Dramatic GI accounts by 99ers in World War II
Wealth of historically significant material includes dozens of Robbie drawings
900 West End Ave., #17-A
New York NY 10025
The 99th Infantry Division Association’s newspaper, The Checkerboard, is at long last on the Web site! Now anyone worldwide – 99ers, scholars and historians, and all other interested parties everywhere – may peruse a wealth of material about the remarkable 99th Infantry Division in some of the most momentous battles of World War II and about the 99th Infantry Division Association during its very active post-war period on up to the present.
The 99th Infantry Division served with distinction on the front line in such famed WWII’s encounters as the legendary Battle of the Bulge (mid-December 1944 to late-January 1945), the perilous crossing of the Rhine River on the Remagen Bridge (early March 1945), and the Final Battle of Germany (April-May 1945), which event marked the close of World War II in Europe.
In the pages of the WWII Checkerboard (1943-44) there appear as well many vivid drawings by the 99th’s own gifted soldier artist, Robert S. “Robbie” Robison, one of the finest soldier artists of the war. The post-war Checkerboard
also features many accounts of the extensive growth of the 99th Archives, housed at the prestigious Military History Institute in Carlisle Barracks PA, 90 miles north of Washington, D.C.
Checkerboard web site
To learn more about the 99th in war and in peace, you are welcome to log onto The Checkerboard Web site at: http://99div.newspaperarchive.com/.
With this wealth of 99th material now readily available on The Checkerboard Web site and in its multifaceted Archives, any scholar-historian who would like to make an in-depth study of a single remarkable American infantry division which fought on the front line in some of the decisive battles of World War II in Europe would do well to consider studying the U.S. Army 99th Infantry Division.
Battle of the Bulge
Much information on the 99th has of course already appeared in numerous books and articles, in film and in many other sources over the years, but scarcely ever before has such a vast and varied range of personal, newly revealed material on this division been available as in these 3,455 pages of the Checkerboard on the web site.
For a quick, short chronology of the 99th overseas in Europe during WWII from October 1944 to May 1945, see the Web site for May 1983.
The chronology, with a sometimes terrifying immediacy, was written by a front-line 99th infantryman who fought in the Battle of Bulge from its very onset. The report was written in May of 1945, when censorship had been lifted just two weeks after the end of the war and when the events related in this chronology were still vividly fresh in the young soldier’s mind. The material was not published until nearly 40 years later, in the May 1983 issue of The Checkerboard (pages 4-7).
This chronology is entitled “Young infantryman tells of experiences... ‘Battle Babies’ defend Elsenborn Ridge ... and they cross the Rhine at Remagen.” Members of the 99th were called “Battle Babies” because they had been on the front line for only a little over a month when they were suddenly – and ferociously – attacked early in the morning of Dec. 16, 1944, by massed German forces in “Hitler’s Last Gamble.” Green as the 99th troops were, they acquitted themselves most admirably and most valiantly in this legendary battle and in the ensuing encounters till the end of the war in Europe.
Pre-dawn artillery barrage
This account evokes the thunderous pre-dawn opening artillery barrage (Dec. 16, 1944) of the Battle of the Bulge aimed at the hapless American soldiers of the 99th, huddled in their foxholes, who at first did not know if the shells were “outgoing or incoming mail.” They soon found out it was “incoming.” The report continues by relating how units of the 99th during those first confusing, hair-raising hours were attacked and surrounded, and how more harrowing ordeals quickly followed as isolated 99th units fought and infiltrated their way back to the main American lines. There the exhausted men – given little respite – at once took up exposed positions on hastily formed defense lines along the crucial Elsenborn Ridge at the rim of the Belgian-German border, where the 99th repulsed further attacks in this fierce battle.
The higher-ups, basking in luxury near Paris, or at least as some historians tell us, soon came to realize that this was no minor incursion but a major enemy offensive, whereupon massive reinforcements were hurried to the area (led by Patton, Montgomery, Hodges, et al). All the while the 99th GIs and those from other units were being steadily bombarded day and night by enemy artillery, with at first because of cloudy weather no American air support.
For more than a month in the bitterly cold winter weather (one of the coldest European winters in years) the fierce battle raged on. It was not at all pleasant, as one could well imagine, for those of us who were there, as we tried laboriously to dig what we hoped would be protective foxholes in the frozen, rock-veined ground. Some sense of these hard conditions is given in the above GI letter, written in May 1945. This is but one of many items of special interest on the 99th’s Checkerboard web site.
