Trump Honors National Guard's Old Hickory Division for Heroic Fight in 1944 Battle

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A WWII veteran looks out over the rows of headstones at the Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery and Memorial in Belgium.
FILE -- In this file photo from Sept. 15, 2019, Tony Jaber, a WWII veteran who served with the 30th Infantry Division, looks out over the rows of headstones at the Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery and Memorial in Belgium where more than 300 Old Hickory soldiers who died during World War II are buried. (Mary Junell/U.S. Army)

President Donald Trump recently announced that the U.S. Army will award the Presidential Unit Citation to the National Guard's Old Hickory Division for its heroic stand against Nazi armored forces after the Normandy invasion in World War II.

In early August 1944, the soldiers of the 30th Infantry Division found themselves in hasty defensive positions around the small town of Mortain, France, facing a withering attack from an entire German Panzer Corps, according to an account of the fight in a March 18 White House news release.

Adolf Hitler ordered his Panzer force to cut through the 30th in an attempt at keeping American forces from breaking out of the Normandy beachhead and into the open countryside.

"The situation they faced on Aug. 6, 1944, was dire," Trump said in the release. "They found themselves confronted by overwhelming enemy armor, and the German Panzers broke through their lines."

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But the 30th ID soldiers kept fighting. Unit cooks, clerks and drivers were pressed into service as riflemen. The division's artillery protected its encircled and isolated elements with a constant barrage of fire.

American and British aircraft began providing close-air support on the morning of Aug. 7 after a long night of fighting.

By the afternoon of Aug. 7, the German attack stalled, and the division quickly counterattacked to relieve its trapped elements, through another five days of fierce fighting, according to the release's account of the battle.

More than 2,000 Old Hickory Division soldiers were killed or wounded during the weeklong battle. After the war, eight units within the 30th ID were recognized with the prestigious honor, according to the release.

"I am proud to direct the Army to honor the remainder of the division and attached units with the Presidential Unit Citation for their heroic stand at Mortain," Trump said in the release. "This action rightfully recognizes our veterans who triumphed against incredible odds, as well as those who died during a critical battle that helped ensure the Allied victory in Europe."

The Presidential Unit Citation is awarded to units for extraordinary heroism in action against an armed enemy since Dec. 7, 1941.

The National Guard's 30th ID -- which is now the 30th Armored Brigade Combat Team -- was nicknamed the Old Hickory Division because its soldiers hailed from North and South Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia -- all states closely associated with President Andrew Jackson.

"We are extremely happy for 30th Infantry Division veterans and their families," Maj. Gen. Todd Hunt, adjutant general of the North Carolina National Guard, said in a recent news release. "We are honored to carry on the lineage and colors of 'Old Hickory' in our 30th Armored Brigade Combat Team that is currently deployed to the Middle East.

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

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