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By Capt. Margaret Ziffer
35th Infantry Division
Activated August 5, 1917, as part of the Kansas and Missouri Army National Guards, the 35th Infantry Division recently celebrated its 100th year.
Since its initial activation, soldiers of the 35th have served our nation in various conflicts and operations around the globe, from World War I and World War II to Bosnia and Kosovo.
The division is currently continuing this tradition of service to the nation. In June, the 35th deployed to Southwest Asia in support of Operations Spartan Shield and Inherent Resolve – making it the first time the 35th has deployed as a division headquarters in over 70 years.
REMEMBERING THE PAST
“The 35th is one of the oldest divisions,” said retired Brig. Gen. Robert Windham, former deputy commanding general of the 35th Inf. Div. and current president of the 35th Infantry Division Association. “In World War I, the 35th was key to the Allied victory. They fought in places like Muse-Argonne and Alsace Lorraine. They lost many soldiers; they had Medal of Honor recipients. In World War II, the 35th was one of the three most highly decorated units. They fought in the hedgerows in Normandy, they were in Saint Lo, the Battle of the Bulge.”
Even 100 years later, the actions and history of the division still hold personal importance to some current members of the division.
“My grandfather was one of five farm boys from Council Grove, Kansas,” said Maj. Todd Leeds a 35th Inf. Div. engineer. “When World War II started, they realized they would be drafted one way or the other. But if they would enlist, they would at least get some say in what they got to do. So my grandfather joined the Army Air Corps; his youngest brother enlisted in the 35th Infantry Division.”
Leed’s great uncle, Corporal Archie D. Leeds, went on to serve with the 35th Inf. Div. in France, where he was awarded the Silver Star Medal for his meritorious actions in 1944, shortly after being killed in action.
Today, Leeds and his brother Maj. Derek Leeds, have served with the division for a little over a year.
“For us, it’s a family legacy thing,” said Leeds. “Just within my immediate family, we have folks that have served within the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps. I also have a second cousin who was in the division. So the Leeds family definitely has a history with the 35th.”
Windham’s history with the 35th also spans many years. Not only did he serve with the division as a general officer near the end of his military career, he also spent time with the 35th as company commander towards the beginning.
“The first time I put on that blouse again, with the division patch on it, and I saw myself in the mirror, it brought back a whole lot of good memories,” said Windham. “It’s hard to describe the feeling. There’s just so much history, that you are compelled to give it your best shot. It’s just such an honor to be affiliated with the division.”
That history has included several significant contributions in the years since the world wars, some less often associated with the division.
“A lot of people don’t realize this, but the 35th was the headquarters for the National Guard presence after Hurricane Katrina hit,” said Windham.
The 35th additionally commanded Task Force Eagle's multi-national-division-north in Bosnia and Herzegovina and provided a detachment for Task Force Falcon for the NATO Kosovo Force 9 mission.
“If you look at it, the history of the 35th is the history of the Army,” said Windham.
To help remember that history, Leeds and his family have kept several mementos by which they remember Cpl. Leeds, including some letters and a watch, along with some other artifacts that belonged to their great uncle during WWII.
“Remembering what the division has done over the years is important for two reasons,” said Windham. “To memorialize it, but also to help stay connected with veterans.”
The 35th Infantry Division Association hosts an annual reunion for past and present division service members, their families and others whose lives have been reached by the division.
“When I went to my first reunion, I sat next to combat veterans from World War II, to widows and orphans,” said Windham. “There is this whole diverse group that you would never meet if you don’t participate. It’s an honor. It’s amazing.”
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
Looking ahead, the division still has much of its current deployment rotation before it, which provides an opportunity for its current members to carry on the tradition of service overseas.
“I am really excited that Derek and I were able to deploy with the division,” said Leeds. “We are both excited and proud to earn the 35th Infantry Division combat patch.”
“When you deploy and they have that patching ceremony where they put that combat patch on your shoulder, you are really proud,” said Windham. “But I think along with that comes some personal responsibilities, such as ensuring that the legacy, the history, lives on.”
Even after the current deployment ends and the 100th anniversary is a milestone long since passed, the relevance of the division in the lives of those who served in it will remain.
“Typically, you deploy, – and this is especially true for citizen soldiers – everyone goes home, in all different directions. You are focusing on your family and your civilian career. After a deployment, members of the unit might not feel the urge to get back together for years.”
But trying to reconnect later on is not always easy. This is where, Windham says, the importance of organizations like the 35th Infantry Division Association comes in.
“The time will come when you will want to reach back out and see some of those faces that you deployed with,” said Windham. “The Association is a place to help you do that.”
Not only does Leeds plan to stay connected with the division by joining the association when he returns home, but he also says that it is possible that he and his brother won’t be the last of the family to serve with the division.
“Going forward, someday, when my son and my daughter are grown, if military service is something they decide to pursue, I hope they get a chance to serve with the 35th,” said Leeds. “I hope we can continue that legacy.”
And the legacy does indeed live on.
“The history of WWI and WWI veterans – those are magnificent stories and people,” said Windham. “Although we are celebrating the past 100 years, I have to salute all the current members of the 35th. They are the ones who are now writing the first chapter of the next 100 years.”
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