RICHMOND – Transitioning from the 80th Infantry Division to the 80th Airborne Division to the 80th Division (Institutional Training), the 80th Training Command (The Army School System) commemorates its 100th anniversary in 2017.
Evolving in more than just its name, the 80th TC continues to be a lethal, capable and combat ready Army Reserve unit that stands on the foundation of 100 years of dedication and service, starting with World War I.
Established in August 1917 at Camp Lee, now known as Fort Lee, the unit was given the nickname the “Blue Ridge Division” because of Soldiers who were primarily draftees were from Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. The Soldiers stood with mismatched uniforms with one distinct thing – a unit should patch with three blue mountain peaks affectionately representing the only states with the Blue Ridge Mountains.
“My dad served in WWI under the 80th. He started in 1917. He was wounded on April 4, 1918 when shrapnel hit him. He was eventually discharged in 1919,” said Navy Capt. retired Lee S. Anthony, an 80th Division Veterans Association member and son of Pvt. Lee Hill Anthony, a WWI veteran.
His father’s service in the Army and to the country propelled Anthony to take an active part in memorializing the 80th’s involvement in WWI.
“I found stacks and stacks of papers from WWI, and I knew I had to do something with them. I gathered all the information and wrote a book that includes everything about the 80th’s involvement in WWI. I even included a few pictures of my dad with my uncle who served in the Navy during WWI,” added Anthony.
During World War I, the 80th Division, comprised of four regiments, two field artillery units, and one machine gun battalion, reached full strength with 23,000 Soldiers and distinguished themselves near the Artois sector with heavy action in the Somme Offensive of 1918 and in the Meuse-Argonne. During the Meuse Argonne campaign, the 80th Division was the only unit that saw action during each phase of the offensive for a total of three times.
Fast forward 100 years.
Soldiers, veterans, retirees and civilians from the 80th TC and the 80th Division Veterans Association gathered to celebrate the centennial anniversary of the agency that formed from the legacy of those men in 1917.
Maj. Gen. A.C. Roper, the commanding general of the 80th TC, at the time of the dinner, served as a guest speaker. He highlighted the importance of paying homage to the past and was honored to be a part of the 80th’s legacy. “It’s a perfect night to honor the past and the 100 years of service, and to talk about the present as we transform for the future,” he said.
“It’s the DNA of Soldiers like Pvt. Lee Hill Anthony who served with Company F, 317th Infantry Regiment, 80th Division who fought valiantly during WWI and was very well decorated by earning the Purple Heart, the Victory Medal with 3 battle clasps and a host of other awards.
“That DNA runs through this command today from WWI when Commander Cronkhite recognized his men with the statement, the 80th ‘only moves forward.’ That motto has been carried with the Division since 1918 and still prominently displayed in our headquarters.”
Despite the 80th being deactivated at Camp Lee on June 26, 1919, the end of WWI did not mark the end of the 80th. The unit would once again support another major operation approximately 17 years later.
“I was drafted on August 9, 1944, and sent to Florida to complete my basic training. I was there through December of 1944 and not a month after my training, I was heading toward Liverpool,” said Burt Marsh, a World War II Veteran assigned to Company M, 319th Infantry Regiment, 80th Infantry Division.
“I remember when we pulled out of port, I looked at the Statue of Liberty. My first thought was I would never see her again,” Marsh added.
Although in his early 90s, Marsh vividly remembered his time serving during WWII. “The first of February 1945, I remember wading through water up to my knees in pitch black during the middle of the night. We tried to cross the river, but there was heavy artillery so we fell back. The next night we tried again and were successful,” he said.
Marsh’s years of service and multiple excursions to Germany and France were part of the 80th’s mission in WWII. During this time, the Division landed at Normandy and fought its way across Northern France, Belgium and Germany. At the war’s end, the 80th had served more than 277 days of combat and had captured 200,000 enemy troops.
During his speech, Roper gave special thanks to the five WWII Veterans in attendance and highlighted the importance of the unit continuing to focus on “only moving forward.”
“As an Army, we must change. The enemies that threaten our Country has changed. Our way of life has changed. Technology has changed. We must be more efficient than ever before. The 80th has changed through the years. 100 years, and it continues to change and transform. Embrace change,” Roper added.
Even though the Division transitioned to the 80th Training Command in October 2008, the unit continues to uphold the lineage of support in contingency operations from the 80th Division.
Two of the 80th units were called to service in support of Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm. In 1990, the 424th Truck Company deployed to Kuwait and Iraq, and the 3-318th Infantry One Station Unit Training was mobilized at Fort Eustis, Va., to train Individual Ready Reserve Soldiers for onward movement.
The 80th also supported Operation Enduring Freedom in 2004 by deploying 29 Soldiers to setup Institutional training programs for the Afghan Army for Quartermaster, Ordinance, Engineers and Transportation military occupational specialties in Afghanistan. A year later more than 750 80th Soldiers mobilized and deployed to Iraq in support of Operational Iraqi Freedom, the largest deployment of 80th Division Soldiers since WWII.
“From WWI to WWII and through all of our Nation’s battles and even today in the Middle East, we have Soldiers that are serving. The 80th is always providing well trained and ready forces to defend our Nation’s way of life,” Roper said.
Today, the 80th Training Command (TASS) trains multi-component Soldiers in 12 career military fields for combat support and combat service support, including engineering, health services, supply, and information operations.
The 80th TC consists of three training division multiple brigades, battalions, training centers, regional and high-tech training sites, noncommissioned officer academies, a training relationship with a unit in Hawaii and a support relationship with a unit in Germany.
Over the past Century, the Soldiers of the 80th Division earned more than 1,144 medals and citations including 31 Purple Hearts, 469 Bronze Stars, 84 Combat Infantry Badges and 187 Combat Action Badges.
“Excellence comes out of the little things, and the little things make big things. Leaders must lead by example. The Soldiers of the 80th have excelled in battle and they’ve excelled in peace,” said Roper. “The 80th has left an enduring legacy that continues … today.”