President Donald Trump this week announced that he will award unrecognized members of the 30th Infantry Division — called the "Old Hickory Division" for namesake President Andrew Jackson of Tennessee — the Presidential Unit Citation for their heroism in action in Mortain, France, during World War II in August 1944.
More than 75 years ago, soldiers of the 30th Infantry Division slept in their foxholes after hastily taking defensive positions around the small town of Mortain, France, a White House news release states. Members of the division woke to find themselves under attack by an entire German Panzer Corps as Adolf Hitler gambled to keep American forces from breaking out of the Normandy beachhead and into the open countryside, the president's statement reads. The Nazi plan required the Panzer forces to cut through the 30th Infantry Division en route to the sea.
The 30th Infantry Division's response would prove to be decisive in blunting that attack.
The "Old Hickory Division" was made up of soldiers hailing from National Guard units from Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina – all states closely associated with President Andrew Jackson – and they proved as tough as their unit's namesake, according to the statement.
See the Chattanooga News-Free Press Jan. 22, 1945, edition, page 3View
The situation they faced on Aug. 6, 1944, was dire.
Old Hickory Division forces found themselves confronted by overwhelming enemy armor, German Panzers that broke through their lines.
But the Americans wouldn't relent. Cooks, clerks and drivers were pressed into service as riflemen. The division's artillery protected its encircled and isolated elements with a constant barrage of fire, according to the statement.
At daybreak, American and British close air support arrived to help. By the afternoon of Aug. 7, the German attack stalled and the division quickly counterattacked to relieve its trapped elements, through another five days of fierce fighting.
Although the action happened in August 1944, it wasn't until January 1945 that folks back in Chattanooga heard many details.
The Jan. 22, 1945, edition of the Chattanooga News-Free Press had an early report on Page 3 under the headline, "Exploits of Famed 30th Division Against Nazis Told in Release."
Beneath the headline is a photo of a local Old Hickory Division member who sent the release to the paper, Pfc. James E. Stevenson of Chattanooga, identifying him as the son of L.C. Stevenson and a graduate of Chattanooga High School. Stevenson worked at Southern Auto Co., before entering the service in November 1942 and later was sent overseas in May 1944, according to newspaper archives.
Stevenson's release spoke of the 30th Infantry Division's action leading up to the Aug. 6, 1944, battle and of the bravery which President Trump recognized at Mortain.
"There infantry riflemen with bazookas, artillery and tank destroyers, cooks and messengers, with the help of U.S. planes and R.A.F. rocket-firing Typhoons, finally threw back the German tanks in a battle that see-sawed for three days before the Germans concluded that they were no match for one American division," the News-Free Press story reads.
More than 2,000 Old Hickory Soldiers were killed or wounded during the weeklong battle, but their efforts and sacrifice would have a profound impact on the course of history, the White House statement reads.
After the war, eight units within the 30th Infantry Division were recognized with the Presidential Unit Citation.
"Today, I am proud to direct the Army to honor the remainder of the Division and attached units with the Presidential Unit Citation for their heroic stand at Mortain," President Trump said Tuesday in the statement. "This action rightfully recognizes our Veterans who triumphed against incredible odds, as well as those who died during a critical battle that helped ensure the Allied victory in Europe."
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