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NEWS | June 21, 2021

63rd Readiness Division HHD hosts inaugural Army Heritage Day event

By Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Chlosta 63rd Readiness Division

The 63rd Readiness Division’s Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment hosted its inaugural Army Heritage Day celebration during the unit’s annual training, June 11, 2021.

Department of the Army Directive 2019-20, published May 16, 2019, directed Army Commands, Army Service Component Commands and Direct Reporting Units to “observe and conduct Army heritage and Birthday activities during the month of June to recognize the service and sacrifices of a diverse Army and our long history of defending the Nation and out national interests.”

The 63rd HHD Army Heritage and Army Birthday activities began with an early morning unit physical readiness training run, led by Army Reserve Maj. Gen. Alberto Rosende, the commanding general of the 63rd RD and Command Sgt. Maj. Patrick McKie, the senior enlisted leader of the 63rd RD.

The official Army Heritage ceremony began a couple of hours later in the auditorium of the Sgt. James Witkowski Armed Forces Reserve Center.

The ceremony recognized and highlighted the Army Reserve with a focus on the heritage of the 63rd RD since its activation in 1943, originally known as the 63rd Infantry Division.

Mr. Joshua Baucom, the 63rd RD command historian began the event by outlining the unit’s history.

“The story of the 63rd Readiness Division begins in the 1940s,” Baucom said.

By the end of 1942 Germany controlled most of Europe and was actively engaged in the Soviet Union campaign.

The eventual outcome of World War II was anything but clear to the Allies said Baucom.

It was during this time that the 63rd ID was born. The unit was activated June 15, 1943 and began training at Camp Blanding, Florida.

“Shortly thereafter, the Division was moved to Camp Van Dorn, Mississippi, where training continued,” Baucom said.

By December 1944, the first elements of the 63rd ID landed in France, three “Blood and Fire” infantry regiments conducted defensive missions in the northeastern French and German border region.

The remainder of the 63rd ID arrived in January 1945. They patrolled near Willerwald, France until the division’s offensive actions began March 3, 1945.

“The division is renowned for leading the Seventh Army in its first penetration of the famous ‘Siegfried Line,’” said Baucom. “This hard fought combat operation opened the last barrier to the Rhine River and allowed U.S. armored units to roll through into the heart of Germany.”

During the Allied push into Germany, Soldiers from the 63rd ID’s 255th Infantry Regiment witnessed first-hand, crimes against humanity committed by the enemy Nazi regime, said Baucom.

One April 29th 1945, 63rd ID Soldiers liberated several sub-camps attached to the main Dachau concentration camp, Baucom added. Although primarily based upon the actions of the First Battalion, 255th Infantry, official recognition was awarded to the 63rd ID as a matter of policy on March 17th 2000.

During this World War II campaign, two members of the 63rd ID’s 253rd Inf. Regt., 1st Lt. James E. Robinson and Staff Sgt. John R. Crews, who wore the 63rd’s “Blood and Fire” patch on their shoulders into combat, were recipients of the Medal of Honor.

In addition, Soldiers from the 63rd ID earned seven Distinguished Service crosses, four Legions of Merit and 293 Silver Stars as well as four Distinguished Unit Citations, according to Baucom.

Baucom also recognized other notable 63rd ID alumni, including former “Blood & Fire” Soldier singer Tony Bennett, who served during World War II with the 255th Inf. Regt., 63rd ID.

The “Blood and Fire” unit insignia is a blood-tipped upturned golden sword emblazoned on a sheet of crimson flame, according to Baucom. Inspiration for the “Blood and Fire” insignia originated from the Casablanca Conference held in Morocco, in January 1943.

“At this event, President Roosevelt and (British) Prime Minister Churchill promised ‘to our enemies,’ ‘to bleed and burn in expiation of their crimes against humanity,’” said Baucom. “Major General Lewis Hibbs, charged in early March 1943 with the task of forming the 63rd Infantry Division and serving as its first commanding general, was inspired by this promise to the enemy, to build his fighting division around the realistic theme of blood and fire. This idea produced the blood and fire insignia you wear today!”

After Baucom, the second speaker was Army Reserve, Brig. Gen. Andree Carter, the deputy commanding general of the 63rd RD.

“I serve as a juxtaposition of where we have been as an Army and today we are diverse and our strength is in our diversity,” said Carter.

Carter is the second female brigadier general to serve as the command’s deputy commanding general and the first with a Pacific Islander heritage.

After her remarks, Carter read the speech given by Army Maj. Gen. Lewis E. Hibbs at the activation of the 63rd Infantry Division in 1943, to highlight the history and to showcase the diversity of today’s Army.

She was followed by a spirited musical ensemble performance by members of the 63rd RD’s 191st Army Band.

The final speaker was Rosende.

He spoke about the Army Reserve values and said the most valuable 63rd RD assets are the Soldiers and civilians that serve in the unit.

“We have a lot of history in the 63rd Readiness Division,” Rosende said, “going back to the RSC (Regional Support Command), the RRC (Regional Readiness Command) and going back to the 63rd Infantry Division.

“We carry the history and the legacy of the 63rd (Infantry Division), “he added. “That’s something we have, to be very proud of.”

Note: After the conclusion of the ceremony the unit also recognized the Army’s 246th birthday, which is June 14, 2021, with a traditional Army birthday cake cutting led by the youngest and oldest Soldiers in the unit, who, along with Rosende and McKie cut two cakes, one with the 63rd RD’s “Blood and Fire” patch and one for the Army’s birthday.