News: Beans and bullets: A history of the 77th Sustainment Brigade
Story by Spc. Timothy Koster
FORT MCCOY, Wis. - On the morning of Oct. 2, 1918, more than 500 U.S. soldiers from the 77th Infantry Division began marching into the Argonne Forest in France. Under the command of Maj. Charles White Whittlesey, the 77th was to take up the right flank along the Hindenburg Line while friendly French units were to take up the left. The Allied forces began what was hoped to be the final offensive of the first World War.
Upon entering the forest, the soldiers were barraged by enemy fire. To make matters worse, the left flank was apparently nonexistent. Whittlesey sent numerous runners to try and acquire reinforcements only to have them get lost or captured by German patrols. The 77th had wandered directly into enemy lines; they were surrounded.
For five days they were engaged in battle and were even bombarded with American artillery rounds. As the supply of ammunition, food, and water began to dwindle, the death toll climbed and the soldiers could do nothing but continue to fight on as their comrades’ corpses littered the battlefield.
Whittlesey, as his last and only option for communicating with friendly units in the rear, sent several carrier pigeons carrying requests for re-enforcements and to redirect fire off of his troops.
Although most of the pigeons were shot and killed before they could make it off the front line, one finally made it to friendly forces, carrying the message: “We are along the road parallel 276.4. Our artillery is dropping a barrage directly on us. For heaven’s sake stop it.”
The 77th entered the Argonne Forest with approximately 554 men - of those only 194 were able to make it out unscathed, 150 soldiers were either killed-in-action or captured by enemy patrols; the remaining troops left with injuries.
Despite the hardships, the soldiers of the 77th Infantry Division held their ground and caused enough confusion for the enemy to allow allied forces to move through enemy lines. For their valor, several officers received the Medal of Honor for their role in what has famously become known as “The Lost Battalion.”
The 77th Infantry Division would continue to serve with merit through World War I and again in World War II where they fought in the Pacific theater. For their efforts in World War II, the unit was honored with 16 Distinguished Unit Citations and six soldiers received the Medal of Honor.
The legacy of the 77th has also been honored in several pieces of fiction. The character of Gatsby from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Cotton Hill, the father of Hank Hill, from the animated series King of the Hill both served as members of the 77th. There have also been several feature films and novels based on the division’s exploits including Doughboys, a novella by Christopher Levy.
After being deactivated in 1965, the 77th remained dormant for more than 40 years before being re-designated in 2006 from an infantry division to its new role in the Army Reserve as a sustainment brigade. The legacy lives on as soldiers from the 77th Sustainment Brigade take part in Combat Support Training Exercise 2010 at Fort McCoy, and the expectations are high.
“What I hope for is that the 77th Sustainment Brigade will join its ranks and take its place among the best sustainment brigades in the United States Army Reserve inventory,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Nagee H. Lundee, command sergeant major of the 77th Sustainment Brigade. “It is an honor to do it, it is a privilege to do it. So now we’ve got to get to the end of doing it and put our name in history.”
Lundee, who thoroughly enjoys history, says he has a personal obligation to continue a lineage which is so rich because it is a testament to those who sacrificed so much for freedom and it allows current soldiers to become part of the past.
The irony of the 77th’s lineage is: what the soldiers in the Argonne Forest lacked was a solid supply route of food, water and ammunition; while the soldiers here are in charge of ensuring the supply of food and ammunition to soldiers on the ground. To ensure that history does not repeat itself.
“The 77th Sustainment Brigade’s mission at the CSTX is to provide sustainment support in an exercise environment for CJTF-82 [Combined Joint Task Force 82] in Afghanistan and U.S. forces under NATO control in Afghanistan,” said Col. Stephen Falcone, commander of the 77th Sustainment Brigade.
The training the soldiers of the 77th are receiving here is suited for their upcoming deployment to Iraq. Although they may not be on the front lines like they were in the World Wars, the realistic atmosphere of down range operations here enables them to monitor the effectiveness of the training and re-configure or sustain their standard operating procedures.
“We are able to set the conditions for success,” said Lundee.
There are two battalions which fall under the 77th here, the 718th Transportation Battalion and the 277th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion. They are in charge of transporting supplies, fuel and ammunition; and establishing laundry and bath service. With deployment on the horizon for many of these soldiers, the importance of their mission weighs heavily on their mind.
“Our mission is important because it gets us ready for deployment in Iraq,” said Staff Sgt. Rodney Ballard of the 77th Sustainment Brigade. “This is a vital part for us right now.”
In the fall of 1918, more than 500 soldiers from the 77th Infantry Division marched into enemy territory expecting friendly forces to bolster the flanks. However, upon their arrival the only forces they found were enemy forces. After five days, with nearly half the forces killed and supplies running low, they held their ground until reinforcements could arrive.
As the 77th Sustainment Brigade gears up for deployment, the memory of those who wore the patch bearing Lady Liberty will never be forgotten. The trials they endured through the Argonne Forest and World War II serve as a platform for the 77th’s new mission. It is a mission which will ensure that those trials are a thing of the past and serve proof of the importance of sustainment operations in a time of war.