Range of experiences in war and peace
This soldier’s report (a 22-page letter written to the GI’s parents back home in the Midwest) has perhaps a certain immediacy that accounts penned much later by calmer, more scholarly historians might lack. This is of course one of the great advantages of having many such letters and reports by a wide range of soldiers’ experiences at the front and in the rear, during occupation duties and on passes in Europe, in training and on furlough back home, now available in a single Web site. All these and many more subjects written by WWII GIs and post-war veterans appear variously through the years of The Checkerboard, now available to everyone worldwide through its own web site.
The pages of the post-war Checkerboard contain many, many more accounts about and by 99ers not only in the Battle of the Bulge but also about ensuing encounters of the war in Europe: the treacherous crossing of the Rhine River on the perilously shaky Remagen Bridge, pummeled almost constantly by enemy shelling and bombing. We GIs would watch, mesmerized, as German and American aircraft darting through the skies, engaged in dogfights, with at times pilots parachuting to the ground from exploding planes. A few days later the weakened Remagen span collapsed. As it turned out, the 99th was the first complete division across the Rhine. Those were dramatic times, with historic events coming fast and furious almost daily!
Ruhr Pocket and Bavarian Alps
The 99th continued onward, helping to close the vital Ruhr Pocket during which tens of thousands of surely relieved prisoners, for whom the war was now over, were captured. The Ruhr then as today was a huge industrial complex, whose capture prevented further heavy armaments from being manufactured and from being delivered to their fellow countrymen in military action.
And then came the final battle of Germany, focusing on whether Russia or the Western Allies should strive to take Berlin. Roosevelt and Stalin agreed (over Churchill’s strong objection) to leave it to the Russians of assuming the horrifying and herculean job of taking the German capital. In the meantime, the Americans turned southeast toward the Bavarian Alps, where it was feared that the Germans would make a last desperate stand in the putative formidable Alpine fortress, an area called the German National Redoubt. We American soldiers, mostly not of a military cast, who had had enough fighting, were quite content to let the Russians engage in the monstrously deadly task of taking Berlin.
Approaching the Bavarian Alps (certainly a glorious resort and ski area today) as the war rapidly neared its end, we 99ers had the very good fortune that we
did not have to try to fight our way up and across those towering mountains. As it turned out, Hitler did not retreat to Bavaria after all (the arch-dictator met his end at his Berlin bunker), and the mountain redoubt never materialized.
Those final weeks of World War II in Europe are an utterly fascinating historic time, which we felt even then, the fascination of which continues undiminished
even today. Highlights of these historic weeks are captured in the GI’s 22-page letter now available on The Checkerboard web site.
Occupation duty and the atomic bomb
With the end of the war, the 99th assumed occupation duty in the area around Wurzburg. The lucky GIs got four-day passes to Paris. All the while we were concerned about the war still raging in the Pacific, and even more
concerned about when or whether the 99ers individually, or as a unit, might soon be transferred to the Pacific.
Then suddenly in August, shortly after the Big Three meeting in Potsdam with Churchill, Stalin, and Truman came the overwhelming news of the dropping of the two atomic bombs in Japan – and soon thereafter the surrender of the Japanese to the Allies. Whatever debates then or in the future about this historic turn of events, the greatly relieved GIs now knew that the war was over for them and that they would be safe at last. Now all thoughts were on returning to the good old USA!
As you browse through the pages of The Checkerboard, you will have the opportunity of comparing and contrasting various GI accounts of these military encounters, of the 99th during occupation duty, of the 99th Association after the war. You may ponder how such accounts in the form of articles, reports, reminiscences, disagreements and confirmations, letters-to-the-editor, elaborations, and much more may agree and differ with one another and how they may provide varying perspectives of these momentous events.
And so it goes over the years throughout these many hundreds of pages of The Checkerboard: 78 issues published in 1943-44 at the height of WWII while the 99th was in state-side training and well over 200 issues from 1950 onward, published by the 99th Infantry Division Association. Of very special interest in these wartime issues are dozens of drawings by the 99th’s own gifted artist, Robert S. “Robbie” Robison, widely regarded as one of the finest American soldier artists of World War II. (For further material on Robbie, see below.)
The 99th Infantry Division Association founded
Five years after the war, in 1950, veterans of the 99th got together and established the 99th Infantry Division Association. It has been a thriving, very active organization ever since, with annual reunions held in various parts of the United States, visits to World War II battle sites, and the publication of its newspaper, again called The Checkerboard. This distinguished newspaper, appearing four to six times a year, continues to offer a vast range of articles, photos, maps, reports, book reviews, art work, and much more by and about the 99th GIs in wartime and the veterans in peacetime.
