Historic World War II Flag Returns Home to Fort Drum

Retired Maj. Chuck Thompson, former 10th Mountain Division Artillery personnel officer, explains how the World War II U.S. colors came into his possession during a ceremony Jan. 22, 2019 at Fort Drum, New York. (U.S. Army/Mike Strasser)
Retired Maj. Chuck Thompson, former 10th Mountain Division Artillery personnel officer, explains how the World War II U.S. colors came into his possession during a ceremony Jan. 22, 2019 at Fort Drum, New York. (U.S. Army/Mike Strasser)

FORT DRUM -- For nearly 14 years, retired Fort Drum soldier Chuck Thompson proudly displayed an American flag that actually flew over Italy during World War II above his fireplace mantle in his Allendale, N.J., home.

The retired captain, who spent four years at Fort Drum from 2001 to 2005, knew the "U.S. Colors" wasn't his to keep.

It needed to be with the 10th Mountain Division Artillery, which helped lead the surrender of the German Army in Italy before the unit was deactivated soon after the Second World War, he said.

For all of these years, he kept that cherished flag safely above his mantle in a wood-framed display case.

Until now.

He brought it back where it has always belonged.

"It's home again," he said. "I'm going to miss it, but it wasn't mine. I'm glad it's home."

About 150 soldiers, their families and local dignitaries watched as the historic U.S. flag -- with 48 stars on it because Hawaii and Alaska had not become states yet -- was unveiled during a ceremony onpost on Tuesday.

It's the first time that the Colors were at Fort Drum since 2004.

Col. Jason T. Williams, current commander of the 10th Mountain Division's artillery division, known as DIVARTY, told the crowd that the flag was part of the division's rich history. DIVARTY was again reactivated in 2015.

He was glad that so many Fort Drum soldiers were there to learn about its legacy,

"What a perfect day to honor our lineage," he said.

It came back Monday after Mr. Thompson drove up from his home in a rented vehicle that would fit the 5-foot, by 7-foot flag and the 90-pound display case.

Until Monday night, Mr. Thompson, now 43, had not stepped foot on Fort Drum since leaving the Army in 2005, following a distinguished military career that included attending West Point and subsequently serving in Afghanistan as one of the first U.S. soldiers who fought against the Taliban.

Shortly before leaving the Army, DIVARTY was deactivated. In 2004, Mr. Thompson was assigned to ensure about 150 artifacts from the original artillery division be protected and end up in rightful places, including the colors.

It wasn't for the lack of trying. Four months after getting that assignment, he opened up a box and there it was.

The flag was an important artifact that could not become lost.

He first tried to get the onpost museum, then just located in some small space, to take the flag. But there was no room.

Efforts then switched to giving the historic piece to the family of Maj. General David L. Ruffner, who died in 1973. As the first 10th Mountain Division DIVARTY commander, he was a beloved onpost figure.

Col. Williams described Maj. General Ruffner as a tough leader, who wanted the most out of his men.

"He loved his men and his men loved him back," Col. Williams said.

Mr. Thompson also tried to donate it to the Virginia Military Institute, the major general's alma mater, but that also fell through.

He also hoped that West Point and the Union League, the New York City social club that helped erect the Statue of Liberty, would become its permanent home.

When those efforts failed, he brought the Colors back to his home where they remained until earlier this week.

They will now be boldly displayed in a conference room in artillery division headquarters for all Fort Drum soldiers to see. 

This article is written by By Craig Fox Cfox@wdt.Net from Watertown Daily Times, N.Y. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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