From 1991 3AD Association Newsletter Feature Index      NEXT

Address of Major. Gen. Jerry R. Rutherford
on the 3rd Armored Division's 50th Anniversary in 1991


The occasion was the 44th annual reunion of the 3rd Armored Division Association (WWII veterans) held in St. Louis, MO, in the summer of 1991 - 50 years after the Division was first activated in April, 1941. Unknown to anyone at the time of the reunion, Gen. Rutherford would be the Division's last commanding general before its deactivation in 1992. His next assignment that same year, and promotion to Lt. General, would be as Commander of V Corps, headquarterd in Frankfurt.

In the speech below, the General is addressing Charles G. Hirt, Jr., (then President of the Association) and the 3rd Armored veterans and their wives and family members in attendance.


Mr. Hirt, Ladies, Fellow Spearheaders:

I can't begin to express my pleasure in sharing with you the 44th reunion and 50th anniversary of this great division as its division commander. I have served at every level in the division from platoon to company, as brigade commander, and now as the division commander. So when I tell you the Spearhead Division has a special place in my heart, I really mean it. In fact, I married my wife while assigned to the 3rd Armored Division over 25 years ago. She is also the daughter of a prior spearhead commanding general. So Spearhead is really family to me.

For the rest of my speech, I want you to scoot back in your chairs, close your eyes and relax, and let me take you back down memory lane. I am going to share with you some of my and the division's experiences during Operation Desert Storm. Many of you will say to yourself and each other, "Has nothing changed in the last 50 years?" I want to assure you that a lot has changed during the past 50 years. The battlefield is much more lethal now than it was, but if you will let your minds wander with me for a few minutes, I think that you will find that many of the things soldiers share in war haven't changed at all. When the units were notified of their deployment to southwest Asia [Saudi Arabia], fall had settled into Germany. The leaves had changed color and most had fallen to the ground. The early mornings were cool and your breath was clearly visible when you spoke.

When the official word came, it was no surprise. Just as you knew in 1941 that some day you would deploy for World War II, we knew in Germany that we would probably go to southwest Asia. The actual notification on November 8, removed the speculation and apprehension that we all felt so that now we could get on with the task of preparing our units to deploy. One of the first things we did was to brief everybody. You all have been there before - a long line or a formation waiting for some general to come by and tell you what you already knew.

Well, when I arrived at the theater to brief as many soldiers and leaders as I could, I felt a strong sense of pride because I had trained these soldiers and I knew how good they really were, but I also knew there was some feeling of fear. As I gazed at their faces, I wondered how many of them would not make it back. They all looked so strangely young, their eyes anxiously darting about, looking at each other and at me, searching for reassurance, fear of the unknown clearly evident in their faces, soldiers starting to smoke who never smoked before, and comments of false bravado ... "Bring the Iraqis on" could be heard among the meaningless background noise of the theater and the parking lot. I remember that I told the soldiers everything I knew about our deployment to southwest Asia.

One of the things I mentioned was the requirement for more shots. By the way, the Army has not improved shots. They still hurt, in fact I think they hurt worse now than they ever did. I, too, stood in a line for my shots. I got four of them, one was for some disease I'd never heard of. Then there was the endless checks of ID cards and dog tags. Nameless faces saying, "Yes, first sergeant," when he barked out at the morning's first formation, "This morning gentlemen we are going to check ID cards and dog tags."

There was the interest in wills and powers of attorney and other legal stuff in case you didn't make it back. We also spent a great deal of time briefing the soldier's family, trying to keep them informed about what was going to happen to them after their spouses left for the desert. It was sometimes difficult to look at the face of a young wife or a three year old and wonder if I would be able to bring their husband or father back home to them. Unlike World War II, the majority of the soldiers families stayed in Germany. We have never left families in a third country before this. And then there were the long lines waiting to go somewhere and hurrying up to wait some more. Sergeants walking around with clip boards and checklist to make sure everything was done to standard.

The loading of ships in the rain with the skeletal cranes placing M-1 tanks on ship decks as gentle as a mother bird placing a baby chick in her nest, and the precision with which it all happened caused you to believe that divine intervention was somehow making it all work. The day for the soldiers to deploy finally arrived and memories of pictures from Life magazine came to life as wives and husbands embraced one last time, each saying a silent prayer for the others safety, and the awful empty feeling when the door to the bus was finally shut. Our good-byes were said at the Kasemes and then we travelled by bus to the airport. We hadn't even taxied down the runway when the ache began in anticipation of the many months of loneliness.

And then the strange new smell of the desert. Even in the winter with mild to cold temperatures, the desert smelled hot. And I'll never forget the awareness of ancient history. People like the Hittites and Gentiles, places like the Wilderness where Moses roamed, of trying to remember old maps in the back of the Bible, places like Babylon ... the ancient city on the lower Euphrates River in what is now central Iraq, and wondering if this was the place where the Battle of Armageddon was to be fought. And in the quiet moments, the silent promises you made to God if he would only get you out of here alive.

You have all been there before. Each of you have shared these same feelings and emotions that I just described. From the time the division first saw combat at Villiers Fossard in France to the culminating action at Dessau in Germany, you experienced what all soldiers have experienced ... the hardships, the fears, and the loneliness. I recently returned from a trip to the Normandy Battlefield. I stood where you came ashore on Omaha Beach. I want you to know that what we did during Operation Desert Storm somewhat pales in comparison to your accomplishments in World War II. I'm not taking anything away from today's soldiers but what you did from Normandy to Paderborn and on to Dessau was awesome.

And as I stood at Omaha Beach, I was humbled by the difficulty of the task that you faced. I want each of you to know that today's Army, today's soldiers, are the benefactors of your outstanding achievements during World War II. You set the standard for us to achieve, you passed on to us the torch and the heritage of this great division. And I am happy to report that we did not let you down. And as the 3rd Armored Division stands down in Germany and prepares for its move back to the United States to another post, we too will pass on to the next generation of Spearheaders the warrior spirit and soul that you began in the hedgerows of France in 1944.

We will also pass on to the next generation of Spearhead soldiers our inheritance from you and that is ... If you want to fight, you came to the right place! I would be remiss if I didn't comment on the lovely ladies here this evening. We all know that none of us could have done it without you. You are the source of our strength and the reason that we fight so hard ... and that is so we can come back home to be with you. Wives are special.

I would like to take the liberty of asking the wives to stand and be recognized with a big round of applause from their spearhead soldier. I would like to say in closing that as I took my soldiers down the street of Washington and New York during the parades, pride and patriotism has returned to this great nation. All of our soldiers - active, reserves, and veterans of all wars should hold their heads high and be proud that they have served the greatest nation in the world to ensure peace, freedom, and democracy.

This has been a great evening and a great two days. I thank you for letting us share this special time with you. Have a safe journey home. Spearhead!

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