When the United States entered World War II, the will to fight was abundant but the supplies required to vanquish the Axis powers were not. Symbolic of the early stages of the war effort were the training exercises undertaken at Fort George G. Meade by members of the 29th Infantry Division: Because guns were in such short supply, the unit of National Guardsmen from Maryland and Virginia drilled with broomsticks and two-by-fours.
Within two years, the American war effort had grown into a force much greater to behold. So had the 29th Infantry Division. In the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944, the soldiers of the 29th were the only National Guard unit to land and see action on France's Omaha Beach.
During a public ceremony in Ellicott City last Sunday, just in time for Memorial Day and the 50th anniversary of D-Day, the 30-mile Maryland stretch of U.S. 29 was officially named the 29th Infantry Division Memorial Highway. The honor is designated on a large sign standing on a landscaped median near the crossing of U.S. 29 and 40. That's roughly where U.S. 29 begins its snaking trek down to Pensacola, Fla. Signs bearing the new name will be posted along the Maryland stretch of the road over the next few months. Virginia similarly renamed its portion of U.S. 29 last year.
Division veteran Boyd Cook of Hagerstown is credited with hatching the idea for the Maryland designation while driving south on U.S. 29 to a North Carolina business meeting. Former members of the unit have helped raise most of the $20,000 for the cost of the big sign. Besides scraping together those funds and preparing for the dedication ceremony, veterans of the 29th have also been readying for a return trip to Normandy to mark D-Day's 50th anniversary.
Actually, calling U.S. 29 a "memorial" road in honor of the 29th Infantry Division is something of a misnomer. It suggests that the division's glory is all in the past. Not so. Last March, 48-year-old Thomas C. Johnson of Baltimore, an assistant division commander, became the first black brigadier general in the Maryland National Guard. What's more, some 200 members of the 11,000-strong 29th will take part next year in a Middle East peacekeeping program.
The 29th Infantry Division continues to make, not just mark, history.