30th Infantry Division recognized in ceremony for efforts during WWII
Posted July 25, 2020 8:51 p.m. EDT
Updated July 26, 2020 12:06 a.m. EDT
Raleigh, N.C. — They were crucial to pushing back Hitler’s forces in World War II. On Saturday, they received an honor many felt they deserved.
The 30th Infantry Division, formed from National Guard soldiers in North Carolina and surrounding states, were recognized in a special ceremony on Saturday. It was a recognition decades in the making.
After D-Day in World War II, the division, nicknamed “Old Hickory,” was tasked with holding back a massive counterattack by German tank divisions in the small French town of Mortain. Though they were successful, more than 2,000 soldiers were killed or wounded in the intense fighting.
- Photos from Saturday's event
- Videos from Saturday's event
- President Trump's announcement of recognition
On Aug. 6, 1944, multiple Nazi Panzer divisions attacked the 30th Infantry Division, and for six days at Mortain, the Heroes of "Old Hickory" fought the Nazis back, and Mortain and the Normandy Campaign was saved.
After the war, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower's European Theater Historian, S.L.A Marshall, determined that the 30th Infantry Division was the best infantry division of its category in the European Theater and deserved the highest decoration that could be awarded to a unit for bravery, but bureaucracy and new Army award policies prevented it.
King Kenny, 96, said he was not sure he would ever see the division honored. He was one of six survivors who were at the ceremony, which was held at the Joint Force Headquarters in Raleigh.
President Donald Trump awarded the 30th Infantry Division the Presidential Unit Citation in March, but the coronavirus pandemic delayed an official ceremony until now.
"I had my 20th birthday, June the 3rd on the way to the port," Kenny said. "There are so many stories that go around."
NBC’s Tom Brokaw profiled Old Hickory during a special on World War II.
"It's an achievement that was long overdue, but having gotten it, it fills the gap that we have been recognized for what we did over there," Kenny said.
The ceremony itself was a reminder of the lesson they taught more than 75 years ago.
"Don't back up, don't give up," Kenny said.
Tony Jaber, is 95 years old, a resident of Raleigh and an “Old Hickory” veteran of the Battle of Mortain and the Battle of the Bulge.
“I would take six months in the Bulge over six days in Mortain. Those were the hardest days of the war for me,” Jaber said of the ferocity at the Battle of Mortain.
Others who were part of the group who couldn't make the ceremony watched a live stream of the events online.