Editor-in-chief Bill Meyer
From the mid-1970s onward, 99er Bill Meyer, a notable Midwestern newspaper editor, has served as the indefatigable, highly professional editor-in-chief of The Checkerboard. For many years he has been very ably assisted by his colleague, Donna Bernhardt, who a few years ago, on the passing of Bill Meyer, became The Checkerboard editor and the Executive Director of the 99th Infantry Division Association. To Bill Meyer first of all and to our fellow 99ers who have contributed so much in war and peace we are proudly dedicating this Web site of The Checkerboard.
99th Division Archives launched
At about the same time that Bill Meyer assumed his Checkerboard editorship position in the mid-1970s, the then 99th president, Clyde Groff of Lancaster PA, spearheaded a drive (commencing in 1976) to establish the 99th Archives, which organization the Association had hitherto unfortunately not possessed, at least not in any formal, substantial sense. Designated as the 99th archivist was a Minnesotan transplanted to New York City, Donald V. Mehus, a university professor in that East Coast metropolis and a widely published international journalist. He has continued to serve as the 99th archivist up to the present day (2010).
Military History Institute
The first two major duties of the newly formed Archives Committee were to begin collecting materials for the 99th Archives and at the same time to find a suitable, permanent depository site for our Archives. The committee’s work, like that of most of the board and general membership on behalf of the 99th, has been essentially pro bono, though some minor expenses have been covered from time to time.
In 1978, after a thorough search by Groff and Mehus, including considerable in-library research, phone calls, correspondence, and driving around the historic Lancaster area, they decided on the Military History Institute at Carlisle Barracks PA. The MHI seemed to be just the right place for the 99th Archives, and subsequent experience has proven that there was absolutely no doubt about this! It could not have been better.
The name “Carlisle Barracks” notwitstanding (the name might suggest that the place is a spartan army camp with plain wooden barracks), the area is quite attractive with handsome stone buildings, pleasant residential houses for staff members, various playing fields, green lawns, and winding roads. The place, in short, exudes an aura more of a university campus than of an army camp.
Invitation to the 99th from the MHI
To the great good fortune of the 99th, the director of the MHI, Col. Donald P. Shaw, whom we had personally contacted, cordially invited the 99th Infantry Division Association to house its Archives permanently at the MHI. The board and the general membership of the 99th were pleased and honored to accept this most welcome invitation, and the large and steadily-growing 99th Archives have been housed at MHI ever since.
You may see a copy of Col. Shaw’s letter of invitation to our Archives in the June 1978 issue of The Checkerboard and on the web site. Additional relevant articles on the MHI and the 99th Archives appear in the May 1978, June 1978, October 1982, October 1985, and other issues of The Checkerboard.
Through the ensuing decades, the successive MHI directors have all similarly been cordially supportive of the 99th Archives. We would here like to express our special appreciation to the following directors and their colleagues, starting with Col. Donald P. Shaw in the 1970s, Col. Rod Paschall in the 1980s, Col. Thomas Sweeney in the 1990s, and on up to Col. Conrad Crane in the present decade. They have all been of great service to the 99th Archives and the 99th veterans, and their assistance is greatly appreciated.
Army War College
The Military History Institute is located on the grounds of the Army War College, the army’s senior educational institution. After West Point graduates have spent 10 or 15 years in the field, a certain number of highly selected officers are admitted to the Army War College, where a year is devoted to study of the American military in the global military, political, and economic context. Included among the AWC’s celebrated graduates are World War II Generals Dwight D. Eisenhower and Omar Bradley.
From colonial times to the present
The MHI has the largest collection of materials on the American army from colonial times to the present anywhere. The 99th thus feels even more honored to be included in such august company. Particularly helpful on a personal level – and most knowledgeable – from the very start of the 99th Archives’ association with the Military History Institute has been Dr. Richard J. Sommers, in the 1970s and 1980s an official of the MHI Manuscript Division and currently Senior Historian at the U.S.Army Heritage and Education Center at Carlisle Barracks. It is always a real pleasure to confer with Dr. Sommers, whether by phone or in person while visiting the MHI, which Clyde Groff and this writer have done a number of times early on while establishing the 99th Archives at MHI.
Very helpful as well through the years have been David A. Keough, MHI Archivist, whose expertise has been acknowledged in print by scholars who have researched books on WWII at the MHI; Pamela Cheney of the Classified Holdings Branch of MHI; and Michael Winey, curator of maps. Included in Winey’s department are some 25 highly detailed maps – with clear battle markings – donated by 99er Howard Denhard that were actually used by the 99th on the front line in the Battle of the Bulge, in the crossing of the Rhine River at Remagen, and elsewhere in Germany. As a lowly 99th infantry private during WWII, this writer never saw these maps while the war was in progress, but now, if he so chooses, he might be able, by examining the maps personally, at MHI, to relive his front-line experience more vividly – and perhaps more vividly than he would care to!
