On the day in 1942 when the U.S. Armyï¿½s 101st Airborne Division was activated at Camp Claiborne, Louisiana, its first commander, Major General William C. Lee, told his recruits that although the division had no history, it had ï¿½a rendezvous with destiny.ï¿½ Thus charged, his troops roared into World War II, distinguishing themselves in the D-Day landings at Normandy, Operation Market Garden, the liberation of Holland, and the Battle of the Bulge. At combatï¿½s end, two soldiers won Medals of Honor, and the division garnered 47 Distinguished Service Crosses, 516 Silver Stars, and 6,977 Bronze Stars.
The 101st ï¿½Screaming Eaglesï¿½ have never looked back.
After several reactivations as a training unit, the division was reorganized in 1956 as a combat division at Fort Campbell, on the western Kentucky-Tennessee line, where it is based today. During the Vietnam War, the storied division fought in several major campaigns and battles, including the fight for Hamburger Hill in 1969. While in Southeast Asia, it morphed into an air assault unit, which then saw combat in the Persian Gulf War, Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
Through the years, its noncombat duties have ranged from escorting the ï¿½Little Rock Nineï¿½ into Central High School during the ï¿½60s civil rights movement, to fighting forest fires in Montana.
Although the 101st is one of the most prestigious and decorated divisions in the U.S. Army, many Americans are not aware of its amazing history, its current engagements, or the direct relationship between what these courageous troops do on a daily basis and the lifestyle freedoms U.S. citizens enjoy.
ï¿½Our army is at war; our country is not,ï¿½ says Robert Nichols, executive director and chief operating officer of the Fort Campbell Historical Society. A 32-year Army veteran, he served more than half of that time with the 101st. ï¿½We must do our best to educate the public, so they will understand the conflict, and support our troops.
ï¿½One of the things weï¿½re not doing well in schools is teaching history to portray the sacrifices of our men and women in uniform that allow our freedom of choice in America. Histories of wars and those who participated on the front and on the home front are often glossed over in paragraphs describing 10-year spans.ï¿½
Kentuckyï¿½s military history
Major General Edward Tonini, Adjutant General of Kentucky, concurs. Many young people, he says, simply donï¿½t know enough about previous military history to be aware of what the military does for them.
A year after the September 11 terrorist attacks, President George W. Bush expressed concern: ï¿½Our founders believed the study of history and citizenship should be at the core of every Americanï¿½s education. Yet today, our children have large and disturbing gaps in their knowledge of history.ï¿½
As a case in point, in a 2001 national survey by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, 52 percent of high school seniors identified Italy, Germany, or Japan as a U.S. ally in World War II, instead of the Soviet Union in the multiple choice question.
Fortunately, the Commonwealth is rife with opportunities to learn about the military. One resource is at the Screaming Eaglesï¿½ ï¿½lair,ï¿½ Fort Campbell. Assistant division commander of the 101st Airborne during World War II, U.S. Army General Don F. Pratt was the highest-ranking Allied officer killed on D-Day. Since 1956, a museum that carries his name has told the remarkable story of the soldiers of the 101st and has collected its fascinating memorabilia.
However, those artifacts are so numerous that at present only 20 percent can be displayed at one time, so chapters in that story are always missing. That will change in a few years, says Nichols, when a new $48 million project, the Wings of Liberty Museum, is completed.
Currently, more than 200 Kentucky military sitesï¿½battlefields, museums, pieces of military equipment, cemeteries, and memorial statues and plaquesï¿½offer the opportunity for folks to learn more and to pay respects as well, and that number is growing. A group of primarily Vietnam vets, called Task Force Omega, cruise the state on motorcycles, updating the sites list, so the number continues to grow.
One of those, the General George Patton Museum at Fort Knox, a storehouse of military treasures, has partnered with the University of Kentucky Extension Service in Bullitt County since 2004 to offer a program that connects veterans with fifth-graders. Vets located by family resources come into schools, often bringing touchable military items, such as helmets, medals, and photos, and talk about them. Then the kids interview the soldiers.
Originally, 10 to 15 World War II vets participated. By 2005 and 2006, there were an increasing number of vets from all wars.
ï¿½As one of the speakers, I talk to the kids about the bond vets have,ï¿½ says Rick Dickerson, the museumï¿½s program coordinator and a Desert Storm veteran inspired to enlist by a history teacher who had fought in World War II. ï¿½I compare it to the bond kids have on sports teams or even that girls have who go to the mall together. Itï¿½s a band. Theyï¿½re bonded by a common goal. Vets who survive combat together bond and form a band. Kids can relate to that. They have to be inspired to want to learn about history.ï¿½
This initiative seems to be doing just that. In addition to giving kids insight into what soldiers do, it has honed their interviewing techniques and increased library usage by 60 percent.
Military History Sites to Visit
The Kentucky Military History Museum at the State Arsenal in Frankfort reopens with a slew of special events on November 11 following an extensive renovation. The historic 1850 building houses a vast collection of exhibits, memorabilia, oral histories, and photos.
The Kentucky Oral History Commissionï¿½the only such organization in the nationï¿½is housed in the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History. The KOHCï¿½s collection of oral histories includes hundreds of interviews with veterans.
