HOUSE CONCURRENT RESOLUTION NO. 73
(By Delegates Howell, Evans and Rowan)
Honoring the members of the 78th Infantry Division and Proclaiming April 4th, 2012 as 78th Lightning Division Day.
Whereas, The 78th Infantry Division was activated on August 23, 1917 at Fort Dix, New Jersey consisting of four Infantry Regiments: the 309th, 310th, 311th, and 312th and three Artillery Regiments: the 307th, 308th and 309th; and
Whereas, The great Meuse-Argonne offensive was launched with the 78th in the forefront, in France on October 16, 1917. The 78th won its place among the outstanding divisions of the First World War by meeting and rolling back remnants of nine German divisions. Later it was described as “the point in the wedge” of the final offensive which knocked Germany out of the war; and
Whereas, The 78th was relieved by the 42nd “Rainbow” Division six days before the Armistice, and then headed for the ports of embarkation which it commenced to leave on April 23, 1919. By June 15, 1919, all units had returned to Fort Dix and demobilized; and
Whereas, The 78th Division of World War II was reactivated at Camp Butner, N.C. on August 15, 1942, with the new division totaling about 15,000 men and embarked to the European Theatre on November 22, 1944. The 78th Infantry Division engaged in combat in Belgium, France and Germany fighting in places such as the Siegfried Line, the Roer and Rhine Rivers, the Cologne plain, the Remagen bridgehead and the Ruhr pocket, before being officially deactivated in May of 1946; and
Whereas, The World War II Honor Roll lists members of the division as having received nine Distinguished Service Crosses; 599 Silver Star Medals; 3,909 Bronze Star medals; and 5,454 Purple Hearts. 1,368 officers and enlisted men paid the supreme sacrifice. One Medal of Honor was awarded to a soldier of the Division, West Virginian Staff Sergeant J. Edward Kelley of Keyser, West Virginia. Staff Sergeant Kelley, only 21 years old, led a squad in repeated assaults on German-held buildings in the village of Kesternich, south east of Aachen, which was crucial to control of the nearby Roer River dams, during intense house-to-house fighting on January 30, 1945. Although he was twice wounded, the second time when a mortar shell fragment passed through his left hand, disabling it, he did not withdraw to seek medical attention but continued to lead his men. His serious wounds forced him to fire his rifle with one hand, resting it on rubble or over his left forearm. To blast his way forward with hand grenades, he set aside his rifle to pull the pins with his teeth while grasping the missiles with his good hand. Despite these handicaps, he single-handedly rushed one house, killing three of the enemy and clearing the way for his squad to advance. He then killed a sniper in the next house with a single shot and similarly accounted for another enemy soldier who ran from the cellar of the house. As darkness came, he assigned his men to defensive positions, never leaving them to seek medical attention. At dawn the next day, the squad resumed the attack, he moved out alone, located an enemy gunner dug in under a haystack and killed him with rifle fire. Returning to his men, he found that a German machine gun still held up the advance. Ordering the squad to remain in comparatively safe positions, he attacked the position single-handedly through a hail of bullets. He was hit several times and fell to his knees when within 25 yards of his objective, but he summoned his waning strength and emptied his rifle into the machine gun nest, silencing the weapon before he died. For these actions, he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor eight months later, on September 10, 1945; and
Whereas, The surviving members of the 78th Infantry Division set up a bank account in Keyser to assist in the funding of the annual J. Edward Kelley Scholarship which is presented each year at Potomac State College, and have annually returned to Keyser, West Virginia to award three students the J. Edward Kelley Scholarship in memory of their fallen comrade; and
Whereas, Wednesday April 4, 2012, will mark the 67th time that the J. Edward Kelley award will be presented, and will mark the last time that the 78th will be making the trip to Keyser, West Virginia as an official visit of their organization; therefore, be it
Resolved by the Legislature of West Virginia:
That the members of the 78th Infantry Division be hereby honored and that April 4th, 2012, be proclaimed “78th Lightning Division Day”; and, be it
Further Resolved, That the Clerk of the House of Delegates forward certified copies of this resolution to the J. Edward Kelley Society, Keyser High School, Keyser Moose Lodge and the surviving members of the 78th Infantry Division.