After Action Reports and more about the MHI
These maps are of considerable interest, especially when consulted in relation to the 99th’s After Action Reports, also at the MHI (donated by Nevelle McKinney of Albuquerque NM), a stack of documents five or six inches thick spanning the same time period, that is the months when the 99th was serving on the front line from Nov. 9, 1944, to May 8, 1945, VE Day.
At the same time that these reports were drawn up, a parallel series (also in the 99th collection at MHI) were written, sometimes daily, called “Lessons Learned.”
No telling how many lives such lessons might have saved! All of this material – maps, After Action Reports, Lessons Learned – studied together can be quite illuminating, whether for scholars, researchers, 99ers, or all others.
Once 99th materials are donated to the MHI, they become the property of MHI, and the Institute assumes all expenses of cataloging the materials, preserving them in perpetuity, and making the MHI’s archival holdings available to visitors, scholars, 99ers, and others, at no expense to the 99th. As was clearly experienced by 99ers during visits to the Institute, the MHI staff does indeed do splendid work in this and in all other matters. (For further information about the MHI directly, you may contact the Institute by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 717-245-3971. Visit the web site at www.usahec.org.
Archivist’s reports and 99ers’ donations
During the course of searching for a permanent depository site for the 99th Archives, this writer as archivist was designated as the principal person to submit periodic reports about the 99th Archives to the 99th board and general membership. Perhaps the selection of this writer as the report-preparer was due in part (1) to his having been a 99th front-line infantryman and thus had had first-hand experience of the often terrifying ordeals we 99ers went through and (2) because he was and continues to be a long time professional writer whose work has been widely printed in leading publications in America and Europe, in fact, in some of major German cities through which we 99ers fought during the war.
At this point, this archivist might mention that he would like to have kept a diary while in the army. But it was soon discovered that this was not allowed, perhaps because if such fell into the wrong hands it might reveal certain matters that should not be known beyond the military. Well, this fellow devised another way that satisfied both the army and this writer. What he did was to write a letter home nearly every day; his parents carefully saved the letters, and from time to time the missives were bound in individual volumes. By the end of the war, this soldier had five bound volumes of hand-written letters (some even penned during artillery bombardments in the midst of the Battle of the Bulge) measuring six or seven inches thick in all.
They still make fascinating reading today, I confess, even if this writer must say so himself.
Talking to staff members of the Military History Institute where our 99th Archives are permanently housed, I was asked if I would consider giving my war diaries eventually to the MHI. It would be an honor to do so. My letter-diaries, by the way, are not just about army training and army front-line experiences. They also recount such “unsoldierly” activities as reading bits of Shakespeare on the front line (to give my mind something else to do: standing guard can get very boring). And after the war there are pages on attending grand opera in Paris and, while still in the army, spending two months studying at Shrivenham American University set up near Oxford, England, to provide other opportunities for GI’s before they returned home.
Shrivenham American University for Post-War GIs
At Shrivenham, in preparation for entering Columbia University on returning to the United States, I had courses with top-flight American professors in modern drama, philosophy, and political science. Part of the purpose of SAU was also to give imported American professors the opportunity to learn first-hand more about the legions of GIs who soon would be attending colleges and universities on the GI Bill. My professors were quite special: my philosophy professor was from Yale, and my modern drama professor, Leslie Groves, was the brother of the General Groves who headed the atomic bomb project. So all in all, the army certainly can do some things right when it wants to.
In any case, my 99th Archival reports, which covered the scope of our ever-growing collection and which included regular appeals for 99ers to continue donating materials to our Archives, were duly published in The Checkerboard.
The articles appeared with the constant strong support of Editor-in-Chief Bill Meyer, who fully understood the interest of this material for 99th veterans and fully realized their significance to historians of today and of the future.
Such donations our fellow 99ers have continued to offer prolifically over the years, with materials coming in from all parts of the United States: letters, photos, maps, reports, unit histories, diaries, drawings, and much more. Many 99ers, as especially requested, have sent us old copies of The Checkerboard. Still, the Archives inevitably have certain gaps in the CBs, especially from the early 1950s. Any missing copies submitted are most welcome and will of course be presented to MHI.
99th donors and Archives bibliography
As you scroll through The Checkerboard web site you will see on the front page of many of the issues from 1950 onward the name and address of the 99er to whom the paper was originally sent and who then later forwarded it on as a gift to the Archives. To these fellows, a warm special thanks! The 99th Archives are indeed the result of contributions from – and the work of – many, many 99ers as well as of others.
