Robert Baumer, along with three other individuals, are working to make sure the remaining guardsmen of the 30th Infantry Division during World War II are issued a presidential unit citation for their service.
The year is 1946 and President Dwight Eisenhower has signed a presidential unit citation for a band of 12,000 national guardsmen who became the top infantry division in Europe during World War II.
However, it’s been over 70 years and the award was never issued. Local author Robert Baumer has made it his mission in the last three years to change that.
“They spent all of their years knowing that they had been awarded this high honor, but never formally had handed to them,” Baumer said. “Many died knowing that.”
The men were part of the 30th Infrantry Division, nicknamed Old Hickory due to their ties to the Tennessee towns Andrew Jackson impacted. Out of the 12,000 men originally in the division, Baumer estimates fewer than 250 are still alive.
Baumer, who just published a book about the Old Hickory Infantry Division, is working with three other individuals to see to it that the men’s award makes its way home—just like the Old Hickory division did at the end of World War II.
A bit of a history lesson
The Old Hickory Infantry Division was called up to war in 1940, shortly after it started. They were recommended for a presidential unit citation, which is an award for heroic actions in combat, due to their defense during the Battle of Mortain in France from Aug. 5-11, 1944.
Baumer said this was a last desperate attempt by Hitler to stop American armies in Normandy before they could reach the border of Germany. For five days, the Old Hickory division guardsmen held off about 80,000 German soldiers and 300 tanks and armored vehicles in Mortain.
“The praise was widespread at the time,” Baumer said.
After the war, Eisenhower wanted to recognize all the divisions who served valiantly. In order to prioritize the awards, the former president wanted to rank the divisions. The Old Hickory Infantry Division ended up first.
“They spent all of their years knowing that they had been awarded this high honor, but never formally had handed to them.Many died knowing that.”
Robert Baumer, author of "Old Hickory, The 30th Division: The Top-Rated American Infantry Division in Europe in World War II"
“The Germans said ‘When you stopped us at Mortain, you ended our hopes in Europe during World War II,’” Baumer said. “So it was a very significant battle.”
Baumer said despite the fact the battle of Mortain was the turning point of World War II in Europe, the achievements of these men were “swept under the rug.”
Why the award was never issued
Baumer said there’s a couple of reasons why the presidential unit citation wasn’t issued. One was the fact that the Old Hickory Division were just national guardsmen. He said at the time of World War II, the National Guard comprised about half of the U.S.’s military forces.
By the time it was time to issue the award the division had been deactivated.
So they had no advocates,” Baumer said. “They’d all gone home.”
Baumer calls the second reason why the award was never issued a “dirty little secret.” Through his investigation of army channels for his book, he found out the U.S. was looking into the possibility of invading Japan.
“Had the Old Hickory division been awarded this presidential unit citation, they would’ve achieved a sufficiency of accumulated points to have been discharged,” Baumer said, referring to National Guard Reserve Retirement System.
If the division had been discharged, the U.S. wouldn’t have been able to use Old Hickory in Japan.
Why it matters
It goes down to esprit de corps, or pride, of being in the National Guard, Baumer said. Because Old Hickory’s story has been buried for so many years, he said it is inspiration and motivation for the National Guard, which currently has about 340,000 guardsmen.
“The fact that a National Guard division has been denied this recognition denies all of our current guard members the shout-out that they should have about guard pride,” Baumer said.
Baumer is working with North Carolina Nationa Guard Major General Gregory Lusk and Col. Wes Morrison, as well as with independent filmmaker Lou Adams to get President Donald Trump to issue the presidential citation to the remaining men and the deceased’s next of kin.
Baumer said if people are interested in joining their effort, all they need to do is contact either U.S. Senator Marco Rubio or U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis on their part.
“We just have to change some minds,” Baumer said. “We need to open up some minds. That’s all we’re trying to do here.”