National Guard Division Veterans Forever Remembered at Fort Benning
The historic 29th Infantry Division now has monument at Home of Infantry to remember fallen comrades
Major Ed Larkin
29th ID (L) PAO
Most 29th Division D-Day veterans are now in their eighties, but they all stood ramrod straight and saluted crisply as taps played for their comrades that didn’t make it off Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944 or since past away.
Near the front of the National Infantry Museum at Fort Benning, Georgia, standing at 96-inches tall, a new memorial to the men of the National Guard’s 29th Infantry Division sits proudly for all that train and visit the Home of the Infantry to see. The monument is a tribute to those that fought with the division on the beaches and across Europe.
The 29th Infantry Division never trained for combat at Fort Benning during World War II. Instead they assembled, trained in Maryland, Virginia, and Florida and then shipped off to England to prepare for the Normandy invasion.
They were the first National Guard Division sent to Europe. They polished their skills for the invasion and landed on June 6, 1944 and into history.
By the end of World War II with 242 days in combat, the 29th Infantry Division had suffered 20,324 killed or wounded, one of the highest casualty rates of any division in the war.
It seems natural for one of the best infantry combat units to have a place for a memorial at the Infantry School. The man behind the effort to have the monument placed at Fort Benning is Donald Mckee (Med2/174), a D-Day veteran and past 29th Infantry Division Association National Commander.
"In front of the museum and in Sacrifice Field are many memorials to units that had fought in America’s wars. We at the association felt we needed to honor the men and the division that fought so bravely in World War II. So we started the process and today we have a permanent memorial at Fort Benning to those who served with the division during the European campaign," said McKee. "I was also helped by Charles Maupin (HQ3/175) and Don Van Roosen (H/115).
The granite for the monument was taken from a quarry in Barre, Vermont, and crafted into a beautiful reminder of the bravery and dedication these men have given in the name of freedom. It is fitting that the hard granite from a northern state would find its place in firm southern ground, the Blue and Gray Division has in part, symbolized the coming together of former enemies to defeat the greater threat to American freedom.
As a remembrance of the 29th efforts in 1988 in Normandy an almost identical monument was placed at Omaha Beach. The only difference is some of the words on the granite.
The 29th Infantry Division (Light) Commander Brig. Gen. "Chip" Long held a handful of sand he had taken from Omaha beach 50 years from the day at exact time the 29th hit Omaha Beach. He careful placed some in each of the veteran’s hands after the unveiling of the monument and together they sprinkled the sand at the base of the new monument.
"Many of the 29 veterans have said to me about their service in World War II, we had to live up to what the men of the 29th did in World War I. Today, we live knowing that we will also perform our mission always honoring the proud history of the 29th. The veterans here today are our foundation and link to the past." We will always hold ourselves to a higher standard because of their sacrifice."
Former 115th member Don Van Roosen spoke to the over 200 people in attendance and said, "The definition of legacy is anything of value handed down from a predecessor." The men of the 29th they fought on D-Day and across Europe left a heritage to the next generation of 29ers. In Van Roosen remarks, he spoke of General Eisenhower asking his historian to identify the best divisions in the war and the 29th ended on the top of that list and received a Presidential Unit Citation. The 29th was an important part of the victory in Europe. He and the many 29ers joining in dedication of the monument have left behind a legacy for all future soldiers to strive for and honor.
The first and last words on the monument sum up the importance of the lasting tribute to the men of the 29th: "From the North and South in our land we came to foreign shores that liberty and freedom might prevail…Our fallen lie in distant fields. They gave the last full measure of their devotion. Sleep comrades forever young."
Thursday June 19, 2003