So extensive and impressive did the 99th Archives soon become that MHI officials readily proclaimed our Archives to be the largest and best such unit collection at the Institute. (As MHI officials have remarked, individual generals may have donated many boxes of their vast collections of papers and documents, but as a “unit collection,” the 99th’s is still the largest and the best, a matter in which 99ers may well take justifiable pride.)
As though to confirm the official evaluation of the 99th Archives, the Military History Institute launched a series of bibliographies of MHI holdings, commencing with a 50-page index of the 99th Archives. This will be added to our Checkerboard web site as well.
Credit where credit is due
Thus it is that credit for the steady development of this valuable archival collection goes in large measure to the many 99ers who have in so many ways contributed so much to making the collection a true success. These donations include very significantly what would surely otherwise be unavailable: so many copies of The Checkerboard from long years ago. At the very apex of those who have contributed so much, very special credit goes to Checkerboard Editor-in-Chief Bill Meyer, who all along so strongly supported the development of the 99th Archives while at the same time publishing many articles and related items on a range of matters, written by 99ers and others, pertaining to the 99th in war and in peace, thereby so richly preserving for current and future generations the many-sided history of the 99th.
It is thus deemed only fitting that The Checkerboard web site, which is of immense value at the present and which will continue to be so far into the future for making knowledge of the deeds of the valiant 99th in wartime and of the broad spectrum of its veterans’ activities over the following years so much more readily available worldwide – it is most fitting, we repeat, that The Checkerboard web site be dedicated above all to the indefatigable Bill Meyer, who for some 30 years served as the highly professional editor-in-chief of The Checkerboard. At the same time we wish to dedicate The Checkerboard web site as well to all the 99th veterans who have contributed so much in so many ways to the 99th in wartime and in peacetime. All hail to the 99th veterans!
Elsewhere, unfortunately, a 99er who surely knows better, in a broadly disseminated message, failed to give credit where credit is due, that is, to fellow 99ers in this respect, while implying that credit in related matters is due elsewhere. One major aim of this report, then, is to make quite clear where and for what our fellow 99ers and others deserve appreciation and credit and so to express these unequivocally. Our 99th Archives, the assembling of so many copies of The Checkerboard, and the compilation of the web site of these papers would not have been possible without the warm cooperation and many contributions of countless fellow 99ers.
World War II Checkerboard
The very first donations to the 99th Archives when the Archives were established in the late 1970s were, miraculously enough, two complete sets of the World War II Checkerboard – every single page of all 78 issues from 1943 and 1944! These sets were donated by two 99th veterans who worked on the WWII Checkerboard. One set came from Murray Arnold in California, a wartime regimental reporter for the paper, and the other set was donated on behalf of Robert S. “Robbie” Robison, the above-mentioned artist for this publication for the same two-year period. To these two men the 99th Archives are deeply indebted, especially since no other complete collection of these papers is known to exist.
The first volume of The Checkerboard (dated Jan. 13, 1943, to Oct. 1, 1943), was published while the 99th was in training at forlornly primitive Camp Van Dorn MS. (A special, quite informative introduction to the first issues of the WWII Checkerboard was apparently somehow, unfortunately, deleted in the digitizing process. An attempt will be made to restore this imporant text.) In October 1943, The Checkerboard suspended publication, while the GIs of the 99th slugged their way through extenisve military maneuvers. Upon completion of these exercises, the 99th was transferred to Camp Maxey TX, (located some 100 miles northeast of Dallas), a much more civilized encampment, for further training prior to departure for overseas.
ASTPers to Maxey
The second volume of The Checkerboard commenced publication at Camp Maxey on Dec. 1, 1943, and continued through Sept. 6, 1944, a date shortly before the 99th left for the East Coast and thence to war-ravaged Europe for front-line duty. It was in March 1944 that a large infusion of displaced ASTP students joined the old-timers at Maxey. (ASTP stands for Army Specialized Training Program.) This writer was among the ASTPers, happily studying engineering at Baylor University. What a contrast that was – from soft university life to rugged army life! As one ASTPer remarked on hearing the news at one early morning reveille at Baylor of our imminent departure, “You could have knocked me over with a brick!”
All the old-timers agreed that Maxey was far superior to Van Dorn; and this writer, who did his basic infantry training in the stifling mid-summer heat of dairly primitive North Camp Hood, 50 miles so west of Waco, concurred that, likewise, Maxey was much better than Hood! One reason that the ASTPers, who had been assured by the army before their induction of the soft university berth, were yanked out of academic life, was that the army suddenly decided that they needed a lot more infantrymen.