Those stories, in combination with research and artifacts from the Kentucky Historical Societyï¿½s collections, are now presented in KHSï¿½ museum theater program that visits schools. An actor portrays a vet and tells his story.
ï¿½Students learn dates in history, but they need to know who the people were and what their day-to-day experience was 100 years ago, 50 years ago, and in the present,ï¿½ says Sarah Milligan, the commissionï¿½s administrator. ï¿½Oral history puts a face and angle on that history.ï¿½
The Kentucky Vietnam Veterans Memorial, a poignant way to experience military history, is a mind-boggling piece of architecture set high on a quiet Frankfort hill overlooking the Kentucky River and the State Capitol. Here, a giant sundial honors the stateï¿½s 1,100 soldiers killed in Vietnam. On the anniversary of each individualï¿½s death, the shadow of a stainless steel gnomon, or pointer, passes over the veteranï¿½s name carved onto a wide granite plaza. The shadow never touches the names of 23 missing-in-action soldiers behind the gnomon. A directory with the names of all soldiers honored and their home counties stays in a weatherproof box nearby.
This remarkable piece of engineering was designed by Lexington architect Helm Roberts, a Navy veteran, who passed away on his 80th birthday on August 26, 2011.
Akin to the national Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., the atmosphere at this site is reverent, of remembering sacrifices made, and perhaps also of apology for the less-than-honorable reception received by many Vietnam vets who fought and returned from that conflict.
Go to ï¿½military historyï¿½ for contact information for these and other Kentucky military history groups.
ï¿½Ultimately, every citizen enjoys freedoms because someone in uniform has done or is doing something heroic,ï¿½ says Major General Tonini, who has spent 42 years in the military. ï¿½Soldiers returning from World War II were greeted as saviors of America as we knew it then. During the Korean and Vietnam wars, that attitude disappeared and servicemen were not commonly welcomed back home.
ï¿½But on 9/11 when our country was attacked, just like Pearl Harbor in 1941, attitudes changed. Kentuckians are becoming highly appreciative of what the military is doing for our state and for our country. Itï¿½s an indication that awareness is increasing.ï¿½
On this Veterans Day, what the military does on a daily basis and has done in the past to keep our nation free is one of many reasons for Americans to be grateful and to show that. But according to one soldier, who speaks for many, that gratitude goes both ways.
ï¿½Iï¿½d just like to make sure the American people know how much we appreciate their support,ï¿½ says Captain Stuart Jones, who is active duty military stationed at Fort Knox. ï¿½We meet it everywhere we go in this country. Itï¿½s fantastic and sure makes our job easier.ï¿½
In a couple of years, the Don F. Pratt Museum at Fort Campbell will be replaced by an 80,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art museum where the Screaming Eaglesï¿½ 70 years of history can be experienced in its entirety.
Totally user-friendly, the $48 million Wings of Liberty Museum will showcase the 5th Special Forces Group and the Night Stalkers-TF160 along with the 101st, including a 200-seat IMAX-style theater; displays of armor, infantry, and artillery equipment; vintage aircraft; and huge tableaux representing every campaign the fortï¿½s personnel have been a part of, from WWII through Iraq and Afghanistan, plus nonwar military operations. Linked nationally with the Smithsonian Institution, the museum will present history from the perspective of those who were there.
ï¿½Mannequins in these exhibits (called Faces of Valor) will have the features of actual current decorated soldiers, ï¿½ says Robert Nichols, executive director and chief operating officer for the Fort Campbell Historical Foundation. ï¿½Thereï¿½ll be a story about each one, so visitors can learn about what military personnel do. No other U.S. museum is doing this.ï¿½
A green building including geothermal heating and cooling, the facility will be LEED-certified silver and will have its own entrance right outside Fort Campbellï¿½s main gate for easy civilian access.
You can follow the project and learn more at www.wingsofliberty.com, (931) 431-2619.
1. What act of American Colonial rebellion in 1773 forced the British Parliament to take action that led directly to the formation of the First Continental Congress and thus to the beginning of the Revolutionary War?
2. Where and when did the opening battle of the Civil War take place?
3. What countries were major allies during both World War I and II?
4. What countries constituted the Axis powers during WWII?
5. During the Vietnam War, what 1968 battle that began with the breaking of a cease-fire and, though it resulted in a victory for the U.S. and South Vietnam, ultimately caused President Lyndon B. Johnson to withdraw as a candidate for re-election?
1. The Boston Tea Party.
2. The Battle of Fort Sumter, April 12-14, 1861, in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina.
3. France, United Kingdom, Russia (Soviet Union), U.S.A. During WWI, Italy was also a major ally, and during WWII, China became one.
4. Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Japan.
5. The Tet Offensive, which began January 30, 1968.
For more detailed answers, go to ï¿½military historyï¿½.
Capt. Stuart Jones with the First Infantry at Fort Knox works with the Army Family Readiness Group to help soldiersï¿½ families adjust to military life and connect online.
Read his story and also find a list of military history resources. Go to ï¿½One soldier’s storyï¿½.