96th Infantry Division

Deadeyes Heritage Fund

    An estimated 30,000 soldiers served in the 96th Infantry Division during World War II. About 3,000 died of combat wounds. Early in 1946, the survivors who were assigned to the Division late in the war remained in the Army, along with others who were Regular Army or who voluntarily decided to continue to serve. Some were in hospitals recovering from wounds. But the majority was discharged, returned to their homes and resumed their pre-war lives or embarked on new careers. Contacts among those they served with were infrequent and informal.
   Minor Butler, who served in Company B of the 381st Infantry Regiment, came home to his wife and children in Dahlgreen, Illinois. There he worked building railroad cars for a while, co-owned and operated a gasoline station, and finally turned to farming. In the Fall of 1956, he happened to meet a veteran who told him about the reunion of his division that he had recently attended. Butler thought it would be nice if someone set up a reunion for 96th Division vets, but he himself didn’t know how to go about it. Perhaps he could find someone else who would be willing and able to do the job. He had addresses of three others from his Company, so he wrote to them. All the letters came back to him undelivered.
    Butler then ran a notice in the VFW Magazine, seeking other 96th Division vets interested in a reunion. He got 30 responses. That encouraged him to run another notice in the VFW Magazine and The Legionnaire; this time he got about 180 responses, including a $5 check. More mail continued to come in, sometimes with addresses of other 96th Division vets. He realized that it would take some money to continue with anything, and he convinced Hubert Richter (E-381) to act as Treasurer.

    By late in 1956, Butler had settled on the Statler-Hilton Hotel in St. Louis as the site of a reunion and dates in July 1958. An article* by Ed Dakin (also from B-381) quotes Butler as saying, “When we finally got around to the first reunion, I acted as host, programchairman and person in charge of the first business meeting. Also, I conducted the first Memorial Service. Yeah, I was a one man committee handling the whole shebang, except for Hubert Richter helping out whenever I needed him.”

    Attendance at the first reunion was 103. That group set the stage for the formation of the 96th Infantry Division Association, with Butler as President, and for the next reunion to be in 1959. After that, reunions took place annually in late July, and they followed in general the plan of the first reunion. The members of the Association were wartime 96th Division vets, including one who served only during World War I; a Ladies Auxiliary was organized in 1962. The first issue of a newsletter, named The Deadeye Dispatch after the war-time Division newspaper that was first published on Leyte, appeared in 1964.

    The last reunion of that Association took place in Arlington, VA in 2005. By then it was apparent that the reunions and the association could not continue much longer. Membership was declining; when the World War II Memorial in Washington opened in 2004, the VA estimated that only a fourth of the World War II veterans were still alive. But there are units descended from the Division in today's Army. The largest of them at the time was the 96th Ready Reserve Command at Fort Douglas in Salt Lake City, and their leadership welcomed the idea of forming the 96th Infantry Deadeyes Association.  

    The membership was broadened to include, beside WW II vets, soldiers who now serve or have served in any of the Army units descended from the Division or units attached to the 96th Division during World War II, as well as their families and others with interest in the 96th. We all share the same proud history.