Once Again, A Determined Push For A Tough Objective

Once Again, A Determined Push For A Tough Objective
September 6th, 2007  
Team Infidel

Topic: Once Again, A Determined Push For A Tough Objective

Once Again, A Determined Push For A Tough Objective
Washington Post
September 6, 2007
Pg. VA13
Military Matters
By Steve Vogel
Rudy Zamula was toiling away in the National Archives in College Park this spring when he found what he was looking for: documents going back six decades that he believes support the case for his old Army unit to receive new honors.
The 83-year-old Potomac resident, a retired CIA employee, has a job at the Archives declassifying documents. In his free time, he often looks through the records of the Army's 83rd Infantry Division, with which he served during World War II.
After landing at Normandy in 1944 and fighting its way through the Battle of the Bulge, the division raced across northern Germany to the Elbe River in spring 1945. The 83rd was known as the Thunderbolt Division, but it was more colorfully nicknamed "the ragtag circus" because the division commander, Maj. Gen. Robert C. Macon, ordered soldiers to use any vehicles with wheels to speed their advance.
The resulting cavalcade included many captured German vehicles, among them jeeps, tanks, motorbikes, buses and at least one fire engine carrying infantrymen and a banner on its rear bumper that read, "Next Stop: Berlin." The division did not stop until it had secured a position across the Elbe.
A 'Bold' and 'Arduous' Drive
For years, veterans from the 83rd have made the case that the division's accomplishments were worthy of the Presidential Unit Citation, the highest award given to an Army unit. The division was nominated for the citation after Germany's surrender but did not receive the award.
Lou Gomori, 82, the 83rd Division Association historian, worked with the office of Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) to submit an application in 2005 to the Army's Military Awards Branch. This year, he learned that the request had been rejected.
Sifting for new evidence at the National Archives, Zamula looked without luck through the 176 boxes bearing the records of the 83rd for the original nomination.
Military records archivists suggested that Zamula examine boxes from the division's higher headquarters, the XIX Corps and the 9th Army.
Zamula soon hit pay dirt. "Lo and behold, there was a recommendation for a unit citation," he recalled.
Among the more than 100 pages of supporting documents was a letter from the 9th Army commander, Lt. Gen. W.H. Simpson, recommending that the division be awarded the unit citation.
"It's pretty exciting finding these at this late date," Zamula said.
The proposed citation states that the 83rd "accomplished this role of 'breakthrough and exploitation' in a bold smashing and arduous drive which achieved such unprecedented infantry mobility and coordination of all its component elements as to mark an epochal accomplishment in the history of our arms."
Tough Standards to Meet
The 83rd Division Association is resubmitting its request in hopes that the new documentation will bolster its case. "I decided it was time to start rolling again," Gomori said.
Zamula and Gomori recognize their quest is a long shot. The standards for the citation are quite high, as defined by the Military Awards Branch. The unit must display such gallantry, determination and esprit de corps in accomplishing its mission under extremely difficult and hazardous conditions as to set it apart from and above other units participating in the same campaign. Moreover, the citation is rarely awarded to a unit larger than a battalion.
Still, Zamula and Gomori say the case for the 83rd merits a look, particularly for its actions in the closing days of the war in Europe.
On April 13, 1945, the division reached the west bank of the Elbe, which had been set as the boundary between advancing Western forces and the Soviet Red Army approaching Berlin from the east. But the XIX Corps commander, Maj. Gen. Raymond S. McLain, ordered the 83rd across the river to prevent the German army from using the Elbe to launch a counterattack. The division secured a beachhead and held it against fierce German counterattacks.
On the morning of April 15, Gen. Omar Bradley, the 12th Army Group commander, told Simpson, the 9th Army commander, that Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the supreme Allied commander, had ordered the 9th to halt on the Elbe.
"Simpson and McLain were ready to go all the way, but they were stopped by Bradley and Eisenhower," Zamula said. "For good reason. They didn't want to start World War III."
Gomori, who lives in Butler, Pa., speculates that the proposal for a unit citation was quietly dropped at the end of the war because the United States did not want to highlight the fact that the Army had crossed into territory assigned to the Soviets. "It was a touchy issue because they didn't want to make waves," said Gomori, who was a private first class at the time.
Looking Back, and Ahead
Last month, more than 100 veterans of the 83rd gathered in Washington for a reunion, with visits to the National World War II Memorial and a memorial to the division at Arlington National Cemetery.
Some of the veterans went to a reception at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, where they were honored for the 83rd's role in liberating the Langenstein concentration camp, a sub-unit of the notorious Buchenwald concentration camp. Among those attending was Charles Abdinoor of Dracut, Mass., 81, one of the first U.S. soldiers through the gate at Langenstein; he was a private first class.
The Presidential Unit Citation would be a fitting award for the 83rd, according to veterans of the division.
"I think the 83rd Division always did the job and never got a lot of credit for it, so I would like to see it happen," said William Calnan, 87, of Fairfax City, a District native and West Point graduate who served with the division's engineer battalion. "There's been a lot of effort put into it."
"Even if nothing happens, we're looking for a little recognition of an exciting exploit we're all proud of," Zamula said.
Military Matters is published twice each month in the Extras.

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