As below-the-radar as the 87th Infantry Division was among the glamorous units of the U.S. Third Army in World War II, it was actually a highly-acclaimed division. But it takes some digging to reveal the numerous commendations it received.
The 14,000-member unit, which suffered a total of 6,500 killed and wounded during five months of combat in Europe, was repeatedly commended by generals ranging from Gen. George S. Patton to Lt. Gen. Troy H. Middleton, plus Third Army headquarters.
But the 87th is also likely to have been the only unit ever praised by an enemy general for its tenacity and valor. That was Generalmajor Otto Remer, quoted in English and French-language books and websites as declaring:
“In this connection, it must be said that the enemy forces (in this case, the 87 Inf Div US) fought very skillfully, as far as infantry was concerned. It was the only force for which we had respect, even during the night. In the area of TILLET, patrols were encountered behind our lines which shouted to our post, relief detachments, etc. in German and thereby cause so many a surprise.”
Several months after the war ended, Patton took time to pen an individual letter to 87th Commander Maj. Gen. Frank L. Culin Jr. In it, he used the words “efficient” and “splendid” to praise the division on the “magnificent fighting record you established.”
Lt. Gen. Middleton, VIIIth Corps commander, twice commended the 87th. In his biography published by Louisiana State University, he portrayed, at a critical time, the combat effectiveness of the division against the faltering 11th Armored Division, concluding the 87th “fought well” in contrast to its adjoining unit.
One of Middleton’s lesser-known commendations is reproduced in the 87th history book. A typewritten letter sent to Gen. Culin on March 19, 1945, after the Moselle River combat crossing and the capture of one of Germany’s leading cities, Koblenz, Middleton’s communication commends not only this but several of the Division’s combat accomplishments, concluding “The division now takes rank with other fine, experienced combat organizations in the U.S. Army.”
And perhaps the least-known commendation was one from Third Army headquarters in early February, 1945, after 345th Regiment soldiers using mine detectors had discovered a major German underground telephone cable between Cologne and Bitburg.
The fulsome commendation, reprinted in the 345th history book (page 86), reads in part: “The tactical benefits derived from this fine piece of work were almost innumerable. The German higher echelons were deprived of extensive and important wire facilities at a time when these agencies of signal communications must have been needed very badly. This fact is supported by a known increase in radio traffic from German units in that area, as well as a lack of cohesion among the higher echelons of command which became evident on and after 10 February, 1945.”
A dramatic account, and at least four photographs, establish that the 345th Infantry Regiment was the first, or one of the first, to enter the concentration camp at Ohrdruf, Germany. Three months after viewing or liberating the camp, first-hand commentaries were published by infantrymen, artillerymen and Quartermaster units in the Division history book.
Thereafter, Third Army Commander Patton described in his memoir “War As I Knew It” the harrowing conditions that were revealed at Ohrdruf and its larger and more notorious neighbor, Buchenwald.