Birth of our Association
by Kenwood Ross, in The Taro Leaf, Vol. 51(3), August 1997, pages 17-18
It was mid-August 1945. Hiroshima and Nagasaki had been atomized. The surrender of the Japanese had been announced, August 15th. The Division was in the midst of its last campaign of WW II - Mindanao, Philippine Islands.
It had been the first army unit to fight 33 months earlier on December 7th, 1941 - along with its sister Division, the 25th both at Schofield. But now on Mindanao, the fighting actually continued on into mid-September. The Japanese in the jungles behind Davao either were not getting the word or were refusing to believe it. Division had to assume a defensive position for about another four weeks - thus "Last to fight" as well. All the while, Maj. Gen. Roscoe B. Woodruff, the beloved Division Commander, called a meeting circa August 20th - the precise date is not certain.
Headquarters was at Taloma Beach on Davao Gulf - about 5 miles SW of Davao City. Gen. Woodruff called a few of us for a meeting to consider organizing an Association - just as all Divisions and other units were doing. We met in a grove of palm trees along the beach. I recall it well as we sat on fallen logs while we met. At that meeting, as I recall, were: Gen. Roscoe B. Woodruff, CG; Col. Bill Verbeck who was then C/S; Brig. Gen. Kenneth F. Cramer ADC; Lt. Col. Bill Crump, G-3; Lt. Col. Bev Reed - Asst.G-2; Lt. Col. George Dickerson, Asst. G-3; Maj.Walter Cunningham, Asst. AG; Lt. Col. Bill Craig, AG; Lt. Col.Robert Daniel, Asst.G-1; Lt. Col. Tom Compere, G-1; Lt. Col. Jim Purcell, Sig. O.; Col. Kenwood Ross, Ord. O.; Maj. George Gaynor, IG; Maj. John. Mason, JAG; and W. O. Edmund F. Henry, Asst. J.A.
Representatives of the infantry and artillery and support units were present - about 15 officers and men - sitting on logs on the beach at Taloma while Woodruff proposed that we develop a plan for giving birth to an association, it would be so.
BG Kenneth F. Cramer, the ADC, and Edmund Henry, a young lawyer in the JAG section, would start with drafts of a constitution and bylaws en route to Division's occupation duty in Japan.
The objectives of the Association were to be to preserve in patriotic reverence the memory of the fame and glory of the Division, to maintain and strengthen the bonds of comradeship which distinguished the men of that Division, and to provide for the gathering and dissemination of information concerning those men and for their periodic assembly in reunion.
The language they developed in stating our purposes was breathtaking: "electrify and unify the invisible current of fellowship molded in the throes of war and preserve the comradeship common to the veterans of the Division; "honor and perpetuate the memory of the men who distinguished themselves by their services and sacrifices while with the Division; "memorialize the valiant acts and patriotic deeds of the Division; "encourage and aid historical research in relation to the activities of and acquire and preserve records of the Division and its personnel; and "celebrate with appropriate ceremonies the anniversaries of events in the history of the Division."
That was written almost 46 years ago to the day, and those purposes have been our guidelines ever since.
The annual get-togethers started in Baltimore in August of 1947. It took almost two years for the troops to get back into civilian clothes and to give thought to assembling once more, and therein lies what pass for truisms; interest in such an organization develops more rapidly when one has distanced himself from the mechanism for which it stands; and interest varies in direct ratio to the degree of combat experience of the individual member. "Between wars" people, generally speaking, find little to cause them to reflect back upon their Division days with any memories, fond or otherwise. This has been found to be the case in each Army Division Association in being today.
The first mistake in organization was the failure to collect the names and addresses of the 20,000 plus men who had served Division between '41-'45. Efforts to gather that data subsequently went for naught - so it became a word-of-mouth situation, not only in the beginning, but in all the years since.
The period following the war in Korea was equally dismal for building up name files but for a different reason. Interest in anything military was practically nonexistent during and following the termination of that war. It has taken years theresince for the Korean veterans to come forward, make themselves known, and indicate any interest in us.
As recently as this very morning, a 3rd Engineer of '51-'51 came forward, joining with, "I never heard of you guys until yesterday." "Word-of-mouth"? - that's what we mean. During all of this time, up to the present, we have collected over 100,000 names and addresses of men who once served. Each has been an invitee.
The unhappy fact is that for the most part the WWII people have been joined and have since passed on to their reward. What early on passed for the names of our deceased was held in a simple file folder; it now consumes the better part of a 4-drawer file. The days are dwindling down.
Members long in the tooth having this unashamed love for Division and all for which it stands, and knowing the simple pleasures coming from a continuance of friendships forged in war via an outfit such as this hope to throw the torch to the younger men who have followed in our footprints. The other fact - likewise unhappy - is that we have experienced about a 40 percent rate of success with our invites. Of every 10 approached, four show an interest and join - the other six giving every evidence of no interest whatsoever. That has been so from our beginning. Here again, it has been the experience of each Army Division Association. We are in communication with each; we know it to be so.
The paper, Taro Leaf, published five or six times each year, is the cement that holds the team together.
The reunions have been held annually - in such cities as New York, St. Louis, Chicago, Los Angeles, Norfolk, Dallas, Garmish, Germany, Nassau, Honolulu, Savannah and the like. The desideratum is to move around to accommodate to the interests and the pocketbooks of the many.
At the present moment, membership has passed the 3,400 mark.
The thought has been that with Desert Storm now history, the day will come when among its participants the feelings of comradeship there developed among men in the line will predictably turn into something in the way of participation in this organization. Combat people seem to feel a need for the real companionships one finds in such. If history repeats itself, as it has a way of doing, some 40 percent of the men in that 100 hour war will predictably feel an urge, some days hence, to seek membership in the organization dedicated to keeping alive the memories of those days of struggle.
The Association can and does appropriately fill what for so many is a need. We've been filling that need for 50 years; we would like to continue so to do.