The Ninth Infantry Division Association was begun immediately after World War II by some far thinking officers and enlisted men. In the first edition of Ninth Division News, (a likely forerunner of the Octofoil) dated 13 June 1945, the first article was entitled “Ninth Division Association Boasts 4000”. Between 8 May 1945 and the publication of this newsletter, several officers and men met to form the Association and to draft a constitution and by-laws.
The purpose of the organization was to perpetuate the memory of their fallen comrades, to preserve the esprit de corps of the Division, to assist in preserving peace of the world and to aid members and former members of the Division. Initiation fee was $10.00 with $1.00 annual dues. Membership was open to any person ever assigned to the Ninth Division and to present or past members of the 746th Tank Battalion, 899th Tank Destroyer Battalion 376th Automatic Weapons Battalion who served overseas with the Division.
The organizers listed were the following: Brigadier General Reese M. Howell, Brigadier General Hammond D. Birks, Lt. Colonel Thomas J. Gentry, Jr., Colonel Van H. Bond, Colonel Peter O. Ward, Colonel John G. Van Houten, Colonel William C. Westmoreland, Lt. Colonel Jefferson D. Childs, Captain Linsey Nelson. Also, included were M/Sgt. Michael Puzak, M/Sgt. Jack E, Harvey, T/Sgt. Walter Murphy, Cpl. R.W. Elmea, 1st Sgt. Herbert Parkes, T/4 Harold B. Logan. It appears that the above soldiers were representatives from most of the key Division and Regiments and support units.
General Howell was listed as the temporary Chairman of the Board and Lt. Colonel Gentry was the acting Secretary. The final draft of the organizational papers was scheduled after the date of the newspaper. Unfortunately, there is no record of this or other organizational meetings while the Division was still in Germany.
The first annual meeting was held at the Hotel New Yorker in New York City on August 2-3, 1946. The featured speaker was General Jacob L. Devers, commanding general of Army Ground forces. Approximately 1,000 “battle-tried” members of the 9th Division were present.
The second annual reunion was held in Columbus, OH at Desher-Wallick Hotel on June 12-14, 1947. Approximately 1,500 people attended.
The third reunion get together was held at the Benjamin Franklin Hotel in Philadelphia, PA on July 29-31, 1948. See the attached photo.
The 1949 Reunion was held in Pittsburgh, PA between June 30th and July 2nd and the 1950 Reunion was held at the Sherman Hotel in Chicago, IL between July 13-14th.
Next issue the Association in the 1950’s and 1960’s with the growing of their families and the return to Ft. Bragg for the first time since 1942.
After the successful formation and adoption of the by-laws and constitution of the Association on June 19, 1945, it was reported to have over 10,000 registered members and some $90,268.56 in the treasury at the end of 1945. (Initial membership registration was $10 plus one dollar yearly dues.) Interest remained strong for the next several years with five large, successful Reunions in New York City; Columbus, Ohio; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Pittsburg, Pennsylvania and Chicago, Illinois. The first reunion hosted over 1200 people!
Several regional associate veteran groups were started around the country which held more frequent local meetings, picnics and other social gatherings throughout the year. There were 12 groups listed in 1960 including one in Europe. The wives also started an auxiliary group early which met at the national reunions until 2008.
Membership waned to about 1500 dues paying members in the 1950’s and the reunions became smaller as 9th veterans got married, started families and found careers. There were several Octofoil articles, urging the men of the 9th to renew their memberships and encouraged them to make the national reunions a family vacation.
Eight Stars to Victory became available for purchase at $3.50 in 1947. The Association invested over $56,000 to have the history published. Unfortunately, no one thought to have the book copyrighted and a private publisher started reprinting the book for profit several years later that did not benefit the Association.
In 1951, the Octofoil stated that the Association was the best financed military association and nationally recognized organization in the country out of 106 military associations. General Manton S. Eddie, the 9th Infantry Division commander until March 1945, was credited with early insight into the success of the Association. With the exception of Chicago, Columbus and Detroit, the annual reunions were held at eastern cities through 1961. The 1962 reunion was held at Ft. Bragg as the membership fondly remembered their time there.
