducts forcible entry parachute assault and secures key objectives for follow-on military operations in support of U.S. national interests.
When WWII broke out, the unit was reactivated (March 25, 1942) and was placed in the command of Major General Omar N. Bradley. Five months later the 82nd Infantry Division became the first airborne division of the US Army and they were redesignated The 82nd Airborne Division. The Division's first two combat missions were assaults on Sicily and Salerno in 1943. The assaults were done by parachute and gliders.
504th Regiment, 82nd Airborne troops advancing through snow-covered forest during the Battle of the Bulge
At about the same time the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment (nicknamed Devils in Baggy Pants as a result of a German officer's diary entry) was active and to this day there is a bond between the two divisions.
On June 5-6, 1944 the 82nd's parachute and glider infantry regiment were among the first soldiers to fight in Normandy, the largest airborne assault in history. After 33 days, the 82nd was pulled out and sent to England. 5,245 paratroopers were killed, wounded or missing. Their mission was accomplished, however, and they proudly reported that "no ground gained was ever relinquished."
The 504th joined the 82nd in four successful combat jumps into Holland. In December 1944 the 82nd was instrumental in stopping General Von Runstedt's northern penetration into American territory.
After Germany surrendered, the Division went to Berlin to assist with the occupation. After a ceremony in which the 82nd Division Honor Guard tended to General George Patton he is quoted as saying, "In all my years in the Army and all the honor guards I have ever seen, the 82nd's honor guard is undoubtedly the best." As a result, "All-Americans" became known as "America's Guard of Honor."
Expecting to be demobilized when they returned to the states in 1946, the 82nd was, instead designated a standard Army Division with a permanent home in Fort Bragg. The 82nd was called into action and helped restore peace in the Dominican Republic in 1965.
During the 1968 Tet Offensive in Viet Nam the Division was called in and actively participated in battles in Chu Lai, Hue-Phu-Bai, Saigon, Mekong Delta, Iron Triangle and the Cambodian Border. Their service in Vietnam lasted almost 2 years.
By 1973 attention was on the Middle East and in '78 to Zaire. The division was put on alert in 1979 as they prepared to liberate the American hostages in Iran. Again in 1983 they were put into action and became the first union to be deployed in Grenada.
When the Iraqi's invaded Kuwait in 1990, the 82nd "became the vanguard of the largest deployment of American troops since Vietnam." In the 100 hour ground war, the 82nd was deep in Iraq and captured thousands of Iraqi soldiers along with equipment and weapons.
Their next mission came in August, 1992 and was quite different then previous missions. They were tasked with providing assistance to Southern Florida after it had been devastated by Hurricane Andrew.
The 82nd was among the first ground troops sent into Kosovo in 1999 and when the United States was attacked on September 11, 2001, the 82nd Division answered the call of President George W. Bush and deployed to Afghanistan and later deployed in Operation Iraqi Freedom. They are currently still deployed.
Soldiers with the 82nd Airborne Division descend under a parachute canopy to earn foreign jump wings during the 11th Annual Randy Oler Memorial Operation Toy Drop at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Dec. 6, 2008
When these gentlemen get together, even after all these years, they talk proudly of their division and their service. They honor the work they did and each other.
One of the men who attend this group is Bill Wall, who was not a soldier in WWII, but a small child in Germany. He didn't come to this country until 1950. He remembers how excited he was when the Americans came through his town. Children lined the streets waiving white sheets greeting them. He also remembers how well they were treated by the soldiers. "They threw candy and gum for us and it was like the happiest party ever.
After Bill came to this country he was eventually drafted to go to Korea. He had the opportunity to join the 82nd Airborne Division and took it. He still lives the experience to this day and says he is "still a soldier at heart"
Norm Krnac was in the 101st and says "once you are in an airborne division you are in a very special, elite group." Norm was in Germany and was there when the Berlin Wall went up. "Once the wall was up we were always on alert."
The 82nd was not the only Airborne Division in WWII. There were: The 13th, 17th, 18th, 101st. 82nd and 11th. The 18th was part of the Air Corps and the 11th was only in WWII and mainly in the Pacific.
The camaraderie and bond was intense, but there was also a friendly rivalry. For example, the 101st referred to the 82nd as AA - Almost Airborne. The 82nd called the 101st the Puking Buzzard.
Joe Schmidt was born in Hungary and came to this country in 1951. Four years later he was drafted and because he spoke fluent German went into Intelligence Service during the Hungarian revolution (1956). His service time was extended because of the Berlin Wall. Raymond Levanduski, also of the 82nd, was stationed in Germany and was part of the air lift. The Wall started in 1960 about the time he left.
They all spoke highly of Commanding General "Slim" Jim Gavin who took over for General Ridgeway on his retirement. Gavin was commander of the 82nd and the youngest 2 star general in the United States Army. One of the things that earned the respect of the soldiers was that "Slim Jim" jumped with the troops - he was one of them. When John Kennedy became President Gavin was appointed Ambassador to France.
John Stratford, another 101st member went to Vietnam in 1967. He was shot in the face and required 3 surgeries to put the nerves back together "so I could smile again". Claire Vojcicki joins the men at the breakfast each month in honor of her late husband, John, who was in the 82nd. She says it meant so much to him that she wants to continue in his name.
To a person these brave defenders of our freedom and our country have no regrets about their time or their service. They calmly say "This is our country." "It is our privilege." "We are honored to serve."
As recently as 8 years ago, Bill Wall was in Amsterdam. As usual, he had his Screaming Eagle Patch on. As he walked through a Flea Market he heard someone trying to get his attention. They thanked him for his service in WWII. He had to tell them he was not in WWII. The response was simple "You have the Screaming Eagle Patch - that is good enough for me."
On that very same trip Bill went out to dinner at the hotel he was staying in. His dinner bill was "taken care of" and he had no idea who to thank. The next morning the same thing happened with his breakfast bill. This time a young man approached him and said "I just wanted to thank you. In WWII you guys saved my grandfather and I loved him so much."
Three members of the John Towle Chapter of the 82nd Airborne Association, from left, Bill Wall of Broadview Heights, Ray Fabian of Northfield and Jim Quisenberry of Lakewood salute during the playing of the National Anthem at Playhouse Square for a tribute to Bob Hope.
Bill told the stories, but everyone else nodded in agreement - yes they had a similar story to tell with similar expressions of gratitude from strangers. Many of their children and grandchildren are following in their footsteps telling grandpa "I want to be just like you." The young ones are so proud of these men, and they, in turn, are so proud of the young ones.
And so it continues. War is never good, but is often necessary. While we pray for peace we must never forget to say a prayer of Thanksgiving for the men of the Airborne Divisions and all those who have dedicated their lives to protecting us.
May they be safe and may the day come when their stories are just memories and their services no longer required.
The 82nd Airborne Division has had its share of famous soldiers from Sergeant Alvin C. York to General James M. Gavin. But that's not what the 82nd is really about.
The real story of the 82nd is the thousands of unnamed paratroopers in jump boots, baggy pants and maroon berets, who have always been ready and willing to jump into danger and then drive on until the mission was accomplished.
Posted on ClevelandSeniors.Com February 2009
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