Text & photo from the 3AD Association
Newsletter of December, 1987
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WICHITA - 1987
Memorial Address by Ernie DeSoto
One of the great reunion services

  The setting was on the banks of the Arkansas River under ideal mild weather. The service included a band, color guard, 3AD soldier-guests from Germany, and most inspiring talks by then 3AD Commander, Maj. General Griffin from Frankfurt and by Board Member and former Association President Ernie DeSoto. The Newsletter Editor described this as a memorial service for the history books.

September 19, 1987
by Ernie DeSoto

My Fellow Spearheaders:

It is in compliance with the resolution set forth in our constitution that the Association of the 3rd Armored" "Spearhead" Division remember and never forget, by paying tribute and honor in solemn ceremony, those of our division who over 43 years ago paid the supreme sacrifice.

It is more than a duty, however, for it is to tender the respect and deep regard that we feel for those that are no longer with us.

In the five campaigns of WWII in which the division fought, we suffered losses on the battlefields of Europe of men with whom we shared the experiences of training and conditioning to prepare us for the enemy we were to face. Remembering those of our comrades that died brings back memories that dim with the advancing of years. We, too, sadly remember as well, those of our Association who have left us with each passing year.

In those five campaigns of WWII we earned the battle streamers that hang proudly from the colors that are now in the headquarters of the 3rd Armored Division, that proud division that is presently serving as a bastion of security on the German border at this very moment. In the battles for which these streamers were awarded, our Division suffered the loss of 2,214 of our comrades killed in action and, in the completion of our mission as the battering ram of VII Corps of First Army, we suffered 9,130 casualties, more than any other armored division in the European theatre.

When next you visit the museum of Armor and Cavalry at Fort Knox, you will see our division monument with the plaques that tell the story of the 3rd in the memorial park that honors all of the Armored Divisions in WWII.

I ask you to think back with me as we stir our memories, back some 44 years ago, and reminisce of the advance of the Spearhead Division from the Normandy beachhead. We left Omaha Beach and were in assembly in the Bocage County in France, 26 June 1944. Formed into task forces we prepared for our first blooding in the hedgerows of Normandy. We advanced to cross the Vire River in early July. From 9-15 July CCA, CCB and CCR fought against stubborn resistance. At this point we had lost 48 officers and 558 enlisted killed in action.

Our next advance, the St. Lo breakthrough, fighting an almost continuous resistance by the enemy, we reached Mortain on 2 August. MG Rose took command of the Division on 7 August. The enemy fought desperately to cut off Mortain, but by 12 August their counterattack had spent itself. Our next engagement was at the Falaise Gap, which was closed on 18 August. We crossed the Seine on 25 August and were given new objectives of Sedan and Charleville. We continued to advance until 31 August. We reformed on 1 September in an advance toward Mons with CCA, CCB and CCR, each in two columns, left to right. The Battle of Mons proved to be the decisive battle of the West. The enemy dead could be counted in the thousands. Next Charleroi and Liege on 8 September. As we fought into Namur and Liege, our advance was down the Namur Valley. CCA worked patrols into the city of Liege, and CCB surprised the enemy and crossed the bridge south of the city.

Now, on to Verviers, and when secured, the Division was close to the first barrier of the Siegfried Line. On 12 September Task Force Lovelady followed its advance patrols and entered the town of Roetgen, Germany, the first German town to fall to the Allies in WWII.

Task Force Doan fought through the first row of dragons teeth and on 15 September had crossed the second row. Mopping up in the Stolberg Area continued until 23 September. The Division was engaged in maintenance badly needed by both men and machines. The Division had traveled some 700 miles without proper maintenance because of the enemy counteractions.

The Ardennes Campaign had begun with the Von Rundstedt breakthrough in the Belgium sector on 16 December. The Division had the mission to meet the attacking German columns and in these battles suffered 1,473 casualties. The Division was returned to the Stolberg area and the planning for the Rhine offensive began. In late February, the Division crossed the Roer and later the Erft Canal. Advancing across the Cologne Plain, the Division fought into the city of Cologne. Crossing the Remagan Bridge, the Division advanced in the longest march in armor history in one day of 101 miles, the encirclement resulted in the capture of over 300,000 enemy troops as the Division joined with the 2d Armored to form the Rose Pocket. Near the city of Paderborn, our gallant commander MG Rose was cut down at the front of one of our armor columns. We continued our advance and into the city of Dessau where our advance elements were halted on the Elbe River. On 24 April the 3rd had been in contact with the enemy for 221 combat days. The war was over, the guns stilled, the loss of life no more.