It is interesting to note that 9th members known as the “5th Platoon” (first black combat soldiers that were inserted in several 9th Infantry Division units) were not encouraged to become Association members. A couple letters from 5th Platoon men were published in an early Octofoil that said that they did not feel welcomed. This oversight probably reflected the still prevalent racial segregation in some areas of the country in the late 1940’s and 1950’s.
A scholarship fund was started in 1961 by the Association with priority given to the children of 9th men lost during WWII. The first recipient was Albert Stidman.
Early in the formation of the Association, two men played predominant roles for many years in promoting and coordinating the Association. Daniel Quinn served as the National Secretary and Paul Plunkett was the Octofoil editor. The Octofoil was initially published monthly which was later reduced to fewer annual issues. Considerable information was published such as membership lists and reunion attendees with their addresses. Gold Star parents’ letters were printed looking for information about their loved ones’ death along with Association members looking for their comrades.
Two other men, Father Edward T. Connors and General William Westmoreland, were often written about in the 1950’s - 60’s. Father Connors was a graduate of College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA and beloved chaplain of the 9th Infantry Division. He was awarded a Silver Star for gallantry in finding and rescuing a young soldier at night who would not leave his dead brother from the center of a live mine field. Father Connors jeep’s name during the war was called “Connor’s Coffee Shop” that circulated the battlefields offering comfort to the soldiers.
Father Connors, first started holding a Memorial Mass in 1946 while he was the priest at two parishes, St. Mary’s Church in North Grafton, MA and St. Peter’s Church in Worcester, MA. Some three hundred 9th Division men from all units were in attendance every year along with their family and friends. In 1952, Father Connors started holding the Memorial Mass at the Immaculate Conception Church in Worcester, MA which continues today. The mass and ceremony grew to a two day event with over 1,000 people in attendance. On November 11, 1962 a memorial was dedicated to the “boys” of Father Connors, a list of the 4581 soldiers lost during WWII was included. Later, the Vietnam War casualties were added to the memorial.
General William Westmoreland was a 1936 graduate of West Point and a career Army officer. He served in the 47th Infantry Regiment Headquarters Company, then Chief of Staff for the 9th Infantry Division and was one of the original founders of the Association. He was elected National President in 1956. Later he became the commander of American Forces in South Vietnam, Superintendent of West Point and finally the Army Chief of Staff. While not documented, it is believed that he was instrumental in having the 9th Infantry Division reactivated for this war. Later, this became a major membership issue which threatened the existence of the Association.
In summary, the Association started out strong with early large membership with encouragement of top officers just after the war and a healthy dues structure. This enabled the association to establish an active and well-read newsletter, underwrite a comprehensive history book, establishment of numerous regional affiliated groups and formation of an auxiliary women’s group. Several strong Association members and national officers lead the Association during the drop of membership, but encouraged an active member base to uphold the organization goals and to remember the lost men of the 9th Infantry Division through a large, annual Memorial Mass and dedicated a memorial monument in Worcester, MA.
Next issue will discuss the dedication of the 1982 Ft. Bragg Monument, the difficult issue of membership following the Vietnam War, and the evolution of the Association into the 1990’s and beyond.
During the 1960’s, the Association was starting to go through a mid-life crisis. The members and families were enjoying successful reunions in Philadelphia, New York City, Chicago, Boston, Atlanta, Washington D.C. and other locations. But unfortunately, the list of names on the “Taps Sounded” column was growing with the passing of now older, founding members.
The Octofoil editor Paul Plunkett died in 1967 and Walter O’Keeffe and Daniel Quinn replaced him with minimal interruption in the newsletter. Dan Quinn continued as the national secretary. Later, General Smyth died in 1969. Smyth was the 9th ID commander during WWII, was the first Association president and was the author of the first by-laws.
