CHAPTER I   BORN FOR WAR                          [1] prev contents next


The late Lt Gen Leslie J. McNair visited the NCO school at Camp McCoy.
His message had a familiar ring . . .



"The 76th Division is going to war!"

The phrase rang with assertion and finality, and it seemed that nothing short of total peace could prevent the 76th Division from soon giving the enemy the fatal taste of its steel. At least, so thought the eager group of men preparing to reactivate the division at Fort George G. Meade, Maryland, in May of 1942.

Since the end of World War I, the 76th had been no more than a ghost division, its obscurity in the War Department records none the less complete despite its longevity in the minds of those men who had served in its ranks. Now, in May 1942, the Axis powers were consolidating widespread conquests and pressing forward with undiminished strength. The war picture was grave; German forces had overrun Europe, smashed deep into Russia, and driven with the Italians across North Africa into Egypt. In the South Pacific, Japanese hordes had swarmed thousands of miles in every direction, isolating China and capturing all American possessions. Against this grim background of world events the 76th Infantry Division was rescued from its mere paper existence, and again called upon to take part in the gigantic struggle against perpetrators of the foulest crimes in the history of mankind.

When the 76th went to war the first time, after activation at Camp Devens, Ayer, Massachusetts, in September of 1917, it was not the streamlined triangular division we know today. It consisted of the 151st and 152d Infantry Brigades, the 151st Field Artillery Brigade, and was supported by the 301st, 302d and 303d Machine Gun Battalions, 301st Engineer Regiment, 301st Field Signal Battalion, and the Supply Trains. The Infantry Brigades were made up of the 301st, 302d, 303d and 304th Infantry Regiments, while the Artillery Brigade was comprised of the 301st, 302d and 303d Artillery Regiments and the 301st Trench Mortar Battery. It was the first National Army division to be drawn from civilian ranks, with most of the personnel coming from the New England area.

"Say, bud, what's that Patch you're wearin' on your sleeve?"

Every army man has had to answer that question almost as frequently as he has had to take vaccine shots. Had the first insignia recommended for the 76th been adopted, our left shoulder would have been adorned as follows: an uprooted sapling, signifying how men were uprooted from their homes to serve their nation; the sapling bearing thirteen leaves to represent the thirteen original states of the Union; and an unfinished wagon wheel, denoting tasks yet to be completed. Approval was reserved, however, for the now historic red, white and blue shield, the red field surmounted by a smaller blue field containing the three-pronged white emblem.

"Say, bud, is that white thing a French telephone? You guys must be in a signal outfit."

"No," we'd reply patiently, proudly, "that white emblem was an ancient heraldic symbol worn into battle by the first son of a noble family. We earned that decoration back in '17 when the 76th Division trained the first civilians, 'the first sons of the nation', to take up arms against the foe. No, that isn't a French telephone, but any member of the 76th will tell you this -- that white emblem might very well he an 'Army E' and still be an understatement of our service record."

The 76th Division of World War I quickly rounded into shape and moved overseas during the period 3 July to 8 August 1918. Then began the sacrificial role which was to be the un-relentless fate of the division through almost two world wars. The organization was designated as the 3d Depot Division and was ordered to an area south of Bourges, France, with headquarters at St Amand-Mont-Rond. There, foreshadowing the several official cleavages to be suffered in World War II, the 76th was broken up, training cadres were formed and personnel were trained as replacements at the front, while the artillery brigade trained at Clermont-Ferrand.

The 301st Engineer Regiment was detached from the division and assigned to duty with the IV Corps, participating in the St Mihiel offensive. The 301st Field Signal Battalion was detached and assigned to the VI Corps, combatively assigned in the Marbache sector until the Armistice. The 151st Field Artillery Brigade, upon completion of its training, was assigned to the Second Army. On arrival in the advanced zone it was attached to the French II Colonial Corps in the Troyon sector. On 5 November 1918 it passed to French XVII Army Corps control, and as Corps Artillery, supported the action of the 33d and 81st Divisions until the Armistice. The 302d Field Artillery Battalion participated in the Meuse-Argonne offensive from 5 November to 11 November 1918.

The 76th Division was led first by Maj Gen Henry F. Hodges. Briefly replaced in November 1917 by Brig Gen William Weigel, Gen Hodges resumed command in February of 1918. During its existence as a Depot Division, the 76th trained, equipped and forwarded 19,971 officers and enlisted men as replacements for infantry, machine gun, ammunition train, and supply train units. In December 1918 Headquarters and the division permanent cadre returned to the United States, where demobilization was effected at Camp Devens, its birthplace, in May 1919.