In this brief review we can recall the names and faces of those who fought alongside us, from the beachhead to the final objective, those who gave their lives to ensure the advance of the Spearhead Division.

These fellow soldiers are still remembered in this span of 45 years. They fought with us to preserve the freedom and values of our beloved country. We all have bonds of mutual affection and a special regard for these friends that have left us for a time.

We fought for peace, in a world that cries for peace. We know the terrible price that nations pay in war and revolution. Our world has not been at peace since WWII, and nations, soldiers and innocent people are still suffering the results of war at this very moment.

We can appreciate the terrible scars that death causes on the minds of those that suffer the loss of family members in the throes of war. We all die a small death when we lose that person. We ache, we hurt, we agonize. We want to shake a fist at someone, even you, God, but finally we turn to Christ our comforter, and pray that he will guide us and give us strength.

We all have certain images of those of our absent comrades. Perhaps a smile, a handclasp, a word, a kindness, these will remain with us until our memory fades completely. It is in such thought that we can visualize our missing comrades to be with us again. It is in silence that our emotions are laid bare, that we are often inarticulate. There are so many things to say that to say nothing and to let our hearts speak for us is often the best of all.

We are all realists and know the inevitability of death. Why are we here? The issue of the moment is immortality. If we can say that all natural appearances to the contrary, we know ourselves to be of immortal spirit, nothing else really matters. The implication of faith in immortality will bind us to the life of Christ. God has set eternity into the hearts of man. However, little we know about this world we live in, we bear with us some pattern of a world outside and beyond ourselves when compensation might be expected for the trials and tribulations of this present life. This is a necessary reaction if we are to go on living, if we are to find ourselves capable of loving again. God with his great love will spread his healing over those who must join him, as a mother watches over a sleeping child.

Jesus said, "In my Father's house are many mansions, if it were not so I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you that where I am, there you may be also." This reminds us that He is there and where he is cannot be other than a place of peace and serenity. Thus, sorrow is lifted by our faith in the goodness of God.

I say then that this service must not be filled with morbid grief, but that it must be a tribute to those of our comrades that served with us. I, like each of you, recognize that we are on a journey of life in which death is but an incident. These, our friends, have been granted a just reward - the peace that passeth all understanding.

Suffering comes to us in many ways. Death, for instance, or separation, is an experience of all mankind. Our minds become pervaded by deep emotions and the capacity to question - Why? This is above all else. We can think of a name that answered to the report when we stood in ranks together. That soldier can no longer answer "present".

These men, young in age, were cut down in the prime of their lives. How they would have loved to be with us today. We find, too, that with the passing of each year, the responses to our roll call becomes less and less. We must realize pragamatically that our days are numbered.

We cannot fail to remember those of our brothers who have journeyed to distant shores. With this remembrance, this service becomes more sacred, with our deep nostalgia, it becomes more meaningful. Each one of our deceased, if they could speak, would say: "To you is returned the flag of our country, unsullied." I will always remember the words carved over the entrance to a military cemetery, "Tell them that we gave our todays for their tomorrows."

Someone has said that death at any age is to die young. Death is like a door and we move through a corridor, not in darkness, but in light; not in pain, but in peace; and, not to extinction, but to be with our Lord. We then must commit our dead into the hand of God whose love does not fail. Out of darkness, will come dawn; out of rain, a rainbow; out of death, eternal life.

Let us vow that each of us with all the strength we possess, and only if it is humanly possible, will join with our Association in our next reunion to mark our 41st year. There are so few of us left to attend we must not fail to continue our bonds. Give us the strength, Lord, the health, the determination, that we will treasure these passing years and join in our final roll calls before we leave this mortal soil.

We close now with bowed heads: May the grace of the risen Lord, the peace of our father God and the consolation of the Holy Spirit give rest to our comrades. They have passed into the light which is in stillness beyond the shadow of death, the places that have known them shall know them no more. But we shall remember our friends for they have a special place in our hearts. Lord, God, keep them in your care. These were our comrades. Amen.

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