WIESBADEN, Germany — With no last-minute deferment to save it this time, the U.S. Army’s V Corps inactivated Wednesday after nearly 62 years of unbroken service in Europe and about a month after returning from its most recent deployment to Afghanistan.
The inactivation of the unit leaves Europe without a corps headquarters for the first time since 1951.
“Today is a bittersweet occasion,” Lt. Gen. James L. Terry, who took command of the Victory Corps in January 2012 and led it during its last deployment, told those gathered on the scenic grounds of Schloss Biebrich.
The German palace on the banks of the Rhine, just miles from the corps’ last headquarters, was a fitting place to end its 95-year history, he said — in Europe, where it began.
Terry said the corps is most likely to be remembered for its exploits in World War I, in which it earned its nickname — Victory Corps — and World War II, in which it “was the first American unit to enter the European theater, led the assault on Normandy, liberated Paris, became the first corps to penetrate the German frontier and played a decisive role in the Battle of the Bulge.”
But its longest period of continuous service came after those wars, Terry said.
Inactivated after World War I and taken off the Army’s active rolls following World War II, it was called back to active service along with VII Corps in 1951. Both units spent the next 40 years postured to defend Western Europe from possible Soviet invasion.
After the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact collapsed, VII Corps inactivated and tens of thousands of American troops redeployed from Europe, but V Corps lived on.
The V Corps mission didn’t end with the Cold War, “nor did it get easier,” Terry said. Throughout the 1990s, V Corps units deployed to the Middle East for Desert Shield and Desert Storm and engaged in peacekeeping operations in Eastern Europe and Africa, he said.
In the last decade, it deployed four times to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In Iraq, the corps became associated with one of the war’s most infamous episodes: the abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib.
When the corps deployed to Iraq again in 2006, it went without commander Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, who was in charge of the corps and U.S. forces in Iraq when the abuse occurred. Investigations cleared him of any wrongdoing, though one report concluded he and other top brass were “responsible but not culpable” for the abuse.
Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli deployed in his place, overseeing the war’s day-to-day operations, as sectarian violence and the American death toll continued to rise.
Since soon after returning from deployment, V Corps’ fate has been nothing if not uncertain.
In 2008, the Pentagon announced plans to inactivate the unit within a year. But as newly elected President Barack Obama tried to reinvigorate the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, the corps got a last-minute reprieve.
In spring 2009, its inactivation was postponed, and by the end of that summer, a command post element from the corps was overseeing operations in Afghanistan and a major escalation in which the number of U.S. forces nearly tripled.
The corps remained in the country until early 2011.
By the time it was relieved in Afghanistan, a major review of U.S. defense strategy and priorities called for the Pentagon to maintain four corps headquarters — of which V Corps was one — apparently giving Victory Corps a new lease on life.
As Terry took command of the unit in January 2012, U.S. Army Europe’s top general referred to the Army’s decision to keep V Corps as rising “from the ashes like a Phoenix.”
The Phoenix’s glory faded fast.
A month later, soon before V Corps was to deploy for its second yearlong rotation in Afghanistan, the Pentagon announced it would inactivate the unit upon its return from the war.
The last of the corps’ soldiers returned from Afghanistan last month, and many of its personnel have already moved on to other units, USAREUR commander Lt. Gen. Donald Campbell Jr. said.
“Soldiers, families and friends of V Corps, the colors are cased, the book is closed and the final chapter consigned to history,” Terry said. “It is now my proud but bittersweet duty to report, it has been done: victory.”