FORT JACKSON, S.C. – The 81st Readiness Division Soldiers, known as the Wildcats, celebrated the unit’s 100th year of service to the U.S. Army and the nation during the 81st RD Centennial Ball, here, Feb. 9 at the Officers Club.
While a single unit of many on Fort Jackson today, the Wildcats history is as historical as the installation itself.
“Construction of Camp Jackson began in June of 1917, and by August 1917 was mostly complete, with headquarters, barracks, stables and latrines sufficient for a transient population of 1,700 officers and 42,000 Soldiers,” said Allen Skinner, 81st RD command historian during his presentation at the ball.
The 81st RD was initially constituted Aug. 5, 1917 in the National Army as Headquarters, 81st Division. They were organized Aug. 25, 1917 at Camp Jackson, South Carolina.
“The bulk of the officers assigned to the 81st Division arrived in early September 1918, with just enough time to prepare to receive trainloads of drafted men from the Carolinas, Tennessee and Florida,” Skinner said. “After ten months of training marked with constant turnover of officers and Soldiers, the 81st Division was deemed ready to deploy to France.”
Skinner said throughout the unit’s time in France during World War I, Soldiers participated in numerous battles such as St. Dié Sector and the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.
“Soldiers of the 81st Division relieved the segregated 92nd Division in defense of the St. Dié sector on 18 September 1918,” he said. “On 9 October the division had its first real exposure to combat when the 321st Infantry defeated a strong German raid without serious loss.”
The Wildcats were relieved from the front lines of the St. Dié sector in late October 1918. They were then marched to Verdun to reinforce the ongoing Meuse-Argonne offensive, Skinner said.
“Despite the imminent Armistice, the Wildcats attacked early on 11 November to breach the German defensive line. On the left, patrols advanced under the cover of artillery fire directed by then Captain Harry S. Truman and began to breach the first portion of the main German defensive belt. On the right, the advance was stalled by the lack of support from the flanking 33rd Division,” Skinner said.
“After the Armistice, the Wildcats recovered their dead and wounded. In three days of combat, the 81st Division suffered 980 casualties, with 170 dead, 42 mortally wounded and 130 severely injured by gas,” Skinner said. “During the entire war, the 81st Division incurred a total of 1,274 casualties in exchange for liberating 21 square miles of French territory.”
“The 81st was heavily engaged form 7 to 11 November 1918. Fighting in the Meuse-Argonne continued and in true Wildcat tradition of ‘Never Quit’ the Soldiers fought up to the last minute ending the war on the 11th hour, 11th day and 11th month of 1918,” added Maj. Gen. Kenneth D. Jones, 81st RD commander during his remarks.
After spending the remainder of the winter in France, units of the 81st Division sailed to the United States in early June 1919. Most units demobilized at Newport News, Virginia or Hoboken, New Jersey.
During World War II the Wildcats participated in campaigns in the western Pacific and south Philippines. Most recently, the 81st RD Soldiers also participated in the Global War on Terrorism.
One Wildcat gave all for his country during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004: Pfc. Thomas Caughman, 20, of Lexington, S.C.; assigned to Company C, 391st Engineer Battalion, Spartanburg, South Carolina. He was killed June 9 when his up-armored vehicle was struck by rocket-propelled grenades and small-arms fire in Baghdad.
The 81st RD Army Reserve Center is named in honor of Caughman’s sacrifice to his country and his unit.
Today, the 81st RD continues to serve the nation by providing essential customer care and services to Soldiers, Civilians and their Families in the southeast region of the United States and Puerto Rico, which enables commanders and leaders to maximize resources and meet global requirements.
The Wildcats continue to serve the U.S. Army proudly with the motto: Wildcats Never Quit!
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