100th Infantry Division Association Launches Operation LEGACY

During the meeting of the Board of Trustees held at The Virginia Military Institute (VMI) in Lexington, Virginia, in November, the Board unanimously voted to pursue the establishment of a two-part program for the Association's future.

Operation LEGACY will fulfill the Association's constitutional purposes and objects of "promoting and preserving the spirit of the Division as it existed in World War II" (Paragraph 1., Article II of the 100th Infantry Division Association Constitution) and continuing "to foster, by way of memorials, the principles of democracy for which our fellow soldiers died during World War II and other wars." (Paragraph 5., Article II) In fact, when fully funded and permanently endowed, the provisions of Operation LEGACY will ensure that these objectives are pursued long after the last member of the Association is gone-thus preserving the legacy of the 100th Infantry Division in World War II.

Concept of the Operation-A "Two-Pronged Attack"

The first part of the effort, the establishment of the "Living Legacy," is a permanently-endowed scholarship program at VMI, tentatively entitled, "The 100th Infantry Division-Lieutenant General Withers A. Burress Memorial Scholarship." Its purpose is to honor the service and accomplishments of the soldiers of the Division in WWII, and our commanding general, who was commissioned from VMI in the Class of 1914. This scholarship will help ensure the commissioning of officers each year into the combat arms of the United States Army, to provide the kind of outstanding leadership to the soldiers of the future that General Burress provided to us from the Division's activation through V-E Day and beyond. This "Living Legacy" will also ensure that each year, some officers entering the force are fully aware of the record and accomplishments of the 100th Infantry Division in WWII. The standards for winning these scholarships will be appropriately high, but will be focused on demonstrated commitment to the Army, high character, and leadership potential. While the recipients will have to be highly intelligent, they will not necessarily have to be Rhodes Scholar material; while they will have to be fit, they will not necessarily be national-class athletes. They will, however, have to satisfy the Army Professor of Military Science-perennially a Regular Army Infantry or Special Forces (Green Beret) full colonel-that they are morally committed to long-term Army service in the infantry, armor, or field artillery branches, and have proved themselves to be dedicated, caring, highly competent leaders. VMI strongly supports these prerequisites, and has enthusiastically agreed to administer our scholarships in consonance with our desires-as long as VMI exists. And it has existed since 1839!

The second, complementary part of the program is the "Learning Legacy," a permanent establishment at the George C. Marshall Library at VMI of an especially comprehensive archive and research center for studying the record of the 100th Infantry Division in WWII. The "100th Infantry Division and Lieutenant General Withers A. Burress Memorial Research Collection" will encourage and facilitate scholarship, research, and writing about the Division's wartime accomplishments, thus perpetuating the Division's heritage. The Association will contribute the materials, and VMI has agreed to house, maintain, staff, support, and publicize the collection-in perpetuity. As we have learned from Civil War history (and as we are learning from movies about WWII every year), the units that can be easily researched are the units that will be most often written about in the future. For example, the 25th Infantry Division Association has already established an archival collection of Vietnam-era documents at the Marshall Library, and in fewer than four years, it has already been used to produce at least one major book and numerous magazine and scholarly journal articles. By placing an extensive collection of our documents in the hands of the Marshall Library, we will be providing extensive access to our history not only to VMI cadets and faculty members-an important goal in itself-but also to the hundreds of serious military history scholars and authors who annually journey to the Marshall Library for in-depth research on the US Army in WWII. As Dr. (Colonel) Bruce Vandervort, Professor of History at VMI and editor in chief of the prestigious Journal of Military History, told our Board of Trustees, "The 100th Division's combat record in the European Theater has been and continues to be a subject of considerable interest to military historians. I can assure you that should the papers and other materials of the 100th Division be deposited at the Marshall Library here in Lexington, they would be used by large numbers of scholars who write on the Second World War." To reinforce the propriety of this effort, he added, "What makes the 100th Division Archive especially meaningful and relevant to students at VMI is that the 100th Division was a body of citizen soldiers, and the mission of VMI is precisely the education and molding of leaders of citizen soldiers. What better example and encouragement to hold out to them than the record to the 100th Division?"