And, voila!, there were the ASTPers sitting there, already with their basic infantry training completed. So promises or agreements notwithstanting (that’s the army for you!), all the ASTPers were unceremoniously dumped from the ivy halls into the austere barracks of the infantry. But we tried to make the best of it – and all too soon found ourselves on the front line with our fellow 99ers along the Belgian-German border ... and then the murderous Battle of the Bulge ... with more deadly encounters still to come ... until glorious VE Day on May 8, 1945!
Robbie drawings in the wartime Checkerboard
Commencing in the January or February 1943 issues of The Checkerboard, there began to appear in page after page dozens of drawings from the pen of the prolific and wonderfully imaginative Robbie, drawings both serious and humorous and everything in between. High in significance among the former, then as now, is a series called “This Is the Enemy.” Each drawing is devoted to a certain prominent leader of the Axis Powers and their allies, each person brilliantly depicted in caricature form. Accompanying the drawings are brief biographical and character sketches along with pertinent historical data.
Included in this series are drawings of such personages as Japan’s Emperor Hirohito, Germany’s Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, and Italy’s Premier Pietro Bagoglio.
This particular series of drawings is of considerable historical interest, and the works stand up very well indeed even today. A half dozen excellent Robbie drawings (including those of several Axis leaders) appears in the October 1985 issue of The Checkerboard (page 10). They will give you a very good idea of what Robbie’s art work is all about.
A second series of Robbie drawings is on strictly military subjects. A typical sketch in this series, called “What’s Wrong With This Picture?” shows a certain miliary situation: perhaps a battle scene, a patrol in action, soldiers marching along a road, a house being attacked, or prisoners being taken. The GI reader of this series, which is designed both to test and to educate the soldier, is to identify whatever errors in the sketch there may be. The errors are listed elsewhere in the respective issue. Robbie, not forgetting that he nwas drawing for GIs who pined for feminine companionship, also offered many morale boosters in the form of sketches of gorgeous, shapely women. And he did other types of sketches too. He was a true master in many kinds of art work, one whose work should be much, much better known.
125 original Robbie art works at MHI
Later Robbie’s widow, Caroline Robison, then living in Florida, presented a priceless collection of some 125 original Robbie art works to the 99th Archives. All of these works continue to be securely housed with our Archives at Carlisle Barracks.
The art curator for these Robbie originals is James McNally of the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center at Carlisle Barracks. McNally has assured us that these original works are being properly cared for and that his office is in the process of professionally photographing them. Susequently, the filmed copies will also be added to The Checkerboard microfilms and then be placed on our web site for everyone worldwide to study and admire at their convenience.
Robbie is considered not only one of the premier soldier artists of World War II but, as some authorities have asserted, most possibly the very best such artist, a judgment with which this writer – and I’m sure many other 99ers – thoroughly agree.
A serious, scholarly study of Robbie’s works is just waiting to be undertaken. Now with so manyof his works readily available on The Checkerboard web site and at Carlisle Barracks, one wonders who will be the first to jump at the chance? It would be a true challenge as well as a great pleasure for that person, a real feather in the cap of whoever undertakes this vastly enjoyable project, no doubt about it! A word to the wise!
Soon after the 99th Archives were established at the Military History Institute, Groff and Mehus seriously considered the possibility of establishing as well a 99th Division Museum. But after some investigation and after considering the possibilities, members of the Archives Committee decided it was just too much of a good thing.
It was a big, big job in itself just to get the 99th Archives off the ground – lots and lots of work.
In addition, at the time, that is, in the late 1970s, the MHI accepted only archival materials from the 99th – or from almost any military or army veteran unit, and thus any 99th museum could not be located at the MHI. However, all was not lost, for a fellow 99er, Dick Byers from Ohio, had been collecting 99th and other army artifacts for some time. He often displayed a selection of these items – equipment, uniforms, insginia, photos, maps, films, etc. – at the 99th’s annual reunions, in a special exhibition called the War Room.
A few years ago, on the death of Dick Byers, the care of these artifacts was transferred to Harry McCracken of Manor PA, then and currently chairman of the Archives committee. (McCracken may be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 724-863-6263.)
Artifacts and archival donations to MHI
Several years ago the MHI, underwent reorganization, making special provisions for collecting and maintaining army artifacts as well as archival materials. This writer has been informed that the MHI Museum collection now comprises some 75,000 items.
So now 99ers may donate materials to our 99th Archives at Carlisle and/or artifacts to the Museum there. This writer, in consultation with staff members at Carlisle, has been informed that certain procedures should be followed in this respect. In essence, before sending any materials to Carlisle, the protocol is to contact, either by phone or e-mail, Jay Graybeal, Acting Director and Chief Curator, Army Heritage Museum, Army Heritage and Education Center, Carlisle Barracks PA 17013, phone: 717-245-4364, e-mail: email@example.com.
