Tough Choice But The 82nd Airborne Inducted 20 Members Into Its Hall of Fame

We all know of the storied exploits of the United States’ 82nd Airborne Division. The elite group of soldiers with the motto – Death From Above – has spent a century developing its unique mystique.

In April of 2018, the 82nd Airborne Division inducted its first 20 members as the inaugural class of the units Hall of Fame. With so many notable soldiers serving in the unit since its creation, it was certainly a difficult task in choosing the first class and narrowing it down to 20.

100 Plus Years for the All-American Division

A large portion of the U.S. Expeditionary Forces created in Word War I were units from state militias or national guard units and were formed by citizens within particular areas such as Harry Truman’s Battery B from the Kansas City, Missouri area.

Conversely, the 82nd Division was made up of soldiers from all over the United States, which was unusual at the time based on the mustering system.

Soldiers of 82nd and 101st Airborne Division soldiers holding a captured Nazi flag in Normandy
Soldiers of 82nd and 101st Airborne Division soldiers holding a captured Nazi flag in Normandy

As such, the division was given the name of All-Americans and their “AA” insignia is representative of this. The unit served with distinction in World War I, but was deactivated after the war.

Leading into the Second World War, the 82nd was reactivated and given the unique designation as America’s first airborne division. The 101st Airborne would use elements of the 82nd in their creation later.

82nd Airborne Division paratroopers in Tunisia prior to the invasion of Sicily, July 1943
82nd Airborne Division paratroopers in Tunisia prior to the invasion of Sicily, July 1943

The war in Europe against the Axis forces would be the proving ground for this new, modern mode of warfare and the 82nd would make four airborne assaults during the war.

Their feats and effectiveness would continue in conflicts yet to come and the soldiers of the 82nd are one of the United States’ rapid deployment units boasting the ability to mobilize and see action in nearly any place on the globe within hours of getting the call.

A Short List of the Standout Warriors of the All-American Division

Here are some of the most notable members of the 82nd Airborne that made the cut for the 1st class of their HOF.

Members of the French Resistance and the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division discuss the situation during the Battle of Normandy in 1944.
Members of the French Resistance and the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division discuss the situation during the Battle of Normandy in 1944.

General Matthew Bunker Ridgeway

Ridgeway is one of the most important figures of World War II. He was the 1st commander of the 82nd Airborne Division who transitioned the unit to airborne deployment. He led the division throughout World War II and helped set the standard for airborne operations of United States personnel.

Ridgeway would later lead U.S. forces in the Korean War taking full charge of all United Nations forces after President Truman dismissed MacArthur. It was in Korea that Ridgeway earned the nickname “tin tits” because he regularly donned two hand grenades clipped at chest level.

A West Point graduate of the class of 1917, Ridgeway retired from the army in 1955.

Major General Matthew Ridgway and Major General James M. Gavin during the Battle of the Bulge, December 19, 1944
Major General Matthew Ridgway and Major General James M. Gavin during the Battle of the Bulge, December 19, 1944

Retired Command Sgt. Major William “Joe” Gainey

Gainey served in a variety of roles with the 82nd Airborne and was a platoon sergeant during Operation Desert Storm in the early 90’s. Gainey enlisted in the Army in 1974 and served until retirement in 2008.

Rising through the ranks, Gainey served in every capacity armored capacity including tank commander. He often carried a bearing from an Abrams tank, which he called his “military bearing”.

Gainey was highly respected by his peers and commanders and would ultimately serve as Senior Enlisted Adviser to the Joint Chiefs of Staff – a position newly created in 2005 in which he was the first to hold the position.

Additionally, Gainey earned many awards and distinctions including the Bronze Star with “V” Device. The biennial “Best Scout Squad” competition at Fort Benning, Georgia is even named after him – The Gainey Cup.

Seabees from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 3 listen to Army Sgt. Maj. William J. Gainey in 2007, Okinawa, Japan
Seabees from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 3 listen to Army Sgt. Maj. William J. Gainey in 2007, Okinawa, Japan

1st Sergeant Leonard A. Funk Jr.

Funk joined the U.S. Army in 1941 before the outbreak of war and later volunteered to become a paratrooper. He took part in Operations Overlord and Market Garden, fought at the Battle of the Bulge.