Why VMI?

A quick answer is that General Burress graduated from there. While it is true that our Commanding General was highly regarded by all who knew him and that we were proud and fortunate to have served under him in wartime, these reasons by themselves would not be adequate for this momentous decision.

For the Association to make its choice, it was necessary to assure a partnership with an institution that was outstanding in every respect, as well as highly likely to survive intact well into the future. After a significant search and consideration process, the conclusion was positive and unanimous-VMI institutionalizes excellence: excellence of education and training; excellence of institutional character; and excellence of financial and historical stewardship.

In diligently conducting its search, the Board examined many areas of endeavor, including academic education, commitment to military excellence, conformance to tradition and Army heritage, collective morale, and financial integrity and responsibility. VMI was found superior in every category.

Academic Education, Military Excellence, Tradition, and Army Heritage. From the top down, the Board encountered outstanding officers running an impressive program. The President of VMI, Major General Bunting, commanded elements of the 9th Infantry Division in Vietnam, holds a Ph.D. and a CIB, and is well-known and highly respected as a soldier, an educator, an author, and a formidable intellectual and moral defender of American military tradition. The Dean of Academics holds the rank of Brigadier General in the Commonwealth of Virginia, but is a retired Army Green Beret Sergeant Major with an impeccable combat record in Vietnam. In addition to having earned the coveted "Special Forces" tab, Master Parachutist Badge, Freefall Parachutist's Badge and, of course, the CIB, he holds a Ph.D. in French Literature-like General Bunting, General Farrell is a true soldier-scholar. The Professor of Military Science at VMI-always a Regular Army Infantry or Special Forces colonel-perennially produces extraordinarily successful ROTC units. Last year's VMI cadets, for example, won the US Army Cadet Command's "Ranger Challenge" program (many Centurymen know what Ranger Training is about!), coming in first of 27 teams that made it to the final competition. These officers and many others made it clear that they enthusiastically welcomed a close and enduring relationship with the 100th Infantry Division Association, and that they were fully willing to provide the services we need to cement our legacy and fulfill our institutional goals well into the future.

Financial Integrity and Responsibility. VMI employs a combination of financial managers on their own staff and financial consultants who are absolute experts in their fields. In a recent statistical comparison of the five other major educational institutions in the Commonwealth of Virginia, VMI ranked first in terms of financial stability and growth. Our Board received comprehensive data from VMI Foundation representatives, and used the multiple opportunities they provided to ask serious, tough, detailed questions about the solvency, prudence, and financial integrity of the VMI Foundation. All of the answers were completely satisfactory. The VMI Foundation is more than a safe choice to which to entrust our legacy; it's a really smart choice.

Additionally, the VMI Foundation routinely administers endowments which include operations outside the confines of the campus in Lexington, VA. When we endow the "Living Legacy," the officers of the VMI Foundation have assured us that they would gladly take over and administer the several scholarships and awards the Association has traditionally presented to deserving soldiers at Fort Jackson (the annual Tychsen EIB Award and a small scholarship) and Fort Bragg (The Sergeant Bull EIB Award), as well as the Division's annual decoration of the graves of its war dead interred in Europe. The General Burress Marksmanship Award at VMI, supported by the 1966 endowment from our Association, would be administered by the VMI Foundation as well.

The Route of Advance

In addition to the continuing efforts of the Board of Trustees and Endowment Committee, these worthy projects will require money. We have to raise the funds to support the Living Legacy and the Learning Legacy, and the Board has a plan to do each.