Graybeal will discuss the matter with you and/or refer you to another staff member who can provide further information about your putative donation.
It should be stressed that neither archival materials or museum artifacts should be sent to Carlisle Barracks without first contacting Graybeal. They are quite firm about this. The MHI has been absolutely great all these 30-plus years in accepting and caring for a wide range of 99th archival donations, and of course all of us 99ers would want to observe the current policies.
Before you contact Jay Graybeal it is advisable also to contact McCracken for artifacts or either McCracken or Mehus for archival materials, for the sake of 99th record-keeping. Formerly, of course, the 99th Archives Committee and the MHI were pleased to receive any and all archival contributions without contacting Carlisle first. But now with the reorganization at Carlisle Barracks, this is the procedure they would like to have us follow.
Microfilming The Checkerboard
Almost from the first when establishing the 99th Archives, it has been a major aim of the Archives Committee to, in one way or another, make copies of the WWII and post-war Checkerboard better and more widely known. The first step in this endeavor was of course to collect as many copies of The Checkerboard as we could; and as we have seen, 99ers from all over the country were prodigious in their response to our appeals, sending many copies of the paper till we had assembled an almost a complete collection. As mentioned above, we have received all 78 issues of the WWII Checkerboard and more than 200 issues from 1950 onward, all of which have been deposited for safekeeping with our Archives at MHI.
Our next aim was somehow to get all these papers microfilmed so as to preclude the loss of increasingly fragile newsprint. Here too good fortune favored the 99th, for during one of the Archives Committee’s visits to the Military History Institute, while explaining our plight, we were informed that the Wisconsin Historical Society in Madison WI, had a huge collection of newspapers and periodicals (second in size only to that of the Library of Congress in Washington) and that the WHS often microfilmed many such publications as ours.
Wisconsin Historical Society invitation to the 99th
Taking the cue, this archivist phoned the WHS, which confirmed that this public, state-funded library did indeed microfilm publications and that the WHS would be happy to do the same for all copies of The Checkerboard. As in the case of the Military History Institute, the work would be free of charge to the 99th! We were, needless to say, delighted; and over the years we of the Archives Committee arranged to send batches of The Checkerboard periodically from the Military History Institute, where we had deposited the donated Checkerboards, to WHS for microfilming.
It was not, as the original Checkerboard home page seemed to imply, that the Checkerboard copies had somehow got settled in the MHI of their own accord without any effort by 99ers and that they then somehow found their way (again without any 99ers’ efforts) to the Wisconsin Historical Society, where they were to be microfilmed. Nor on the original home page were 99ers given any credit for this very valuable work of contributing Checkerboard copies over the years individually to the 99th Archives. No, it was much work on the part of many 99ers, and credit should have been given to them on the home page, as credit has been given in a number of places throughout this report.
Meticulous work at the Wisconsin Historical Society
The whole complex procedure of establishing and working a great deal on the development and growth of the 99th Archives has not been, as should be apparent by now, a simple task, especially when the Archives Committee had so little funds and so few personnel to rely on. But this archivist felt that since the 99th had got him safely through World War II, dreadful front-line service notwithstanding, he might at least provide some service to the 99th in order to reciprocate, in whatever measure possible.
All along, over the years then, the Wisconsin Historical Society did a meticulous, very careful job in all respects in microfilming every one of the 300-plus issues and the some 3,455 pages of war-time and post-war Checkerboards that we sent to WHS from MHI. These copies, then, are all now on The Checkerboard web site, readily avialable worldwide to all interested persons everywhere!
The original four Checkerboard microfilm reels are carefully filed at WHS. Copies may be viewed on machines at WHS (as this Archivist has done), or an individual or an institution may order one or more reels. Copies of the microfilmed Checkerboard are of course on the Internet now, so that obviously it is not necessary to visit Madison to study them or to purchase your own copy.
Whenever this writer phones or visits the WHS (which he has often done over the years, stopping off in Madison on trips to his native state of Minnesota), staff members are always most cordial and helpful – a real pleasure working with them. Again, one could hardly ask for anything better.
Appreciation to Wisconsin Historical Society
Our appreciation to the WHS goes in the first instance to James P. Danky,
then WHS Newspaper and Periodical Librarian (now retired), who was our
original and our major contact there through the years. Much thanks as well go to
Lori B. Bessler, Microforms Librarian, and to Gail Gibson-Ranallo, her colleague in the Microforms Department, for all their conscientious, hands-on work. And we wish to thank Dr. Ellsworth H. Brown, Director of the Wisconsin Historical Society, as well for his good offices in this project.
