Presidential Unit Citation

Archived at the Center for Military History (CMH) in the 551st PIB study. This is part of Col. Dillard’s Executive Summary in response to the 1995 submission, in which the 551st was not recommended and subsequently declined the PUC in 1995. After the rebuttal Col. Dillard, and others, went back to work and resubmitted. The men of the 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion were finally awarded the PUC in 2001. The painting was commissioned for the PUC ceremony and done by Mary Hortman, an award winning artist and relative of the Dean family (Bill Dean, HQ, 551st PIB).

“Conclusion: Why give the PUC to the 551st? The battalion earned it. It would be eminently satisfying to the old men and do the U.S. Army proud. A PUC to this lost battalion would be a salute to all those soldiers who were similarly lost in battle and lost from history. The award becomes a powerful metaphor and inspiration to soldier and civilian alike: America does not forget its best even if its best are hidden for half a century.”

“Why, finally, bestow the Presidential Unit Citation on the 551st 50 years late? There is one big reason: The battalion manifestly deserves it. There are other reasons:

  1. In the first week of January 1945, the 551st took 29 percent of the casualties of the entire 82nd Airborne Division. The little battalion also captured 18 percent of Division’s captured Germans during this period, and killed 16 percent of the enemy the Division killed at this time. These are disproportionate figures for a battalion less than 5 percent of the Division.
  2. Survivors are all in their 70s and 80s and a late honor would be so satisfying — for those giving and receiving alike.
  3. No less than six historians describe in their books the 551st extraordinary valor in the counteroffensive — Parker, Devlin, Breuer, Blair, Morgan, and Orfalea. (Not one of these are cited by CMH). An award would be congruent with the history as we know it in its fullest. And it would focus attention on an oft-forgotten, but crucial, part of the Bulge –the counteroffensive.
  4. Eminent command generals have compared the 551st’s actions with the highest PUC-merited actions of their units at the Bulge — Matthew Ridgway and John Norton.
  5. Distinguished individuals and officials across the ideological spectrum support this award to the 551st.
  6. The award would right a 50-year wrong and do the Army proud. The men don’t need this award; but the Army needs to give it to them.
  7. The 551st was a lost battalion. A PUC to it is a salute to all those soldiers who were similarly lost in battle and lost from history. They would carry the honor for those who, for one reason or another, never received anything for their courage. In short, the award becomes a powerful metaphor.
  8. The Army has the chance to write the ending to the book on the 551st to be published by the Free Press/Simon and Schuster. A negative decision makes for a sour, unhopeful ending. A positive one inspires civilian and the military personnel alike. It would fire esprit d’ corps and highlight the best traditions of the American Army which toils in a cynical, difficult world. It will show that ultimately America does not forget its best, even if its best is hidden for half a century.”