100th prepares to turn 100 at Fort Knox

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Two commanding generals of 100th Training Division say having the unit headquartered at Fort Knox seems particularly fitting these days.

In September, the “Century Division” will celebrate its 100th birthday with a ball that is expected to bring Soldiers and veterans to the region. Fort Knox just celebrated its 100th earlier this month.

As they prepare for the big celebration, retired Maj. Gen. William Barron, a previous commanding general who lives in the area, and Brig. Gen. Aaron Walter, the current commanding general, reflected on the changes they have seen in the division over the years, and the Kentucky legacy the unit has enjoyed for much of its
hundred-year history.

“It’s a significant legacy to be sure,” said Barron. “I’ve been in the division 32 years. I know the quality of the people that go through this division, both in the past and presently. I know that whatever mission the 100th is given, they will do it in spades and do it well.”

Like Camp Knox, the legacy of the division began in July of 1918, when the 100th was constituted at Camp Bowie, Texas, to prepare for World War I. The division was expected to deploy to Germany once Soldiers were fully trained. The end of the war changed all that.

In November 1919, the division demobilized, until June of 1921, when they were re-created as 100th Infantry Division of the Organized Reserve, stationed in West Virginia. There they remained until November 1942, when 100th was called into active duty at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, to prepare for another world war. This time, they entered, arriving in the Vosges Mountains of France in November of 1944 to fight as an element of the U.S. Seventh Army’s VI Corps.

Barron said one man commanded the unit throughout its entire activation for World War II — Maj. Gen. Withers Burress. The unit was one of 11 such Army divisions to be led by the same commanding general throughout the war.

The unit history reflects the tenacity of the Soldiers who fought in the division, especially at the ancient fortress city of Bitche in Germany. Hard fighting for three months resulted in the capture of the fortress by Soldiers from 100th, in March 1945, disrupting the German offensive and resulting in the eventual collapse of the German army.

By war’s end, the Centurymen had earned three Medals of Honor, 36 Distinguished Service Crosses, over 500 Silver Stars, and more than 3,500 Purple Hearts.

Barron explained that shortly after the war, the unit was inactivated, and then reactivated as the U.S. Army Reserve 100th Airborne Division. By 1958, the division had moved into the Louisville, Kentucky area.

The 100th has worn many hats during its century of service, to include conducting
basic and combat training, as an entry-level training center for armor, armor reconnaissance, tank crews,
cavalry scouts, and
more recently, assisting with ROTC summer training. It provided administrative and mission support to complete mobilization training after Sept. 11, 2000.

Barron said he remembers many of the unit’s changing missions and requirements, having started with the unit as a private in 1966.

“When I came into the division back in the ‘60s and ’70s, when we were all located in the state of Kentucky, many of us moved from one brigade to another brigade, and back to another brigade. Back then, you could complete a whole career in the 100th while staying in the state.”

Barron rose through the enlisted ranks before earning a commission. He continued with the division through several more changes, eventually serving as its deputy commanding general and finally as the commanding general.

In 2005, the division again saw change yet again as the Congressional Base Realignment and Closure called for the unit’s headquarters to move to Fort Knox, from where they operate to this day.

As the unit’s newest commanding general, Walter said being the commanding general during this time in history is special to him.

“It’s very special. I take a lot of honor in being the commanding general of the 100th Division on its 100th anniversary,” said Walter. “It’s really an honor for me to reflect on the legacy of the division and the fact that a hundred years later, I’m commanding it.”

Walter said a couple of slight changes are coming soon to the division as Soldiers prepare to celebrate its centennial. The training mission will be focused more on mid- and senior-career leadership training.

Barron said he doesn’t expect one aspect of the division to change anytime soon.

“We’re [at Fort Knox] for the long-run; we’re here for the Army and for this country,” said Barron. “The future for the Army is very bright. I think the future of Fort Knox is extremely bright.

“We’ve just got so much to offer here that other installations don’t. The other Army installations are all full of people. They’re overrun with people. We don’t have that problem here. We’ve got world-class ranges and people don’t have to take a number and take a seat to get their unit out there to train. We’re not overcrowded.” n