As mentioned above, the work at WHS in microfilming copies of The Checkerboard was all done gratis to the 99th. But the Archives Committee, being fully aware of the enormous amount of precise work required in this project, felt that the 99th should offer some tangible evidence of appreciation to the WHS. Thus, though it was not required, the Archives Committee proposed that the 99th Association donate a certain sum of money to the WHS. This was readily approved by the appropriate 99th personnel, and the check duly presented to the Wisconsin Historical Society. The WHS work was – and continues to be – of inestimable value, and we of the 99th were happy to at least provide this gesture of our appreciation.
Wide dissemination of The Checkerboard
At first the Archives Committee thought actual microfilm copies of The Checkerboard might be made available to select public and university libraries in key places around the country, but this could prove quite costly. But then again fortune smiled on the 99th when the possibility of a web site became more and more practical. This writer had attempted for several years to arrange, first, for distribution of The Checkerboard via microfilms, and then for creation of its own CB Web site.
However, neither possibility turned out to be quite feasible at the time. Why that was so was not quite clear: steps that one party might consider perfectly obvious, desirable, and quite feasible, well, others might not see it quite that way. As Albert Schweizer once so aptly remarked, when you go out to do good in the world, don’t necessarily expect that people will smooth the way for you. Instead, be prepared for them to roll stones or logs in your path. I don’t know that it was ever quite like that among the powers that be of the 99th, but for several years, strive as this archivist might, roadblocks of one kind or another seemed repeatedly to bar the way. It was all quite baffling, but c’est la vie.
Be that as it may, at annual meetings year after year, speaking on the behalf of the
chairman of the Archives Committee, who provided his sanction, this writer proposed that the 99th move forward on the project of spreading the good word about the 99th far and wide, but unfortunately to little avail. One person, such as this individual archivist, can do just so much. I tell you, life is not easy.
Once again, last summer this writer decided to make yet another effort, contacting before the annual 99th reunion a good dozen or so 99th board members across the country. Finally, I managed to corral three 99th presidents who expressed favorable views toward the project – one former, one current, and one future president – who agreed to take concerted action at the August 2009 reunion of the 99th Association.
This writer was unable to attend the reunion, but mirabile dictu! the three presidents – Glenn Bronson, B.O.Wilkins, and Herbert Knapp – so successfully spearheaded the drive that the plans for digitizing The Checkerboard and for funding the project were all officially approved. It took this writer many years of perseverance as archivist (more than 30 years, if you go back to 1976!), but at last this particular 99th goal was reached – far longer to accomplish this than it took to win World War II! If it takes three presidents to get something like this done, well, so be it! You can’t give up too easily, though you can get discouraged.
And so the digitizing was done by a commercial company, for which the 99th provided the funding. The Wisconsin Historical Society had done a superb job of microfilming the 3,455 pages of The Checkerboard, with no errors as far as could be determined. But in the process of digitizing some 3,455 pages of The Checkerboard, it would be almost inevitable that there might be some glitches here and there. Such mishaps are perhaps about par for the course. Still, ultimately, by far the largest share of the pages have come out clear and intact on the web site, and for that we can all be thankful.
Fortunately, the digitizing company has assured us that any glitches can be corrected, just as the home page could – and should – be revised to give proper credit immediately in the first vital introuductory page. If any reader happens to note any missing or marred pages or any other discrepancies anywhere in the web site, please apprise the Archivist whose name appears as the author of this report, and we will try to get the mishap corrected.
With thanks and appreciation
And now nearly all available copies of the 1943-44 wartime and post-war Checkerboard (1950 onward) appear on the Checkerboard’s own web site for all interested parties everywhere worldwide to peruse, research, browse, study, read at their own convenience. As mentioned above, just log on to http://99div.newspaperarchive.com/.
And we cannot forbear to repeat the point made earlier: for the many, many people – above all the countless 99ers and of these, foremost Bill Meyer, longtime editor-in-chief of The Checkerboard – as well as for the efforts of the prestigious research institutions that have so diligently and so readily worked gratis on behalf of the 99th Archives over all these years, notably the Military History Institute and the Wisconsin Historical Society, we extend our deepest thanks and warmest appreciation. Their work will continue to prove of inestimable value far into the future.
A treasure trove for historians
And we would like to emphasize again that this wealth of valuable, multifaceted material from a broad range of sources concerning the 99th in wartime and in peacetime is now at last readily available worldwide on the Internet.
Now scholars who may choose to study a single remarkable American infantry division engaged on the front line in some of the most momentous battles of World War II – the Battle of the Bulge, the Remagen Bridge, the Final Battle of Germany – and which division has preserved an extesnsive personal and historical record of the soldiers and events of those legendary times might surely do well, as more than one authority has remarked, to select for study and research the valiant U.S. Army 99th Infantry Division.