Taken in 1961, the above photo illustrates the tension between Western allies and the Soviet Military at Checkpoint Charlie, the best-known Berlin Wall crossing point between East Berlin and West Berlin during the Cold War. (Photo from Flickr. Used through Creative Commons.)
Then-2nd Lt. Ken Hixson of Cynthiana served as platoon leader and executive officer of Co. E, 400th Regiment when the 100th Army Reserve was called to active duty. He is president of Hixson Handling, Inc. Here is what he remembers of those tense – and proud – times.
By Kenneth R. Hixson
Special to KyForward
The hot summer of 1961 did little to produce a thaw in the Cold War. The problematic dissection of Berlin following World War II had left the Western democracies in constant conflict with Soviet Russia, of which East Germany — including East Berlin — was little more than a puppet state.
By 1958 nearly two million East Germans — among them the brightest and most productive professionals — disillusioned by the Soviet system, had fled to West Berlin. To stem the tide of this exodus, Nikita Khrushchev that year issued a Berlin Ultimatum to the West to demilitarize the city. He further threatened to declare Berlin free from four-power control, thus making the east-west border crossings less accessible.
The Western powers rejected Khrushchev’s demands, and the status of a divided Berlin was debated by the Soviet Premier, President John F. Kennedy and other Western leaders at Camp David, at a summit in Vienna and through diplomatic channels as late as June, 1961. In July Kennedy, sensing the increased tensions and the possible consequences, announced plans to triple the draft and to call up 127,000 Reserves by the end of August. Partly in response, on August 13 East Germans began erecting a 27 seven-mile long wall, physically segregating East from West Berlin, further increasing tensions.
This 1962 Cartoon by Hugh Haynie celebrates Kentucky's 100th Reserve Division
Among the Reservists activated by the President was the all-Kentucky 100th Division (Training), headquartered in Louisville under the command of Major General Dillman A. Rash. Making up the Division were regiments, battalions, companies and support units—some 3,000 reservists strong—with headquarters and armories in forty four towns and cities across the state. There were “fillers,” Reservist officers and no-commissioned officers from outside Kentucky activated to bring units up to strength where necessary. Many were from Ohio.
Upon receiving their orders, advance parties in early September packed records and equipment and prepared to relocate to Ft. Polk, Louisiana. A change in orders on the 19th, however, re-routed them instead to Ft. Chaffee, adjacent to the western Arkansas city of Ft. Smith.
Ft. Chaffee, Arkansas had been closed, manned with only a skeleton force, for two years prior to this reactivation. What it lacked in basic equipment and amenities, it made up for in weeds and disrepair. The time between late September and the arrival of trainees on October 17 was spent in an attempt to make the barracks, administrative buildings and training facilities functional, even at times presentable. Reservist-owned automobiles and hand tool — necessary supplements to the dearth of available government-issue equipment — were in use early-on throughout the post to accomplish these upgrades.
The mission of the 100th was multiple: three regiments were to receive new recruits for eight weeks of basic training, one regiment to train cooks and supply handlers, another to administer eight weeks of advance infantry training. The job of this latter group was often quite trying, given the cadre experience and expertise was almost entirely with branches other than infantry. The results of the proficiency testing of the initial advanced trainees were by and large disappointing, although they improved dramatically in the subsequent training cycles.
Tensions in Berlin continued at a high level through much of October, with armed Soviet and Western tanks facing each other across the Berlin checkpoints. On October 28 both sides slowly and carefully retreated, easing tensions a bit. The Wall, however, did and would remain a heavily guarded, unattractive physical and emotional barrier for the next twenty eight years. As John Kennedy would later state; “It’s not a very nice solution, but a wall is a hell of a lot better than a war.”
Early 1962 brought much-needed help to the Division’s mission. There was now near-adequate ground transportation, office equipment and proper training aids; and the instructors had become more knowledgeable of and comfortable in teaching their specialties. Proficiency test scores were now said to rival, if not exceed those of recruits receiving training at regular army installations.
The attitude of the 100th Division Reservist was amazingly good, given the interruption of his civilian life and the diverse tasks he was often asked to perform. He seldom complained. Apparently this was not the case everywhere: there were reported incidents of activated reservists throughout the country petitioning their congressmen and carping to the local media of their plight. This caused Louisville Courier-Journal political cartoonist Hugh Haynie to draw an early January, 1962 panel depicting a stereotypical Kentucky Colonel penning these words of admiration:
“MIDST OTHERS’ GRIPES, / SNAFUS AND NOISE… AINT’CHA PROUD, / KENTUCKY BOYS?
The spring of 1962 brought rumors and much speculation about when the Division would be de-activated. In the meantime, however, recruits continued to arrive. By the time of the final graduation ceremonies on August 3, some 32,000 had received their basic and/or advanced training by the citizen-soldiers from the Bluegrass state.
The return home later that month was much better structured and executed than the activation of the previous fall. Most towns in which an armory was located staged a returning ceremony as a show of thanks and welcome home to their men in uniform.
Accolades and expressions of appreciation for a job well done continued to come forward, from such dignitaries as the Secretary of the Army, the Army Chief of Staff and President Kennedy himself.
Ft. Chaffee, Arkansas has been the location of several diverse efforts since 1962, including a relocation center in 1975 for refugees from Vietnam and Cambodia, from Cuba in 1980 and from hurricane Katrina in 2005. An uncontrolled fire in 2009 burned 150 buildings; however, it is still in limited use for National Guard training. A Google search gives no mention of the 1961-62 100th Division presence there.
The Berlin Wall stood until 1989, when President Ronald Reagan admonished his Soviet counterpart, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” That symbol of the tensions that caused the 1961 reserve activation is now gone, and the great German city has been reunited.
The 100th Division, first organized in World War I, and fighting with distinction in Europe in World War II, is still active; but re-organized in keeping with the needs of the Modern Army. In 2011 headquarters were relocated to Ft. Knox.
Nearly five decades have passed since the 100th s de-activation, and all who served have long since hung up their fatigues and dress greens. Four men died, and more than 20 joined the regular army while on active duty at Ft. Chaffee. For others, this time spent fulfilled their required Reserve commitment and they were released from further obligations.
Most, however, came home to Kentucky and continued attending weekly drills and summer camps; remaining prepared for the possibility of yet another call to active duty. Their year in uniform produced no new combat veterans, no Medal of Honor recipients — nor did they even earn a campaign ribbon. But all have the satisfaction of a job well done.
AIN’TCHA PROUD, KENTUCKY BOYS ?
Yes, I believe we were and are.