Building the Learning Legacy. First, the greater part of the expenses involved in establishing and maintaining the Learning Legacy will be borne by the Marshall Library at VMI. Perpetually housing, staffing, maintaining, providing equipment for, and publicizing the collection is by far the most difficult and expensive part of this effort. All the Association has to do is assemble the collection of documents to which we want future researchers to have easy access-from the National Archives, the Army Military History Institute, the Center for Military History, the St. Louis Archives Annex, and the German Military Archives-and donate it to the Marshall Library. Currently, this part of the deal is scheduled to be funded by the proceeds from the expanded sales of souvenirs initiated in conjunction with Kit Bonn's Aegis Consulting Group at the last reunion. The cost to the Association of establishing the archive for the Learning Legacy at the Marshall Library will be approximately $20,000, which the Board and the leadership at Aegis believe can be raised in the coming years largely by continued and vigorous sales of official 100th Infantry Division souvenir items. The beauty of this plan is that the items themselves help to perpetuate and promote knowledge of the Division's wartime accomplishments; when taken in concert with the use of the proceeds to build a permanent historical collection at VMI, we achieve a synergy of effort that only grows with time and expense. Every time you buy and wear a 100th Infantry Division souvenir item-or present one as a gift-you not only promote awareness of our heritage, but raise money for the Learning Legacy!

Another means by which funds will be raised for the Learning Legacy will be through the sales of militaria-the stuff many of us brought home from the War, all of which are now bona fide military antiques. Of course, the BEST way to promote knowledge of the Division's heritage is to pass those items on to our children and grandchildren who will treasure and appreciate them in the years to come. However, some of us do not have such potential inheritors, or at least not ones who are really interested in their meaning or value. Rather than throw away those helmets, uniforms, bayonets, and other military antiques, or sell them for a fraction of their true value at the local Army-Navy store, in conjunction with Aegis Consulting Group, the Association will be providing a means by which all members can have their items identified and appraised by highly professional and knowledgeable experts, and, if they so choose, Association members may then donate the items for sale in support of the Learning Legacy. Members who choose to donate in this way will not only be recognized for their generosity, but will have the satisfaction of knowing that their prized war trophies are in the possession of museums or other collectors who truly appreciate their import and value. Furthermore, each donated item that is purchased will be accompanied by a certificate of provenance including the name and unit of the donor; in a day and age when WWII militaria is becoming increasingly copied and faked, these certificates will greatly enhance the value of the original, authentic pieces donated by 100th Infantry Division veterans. In this way, we again enhance the synergy of the plan: the collectors who pay to acquire the donated militaria will forever know that the piece came from a Century Division veteran!

Building the Living Legacy. This much more ambitious part of the plan will have to depend overwhelmingly on donations from veterans, their families, and other friends of the Association. Our objective is to raise $300,000 over a two-year period from the roughly 3,000 members of the 100th Infantry Division Association we have today. The simple math is therefore $100 per member. We fully recognize that there will be members who will not or can not contribute, some who cannot contribute the full $100, and others who will contribute more. Nevertheless, we firmly believe that this is an achievable goal in pursuit of leaving our bootprints in history. While it may take the gang in Washington, D.C. many years to complete the proposed WWII memorial, we are in position to make our own memorial now-a Living Legacy.

What We Ask

We do not ask you for money now. We do ask for your support and pledge of funds. To this end, you will find attached an acknowledgment form. It is extremely important that you complete and return it promptly. In due course, procedural instructions will follow.

Tom Brokaw has graciously called us "the greatest generation." Let's not miss the opportunity to clearly identify the 100th Infantry Division as an integral part of this greatest generation's legacy.

Patton and MacArthur Had it Right

In closing, we should keep the words of two of America's most famous WWII soldiers in mind as we move forward with Operation LEGACY.

Whatever his shortcomings in other ways, George Patton had a gift for expressing soldierly thought. When on the eve of their introduction to combat, he reminded his men that when their grandchildren asked them what they did "in the great World War II," they wouldn't have to say that they "shoveled shit in Louisiana." In his unique and colorful style, he was simply saying that as fighting men they were about to establish a proud heritage, one that no one would ever be able to take away.

When he stood before Congress for the last time, another controversial but eloquent soldier, Douglas MacArthur, reminded the members of the joint session of the words of the old soldiers' song, "Old Soldiers Never Die," which were, of course, that they "just fade away." Such is the unfortunate lot of all mortals, and few are more aware of that reality than old soldiers such as we. But our legacy can live forever.

Letter from The President

Other Notes of Interest

If you have questions about Operation LEGACY. . .