Robert Baumer continues to make sure the National Guardsmen of the 30th Infantry division are not forgotten.
A year ago, Ormond Beach resident Robert Baumer and others across the U.S., including a filmmaker, national guard officials and political figures, were hopeful that the Army would issue the "Old Hickory" 30th Infantry Division its long-overdue presidential unit citation for their role during World War II.
This band of national guardsmen became the top infantry division in Europe during the war. They were recommended for the award due to their defense during the Battle of Mortain in France in 1944, where 12,000 guardsmen held off a force of 80,000 German soldiers armed with 300 tanks for five days,
Earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of the Army Mark Esper issued a letter stating that 30th Infantry Division will not receive a presidential unit citation, citing U.S. Code for considerations of proposals for "Military decorations not previously submitted in a timely fashion."
“It’s a sharp stick to the eye," Baumer said.
Baumer said the paperwork for the award was written up and approved over 70 years ago, but the award was never made because the National Guard unit was disbanded. There was no one left to lobby on their behalf, Baumer said.
The decision was reached during a closed meeting of the Senior Army Decorations Board, and was then passed on to Esper, who had final say.
For Maj. Gen. Gregory Lusk, commanding general of the North Carolina National Guard, the news was "very disappointing," and said he would like to know why the citation was denied to a group of guardsmen who deserve it.
“We’ll never understand what was debated or discussed unless somebody that’s on the board is willing to disclose that, which I doubt it because they’re usually sworn to secrecy," Lusk said.
He said he's felt anger at some points over the issue, a sharp contrast to the optimism he and the others held going into this. He said there are many issues the Army "can dig its heels in" for, but that this wasn't one of them.
“None of us would like to think that a regular Army that needs the services of the National Guard would ever look down upon the kind of contribution they make as less than the regular Army, but this is beginning to, based on the most recent happening, sound more and more like that."
Robert Baumer, Ormond Beach resident
“I cannot think of a logical reason as to why they would turn it down," Lusk said. "I think this is such a potentially positive news story for the Army right now.”
Making the denial more puzzling is the fact that "overdue" presidential unit citations were awarded to Army units in 1994 and 2004.
“None of us would like to think that a regular Army that needs the services of the National Guard would ever look down upon the kind of contribution they make as less than the regular Army, but this is beginning to, based on the most recent happening, sound more and more like that," Baumer said.
Since there is no rapid avenue for appeal, Lusk and Baumer will now work to get these veterans recognized in another way. Baumer
would like Congress to issue the Old Hickory division a congressional gold medal, the country's highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements. World War II recipients of this award include the Navajo Code Talkers, the Tuskegee Airmen and the Doolittle Raiders.
He will be writing a letter to each member of Congress for this initiative.
“It may not be as hard as it sounds because I think even in this world of political division, there’s still the decency within the people to want to do the right things, particularly for World War II veterans,” Baumer said.
But Baumer and Lusk are racing against time.
Only 200 or so guardsmen of the 30th Infantry Division are believed to be still be alive. Just six attended this year's reunion. Two guardsmen Baumer knows personally were recently diagnosed with cancer.
Ideally, Baumer and Lusk would hope this group of veterans is recognized while some are still living. Knowing some of them personally and knowing their heroic acts keeps Baumer going.
“It just gives me the inspiration to continue to fight this fight for those that still survive," Baumer said.