He is one of the most decorated soldiers of the 82nd Airborne. In 1945 while stationed in Belgium, Funk came across a group of 80 German soldiers that had disarmed their American guards in an attempt to escape.

Though outnumbered, Funk opened fire on the Germans, led the freed American soldiers in taking weapons and convinced the remaining German soldiers to surrender. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions that day, but also received the Silver and Bronze Stars and 3 Purple Hearts during his WWII service.

Funk left the Army after WWII, but worked the Veterans Administration until he retired in 1972.

The U.S. 82nd Airborne Division, under command of Maj. Gen. Gavin, arrives in the Ardennes and are deployed at La Gleize to block the advance of Kampfgruppe Peiper.
The U.S. 82nd Airborne Division, under command of Maj. Gen. Gavin, arrives in the Ardennes and are deployed at La Gleize to block the advance of Kampfgruppe Peiper.

General Roscoe Robinson Jr.

Robinson graduated from West Point in 1947 and would serve with distinction as a platoon and rifle company commander in Korea. He would hone his skills and education following Korea and lead a battalion in Vietnam.

In 1975, Robinson became a Brigadier General and was promoted a year later to Major General and given command of the 82nd Airborne. His amazing military career has a long list of achievements including being awarded two Silver and a Bronze Star as well as a Distinguished Flying Cross.

Robinson retired after 34 years of service and passed away in 1993 with a number of “firsts” accomplished – first African-American to command the 82nd Airborne and first African-American 4-Star General. The auditorium at West Point is named for him.

General Roscoe Robinson Jr.
General Roscoe Robinson Jr.

Retired General Ann Dunwoody

Dunwoody was raised in a military family with a long history of service so it is no real surprise that she joined the U.S. Army upon graduation from college in 1975.

What may be surprising is how she worked her way to become a 4-Star General before she retired in 2012 becoming the 1st woman to do so.

The 82nd Airborne Division will always know Dunwoody as its first female battalion commander, a remarkable leader, and a tenacious achiever.

From May 1989 to May 1991, Dunwoody served as executive officer and later division parachute officer for the 407th Supply and Transportation Battalion, 82nd Airborne Division, at Fort Bragg and deployed to Saudi Arabia for Operation Desert Shield/Operation Desert Storm.
From May 1989 to May 1991, Dunwoody served as executive officer and later division parachute officer for the 407th Supply and Transportation Battalion, 82nd Airborne Division, at Fort Bragg and deployed to Saudi Arabia for Operation Desert Shield/Operation Desert Storm.

Sergeant Alvin York

York is one of the first members of the All-American Division. He was drafted into the Army in November of 1917. York was heavily devout and not comfortable with the thought of violence against men.

However, when a detachment from his unit was sent to silence German machine positions during the Argonne-Meuse Offensive in 1918, then Corporal York stepped up to the plate.

His detachment captured a slew of German soldiers that were preparing for a counter-offensive, but then came under heavy fire from more machine gun bunkers. With 9 men killed or wounded, York became the highest ranking soldier left in the unit.

Sergeant Alvin York at his press conference on a deck of USS Ohioan (ID-3280) on 22 May 1919 at New York
Sergeant Alvin York at his press conference on a deck of USS Ohioan (ID-3280) on 22 May 1919 at New York

He led an assault on a machine gun nest killing over a dozen soldiers before running out of ammunition and then used his Colt 1911 pistol to kill 6 more Germans that charged him. The German commander of the machine gun positions, out of ammunition, offered to surrender.

In the end, York and his unit returned with 132 prisoners plus weapons and he was immediately promoted to Sergeant. Following an investigation of events, he was awarded the Medal of Honor, Legion of Honour (France), Military Medal (France) and over 50 other distinctions.

Alvin C. York after World War I
Alvin C. York after World War I

York would lead an admirable but not highly prolific life in the States. He lobbied and worked for programs to benefit his native region of Tennessee and had 8 children. Fittingly, when York passed away in 1964 General Matthew Ridgeway attended as President Johnson’s representative.

Read another story from us: Rainbows and Unicorns – The Planning Flaws of Operation Market Garden

Tip of the Iceberg

Of course, this is but a small list of the heroes that have and still populate the ranks of the 82nd Airborne Division. The full list of the 1st 20 members of the division’s hall of fame can be seen here. 5 additional members will be selected each year going forward.