Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Eighth

While I’m on the military thematic—see yesterday’s posting—and with the calendar helpfully cooperating, I will mark July 1 by remembering the 8th U.S. Infantry Division, which was my home for five years. Known as the Golden Arrow Division, this military formation came into being in the twentieth century and took part in World War I, World War II, the Cold War, and finally in Desert Storm. It has seen three activations. The first came in January of 1918—thus too late to do any fighting, but the division went overseas anyway. Today is the anniversary of its second activation, on July 1, 1940; the “Crazy Eights” saw some serious action in World War II, beginning with the Normandy landings. It was sent home and deactivated in 1945. When I joined the Army in 1956, the division was just being reformed at Fort Carson, Colorado, preparing for deployment to Europe under what was called Operation Gyroscope, the concept being that entire divisions would be rotated in and out of theaters of operation, ours being U.S. Army Europe (abbreviated USAREUR, pronounced as “You, sir, are.”). We went over to replace the 9th Division—but after we gyrated, the operation was evidently suspended because the 8th remained in Germany until 1992, when it was deactivated; it only sent some units to Southwest Asia to participate in Desert Storm. Thus it came about that I served in this division during the most quiet time in its entire history. Not a shot was fired anywhere during my time in the military. The most robust military activity that took place in that blessed time was a brief landing of Marines on the shores of Lebanon for a few days. That was under Eisenhower; no combat took place, no casualties. All in all I have been lucky. In many ways the Army was my real education for life; there I learned what institutions were—and how to work. My chief military activities—after learning the deadly art of lofting mortars on huge stacks of old wrecks obtained from junkyards—was to manage maneuver damage claims with my left hand while my right hand administered the complicated process under which soldiers were permitted to marry what our jargon labeled “indigenous personnel”—German women, in other words. As luck would have it, one of the cases I managed was my own marriage to Brigitte. Make love, not war. But semper be prepared!

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