RALEIGH, N.C. – President Trump announced Tuesday the Army is awarding the Presidential Unit Citation to the famed World War II National Guard unit, the 30th Infantry Division, for extraordinary heroism at the Battle of Mortain, France, in 1944.
The battle of Mortain was ferocious, said Tony Jaber, 94, of Raleigh and an "Old Hickory" veteran of both the Battle of Mortain and the Battle of the Bulge.
"I would take six months in the Bulge over six days in Mortain. Those were the hardest days of the war for me," he said.
The 30th Infantry Division, nicknamed "Old Hickory" after President Andrew Jackson, was a National Guard unit comprised mostly of men from North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee. The division landed at Omaha Beach in Normandy days after D-Day and was immediately ordered into combat to defend key locations from the Nazi counterattack. Mortain was one of those locations, in Normandy.
Robert Baumer's book "Old Hickory," states that in August 1944, Hitler issued his sternest order, "Strike through Mortain to seal off the Americans at Avranches!"
On Aug. 6, multiple Nazi Panzer divisions attacked the 30th Infantry Division, and for six days at Mortain, the heroes of "Old Hickory" fought the Nazis back, saving Mortain and the Normandy Campaign.
"We are extremely happy for 30th Infantry Division veterans and their families," said Maj. Gen. Todd Hunt, adjutant general of the North Carolina National Guard. "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. This recognition is long overdue for the men who were called "Roosevelt's SS" by German soldiers. They were the real deal, feared by the enemy, tough as nails and sacrificed so much from Normandy to the Elbe River."
The 30th Division was never awarded a citation recognizing this critical victory during the initial months of the Normandy invasion. Many believe the Mortain victory was one of the most outstanding achievements of the war in Europe.
After the war, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower's European theater historian, S.L.A Marshall, determined that the 30th Infantry Division was the best infantry division of its category in the European theater and deserved the highest decoration that could be awarded to a unit for bravery. But an Army award policy change prevented it.
Trump said in his announcement: "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. 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."
In July, the North Carolina National Guard will host the 74th annual 30th Infantry Division Association reunion and present the Presidential Unit Citation to surviving WWII veterans of "Old Hickory."