Outside, autumn raindrops fell.
Inside, voices cracked and tears moistened the eyes of over one hundred attendees at the unveiling of a massive 16-foot long highway sign dedicated to the 87th Infantry Division.
Some participants were family members reacting to the reading of the names of 87th soldiers who were killed in action. Jack Foy A-347, master of ceremonies, and Mitchell Kaidy D-345, as well as Bob Purple A-346 and Bill Statt E-347, called the roll of names, ranks, hometowns and dates of area KIA’s.
Many in the audience were surviving family members from Upstate New York and the East. Over 20 87th Division veterans attended. Traveling the longest distance to the ceremony was Gil Dehnkamp G-345, who made a 12-hour round trip from New Jersey.
Relating the division’s 300-mile motormarch into Belgium from the Saar Valley, Kaidy quoted Robert Merriam, official Army historian of the Battle of the Bulge, who wrote in his book, “Dark December,” that had the counterattack of the 87th and 11th Armored Divisions not taken place “Bastogne probably would have been surrounded and forced to surrender.”
Had that happened, Kaidy said, the consequences would have been “catastrophic” and would have considerably extended the war in Europe.
During 154 days of combat in France, Germany, Belgium, and Luxembourg, under the command of Gen. George S. Patton, the 87th Division lost at least 1,300 killed in action and suffered 6,800 recorded wounds in action, Kaidy reported.
“These were bright young Americans who in ordinary times would have continued their education, got married, bought homes, entered their chosen professions and very likely succeeded in whatever endeavor they chose to enter. So you see this is not just an ordinary sign placement cluttering another highway. This is special, this is inspiring, this is truly noble. The events we’re remembering are highly significant to the survival of your country.”
After reading the September, 1945, letter from Gen. Patton praising the Division, Kaidy led the following pledge from the audience: “We Americans today honor the 8,000 young men of the 87th (Golden Acorn) Infantry Division who were killed or wounded fighting for their country. Theirs was a noble cause, and we will always remember them.”
By Spring the two massive signs authorized by the New York State Legislature, one of which was displayed, will be installed eight miles apart on Interstate highway 390 south of Rochester. The highway runs south of the New York Thruway (I-90), and carries over 40,000 cars daily.
The four prime movers were Foy, who computerized, printed and mailed many documents, Purple, who as a retired N.Y. State engineer dealt with the Department of Transportation, Statt, who participated in both the ceremony and decision-making, and Kaidy, who originated the effort as he did five other ceremonies in Belgium and the U.S.