The Silver Anniversary Reunion was held in New York City in 1970. One of their own and career Army officer, General William “Westy” Westmoreland, had been promoted to commander of American Forces in South Vietnam in 1964 and was the reunion keynote speaker; Father Edward T. Connors was the master of ceremonies.
The 9th Infantry Division was reactivated and in training at Fort Riley, KS prior to deployment to Vietnam in 1967. The Association was very supportive with the Board of Governors sending a letter of support to Westy. One member even recommended him for President, Father Connors held a special mass for the new Ninth men and one member sent several large Octofoil emblems to the troops in Vietnam.
A narrative was started in the January-February 1967 Octofoil about expanding the Association membership requirements to include new Vietnam veterans. But, a Board of Governors’ by-laws subcommittee recommended to keep the membership requirements the same, limited to WWII vets who served between December 7, 1941 to May 7, 1945. This became a very contentious issue among the WWII membership for many years. In 1970, the Board voted 5-4 against amending membership, but it was pointed out that the by-laws amendment needed to be published in the Octofoil and then voted on by the general membership. The proposed changes were published and the Association membership voted against the membership change, but voted for an increase in membership dues to $5.00 per year at the 1971 reunion.
An “Association of the Octofoil” was formed by the Vietnam veterans at Fort Lewis, WA. Later, an invitation was extended to the Association membership by MG Volney F. Warner from Fort Lewis for the 59th Anniversary of the formation of the 9th Infantry Division (WWI).
Westmoreland was promoted to Army Chief of Staff after return from Vietnam in 1969 and retired in 1972. In an article in the Octofoil he wrote that “…the Vietnam veterans need recognition too.” Westy ran and lost the South Carolina Governor then wrote a book of his Vietnam experiences. In 1976, Westy was asked by the “Association of the Octofoil” to be their agent to negotiate a merger between the two associations. He addressed the Board about this issue with no resolution. In 1977 the Board suggested a five year moratorium on the membership issue. The general membership voted again against the Vietnam membership proposal.
The Vietnam membership was raised again several times in the 1980s to the mid-1990s. Westmoreland wrote a letter to the Board and general membership in 1992 saying that “…harm has been done.” The combined membership from two wars was the most difficult issue that faced the Association and was not resolved until much later.
I believe that the Vietnam War was too politically sensitive for some Association members and they were afraid that their WWII “good war” association would be overtaken by the more numerous and younger Vietnam veterans. A frustrated Westmoreland left the Association and died in 2005.
Matt Urban was awarded a belated Medal of Honor by President Jimmy Carter at the Washington, D.C. reunion in July 1980. Urban died in 1995 as the most decorated soldier in U.S. history. Later the Association created a monument to his memory at his Arlington National Cemetery grave site and dedicated it on April 1, 2000.
In 1982, a Fort Bragg monument was dedicated with Westy speaking at the dedication. Ironically, the monument was also dedicated to both the WWII and Vietnam veterans. The Association members raised almost $5,144 for the $3,500 monument; the unused funds were deposited into the scholarship fund.
The Association learned of the potential demise of the Remagen (Germany) Ludendorff Bridge towers and then the creation of a Peace Museum by Remagen Mayor Hans-Peter Kurten at the bridgehead. The selling of stone chip paper weights from the demolished mid-river bridge columns was promoted in the Octofoil as a Peace Museum fundraiser some 33 years after the fall of the bridge in 1945. Cost was $28.00.
Beloved Father Edward Connors died in 1986. There was discussion about abandoning the annual memorial service at the Immaculate Conception Church in Worcester, MA that Father Connors started in 1946. Ronald Murphy stepped up to continue the service that continues to this day by Father Reiley.
1995 brought the 50th Reunion in New Orleans and a 50th European trip to Remagen with bridge history author Ken Hechler.
Finally, the summer issue of the 1998 Octofoil first mentions (with picture) the formation of the new “Son and Daughters” organization as part of the Ninth Infantry Division Association.