Military Matters by Steve Vogel

Once Again, a Determined Push for a Tough Objective

By Steve Vogel
Thursday, September 6, 2007

Rudy Zamula was toiling away in the National Archives in College Park this spring when he found what he was looking for: documents going back six decades that he believes support the case for his old Army unit to receive new honors.

The 83-year-old Potomac resident, a retired CIA employee, has a job at the Archives declassifying documents. In his free time, he often looks through the records of the Army's 83rd Infantry Division, with which he served during World War II.

After landing at Normandy in 1944 and fighting its way through the Battle of the Bulge, the division raced across northern Germany to the Elbe River in spring 1945. The 83rd was known as the Thunderbolt Division, but it was more colorfully nicknamed "the ragtag circus" because the division commander, Maj. Gen. Robert C. Macon, ordered soldiers to use any vehicles with wheels to speed their advance.

The resulting cavalcade included many captured German vehicles, among them jeeps, tanks, motorbikes, buses and at least one fire engine carrying infantrymen and a banner on its rear bumper that read, "Next Stop: Berlin." The division did not stop until it had secured a position across the Elbe.

A 'Bold' and 'Arduous' Drive

For years, veterans from the 83rd have made the case that the division's accomplishments were worthy of the Presidential Unit Citation, the highest award given to an Army unit. The division was nominated for the citation after Germany's surrender but did not receive the award.

Lou Gomori, 82, the 83rd Division Association historian, worked with the office of Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) to submit an application in 2005 to the Army's Military Awards Branch. This year, he learned that the request had been rejected.

Sifting for new evidence at the National Archives, Zamula looked without luck through the 176 boxes bearing the records of the 83rd for the original nomination.

Military records archivists suggested that Zamula examine boxes from the division's higher headquarters, the XIX Corps and the 9th Army.

Zamula soon hit pay dirt. "Lo and behold, there was a recommendation for a unit citation," he recalled.

Among the more than 100 pages of supporting documents was a letter from the 9th Army commander, Lt. Gen. W.H. Simpson, recommending that the division be awarded the unit citation.

"It's pretty exciting finding these at this late date," Zamula said.

The proposed citation states that the 83rd "accomplished this role of 'breakthrough and exploitation' in a bold smashing and arduous drive which achieved such unprecedented infantry mobility and coordination of all its component elements as to mark an epochal accomplishment in the history of our arms."

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