That's when the 76th became a ghost division. It was a number in some official record book, faintly alive by virtue of the fact that approximately 300 reserve officers were assigned to its divisional units. These officers had no troops; at occasional maneuvers they were represented in the Army Staff calculations by pins on a map or flags waved by an umpire in the field. Even that faint and inglorious semblance to an army unit was lost, when, in 1940 U. S. Army reconstruction was begun and the reserve officers of the 76th were assigned to other units. This very reconstruction program, however, brought the 76th out of its obscurity. No longer was it to be a mere number on paper. For the second time in its history, the division was again among the first reserve units to be organized . . . . .

Maj Gen Emil F. Reinhardt (who, in 1945, was to achieve world fame as leader of the 69th Division, first West Front unit to achieve contact with Russian forces at the Elbe River) was assigned to command the division, with Brig Gen Ralph C. Smith as Assistant Commanding General, Brig Gen Jerome J. Waters, Division Artillery Commander, and Col Herbert T. Perrin, Chief of Staff. Various staff officers and regimental and battalion commanders were chosen. Highly experienced, they attended special service schools and refresher courses for additional training. In May 1942, these officers assembled at Fort George G. Meade, Maryland, with a training cadre of several hundred non-commissioned officers and men from the famed 1st Infantry Division. The division also received many reserve and newly-commissioned officers, the products of Officer Candidate Schools. It was not at all unusual to find officers who had been inducted as privates under the Selective Service Act not more than eighteen months earlier.

The stage, then, was set. During the last week of May and first half of June, thousands of raw recruits poured into the once deserted cantonment area from reception centers in New York, New Jersey and New England. These bewildered, uniformed civilians were met at a nearby railroad siding by guides who promptly ushered them to trucks and waiting barracks. They were lined up by medics for inspection, lined up by mess sergeants for chow, lined up by platoon leaders to scrub down the floors, rafters and walls of the barren buildings now called "home", and often less than two hours after reaching camp, had been oriented in the urgency and seriousness of the pending training program, and were being lined up for close order drill. In those few, speeding weeks, Fort Meade was transformed from a vast war potential in the doldrum of its career to a bustling center of American energy and strength learning and practicing the grim, superhuman technique of going to war.

The official date of 76th Division activation was 15 June 1942, but it wasn't any holiday. While a brief flag-raising ceremony was conducted at Division Headquarters, the purposeful program of individual and small unit training already under way went on without interruption.

Do we remember June 15th? Brother, you're darn right we do. Reveille was as usual at 0600, and by 0815 we had been to chow, cleaned the barracks, and were out on the drill field doing so many bends and push-ups and squats, you couldn't decide whether Uncle Sam was for you or against you. Later in the morning we passed Division Headquarters on the way back from a six-mile hike, and you know what those six miles cost a rookie under a pack and a Maryland sun in June! When you weren't jarring your teeth on a hot macadam road you were fighting the "give" of ankle-deep sand. Those of us who weren't too tired to think of anything but footbaths and bed noticed a handful of people and a flag-raising ceremony on The Hill. But, brother, it wasn't any holiday . . . . .

Official activation, and a flag-raising ceremony on The Hill . . .

The tempo of World War II had changed the structure of a division considerably since 1918. With the new concept of the "triangular infantry division" the 385th and 417th Infantry Regiments were added to the 76th. Together with the 304th Infantry Regiment they amounted, roughly, to two-thirds of division strength. The powerful wallop of Division Artillery was likewise increased. The 302d, 355th, and 901st light Field Artillery Battalions were given 105 MM howitzers, while the 364th medium Field Artillery Battalion received 155 MM howitzers. The remainder of the 76th Division was composed of the 301st Engineer Battalion, 301st Medical Battalion, 76th Signal Company, 76th Quartermaster Company, 76th Reconnaissance Troop, 776th Ordnance Company Light Maintenance, 76th Division Headquarters Company, 76th Military Police Platoon, and the Infantry and Artillery Bands, later incorporated into one Division Band. These organic alterations were not the only changes necessitated by an increasingly modernized, brutalized war. The training of the soldier, both as an individual and as a member of a larger team, was approached from a highly scientific basis. The pinnacle of physical perfection had to be achieved, and the 76th Division, as part of its vigorous training program, was the first to include the studied aggressiveness of Ranger Training courses for all its men.

From the first, the division's proximity to the nation's capitol marked it as a likely participant in official events of international consequence. Labor Day, not three months after organization, the entire division paraded at Fort Meade like seasoned veterans before Brazilian Ambassador Carlos Martins and high American officials in honor of Brazil's entry into the war. Frequently called upon to furnish guards of honor for State occasions, the division was present in this respect at official receptions by our government for such notables as Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, President Arroyo de Rio of Ecuador, and President Fulgencia Batista of Cuba. These were extracurricular assignments, as it were; strenuous training went on daily. The 76th was preparing for war.


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