President Donald Trump has directed the Army to award the Presidential Unit Citation to the 30th Infantry Division, the White House said in a statement Tuesday evening.
Eight units within the 30th were already recognized for their actions in the European theater of World War II after the war. However, the president has directed the Army to honor the remainder of the division for their actions during the battle of Mortain, France.
“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,” the president said in his statement.
“Nicknamed the ‘Old Hickory Division’ because its soldiers hailed from National Guard units from North and South Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia – all states closely associated with President Andrew Jackson – the 30th Division Soldiers proved as tough as their unit’s namesake,” the statement reads.
Soldiers from the 30th took up defensive positions around the small town of Mortain after relieving the 1st Infantry Division on Aug. 6, 1944.
Following the Normandy invasion two months earlier, the German High Command was preparing for a massive counter-offensive to “throw the Allied Armies back into the sea,” according to a National Guard history of the battle. Adolf Hitler ordered the movement of large amounts of infantry and armor into the area near Mortain, located roughly 150 miles from Paris.
Old Hickory soldiers awoke in their foxholes to an attack by an entire German Panzer Corps meant to break their lines.
“They found themselves confronted by overwhelming enemy armor, and the German Panzers broke through their lines,” the president’s statement reads. "The Old Hickory Division, however, did not stop fighting. It pressed its cooks, clerks, and drivers into service as riflemen."
The 30th’s artillery began a barrage of fire meant to beat back the German forces encircling American troops. The cannons were joined at daybreak by U.S. and U.K. close air support, which devastated German tanks and mechanized columns attempting to reach the French coast.
By the afternoon of Aug. 7, the German attack had stalled in its tracks, and the 30th’s soldiers began a counterattack to relieve its trapped elements. Five more days of intense fighting followed.
“More than 2,000 Old Hickory Soldiers were killed or wounded during the weeklong battle, but their efforts and sacrifice would have a profound impact on the course of history,” the president’s statement concluded.
Today, the 30th is still around in the form of the North Carolina National Guard’s 30th Armored Brigade Combat Team, which retains the same unit patch as the old division.
The 30th ABCT most recently deployed to Kuwait in November. Bradley fighting vehicles from the unit were temporarily sent into Syria to guard oil fields from a potential Islamic State resurgence last fall.
Kyle Rempfer is an editor and reporter who has covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq. Follow on Twitter @Kyle_Rempfer