2nd Infantry Division gears up for centennial with living insignia
December 21, 2016
CAMP CASEY, South Korea — The 2nd Infantry Division formed and photographed a living insignia featuring its storied Indianhead patch Wednesday in the run-up to its 2017 centennial celebrations.
It was the third time since 1925 that the division assembled thousands of soldiers for the unusual photo shoot. The second time was in 2009.
More than 5,000 soldiers wearing dress uniforms, white shirts or red T-shirts gathered on the field to re-create the insignia — an Indianhead superimposed over a white star with a black shield background. Photographers were positioned 40 feet above in two rented cherry pickers.
Some 600 South Koreans were included, reflecting that the 2nd ID is the Army’s only permanently forward-deployed combined division.
The 2nd Infantry Division dates to Oct. 26, 1917, and has remained in South Korea to guard the front lines since the 1950-53 war ended in an armistice instead of a peace treaty.
Maj. Gen. Theodore Martin, the division’s commander, noted the 2nd ID had spent the longest uninterrupted period based overseas.
“Of all the divisions in the Army, this one’s been away the longest and isn’t going home anytime soon,” he told Stars and Stripes before joining the soldiers to stand on the front tip of the insignia. “We’re excited to reach back to our roots and celebrate our centennial.”
The insignia is a combination of two designs chosen in a contest during World War I. One was a plain white star, which either symbolized the national flag or the white star of Texas, “depending on where you’re from,” said retired Col. William Michael Alexander, director of the division’s museum at Camp Casey.
“The other one goes back to our earliest warriors, and that was an Indianhead of a Native American wearing the headdress of the Plains Indians,” he said.
The initial design had different backgrounds depending on battalion and regiment, but it was standardized using a black shield in 1919.
A tab was added last year to mark its reinvention as a combined U.S.-South Korean division, but that is unique to the peninsula.
That also added a new complication for the designers of Wednesday’s living insignia since the tab with the words “combined division” was included in the 240-by-120 foot formation.
The 1925 living insignia — taken at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, which served as the division’s headquarters between the World Wars — was part of a trend in photography pioneered by Arthur Mole. The highest-profile example was a portrait of President Woodrow Wilson that involved 21,000 people in 1918.
The technique lost popularity over the years, but the 2nd Infantry Division gathered at Camp Casey on a rainy day in May 2009 to do it again.
Fortunately, Wednesday was a clear and relatively warm day, so they didn’t have to break out their rain gear.
Alexander said he was ready to make room for the latest portrait by the other two, which sit side-by-side at the museum’s entrance.
Maj. Vincent Gothard, who began planning for the event in October, had the 2009 records as a blueprint, and he used a microscope to count heads in the photo. He then had to adjust the number of soldiers, spacing and the height of the cherry pickers to correct for perspective and ensure the insignia was clear from above.
The plans called for 4,257 soldiers to be on the field, but dozens more were on hand to fill in as needed.
The effort was also complicated by the fact that the division is now split between Camp Casey and Camp Humphreys as part of plans to relocate the bulk of U.S. Forces Korea to hubs south of Seoul.
Gothard said the insignia involved about a fourth of the division and would have no effect on readiness since battalions were on standby.
“Everybody else is still ready to fight tonight within 24 hours or less,” he said.
Earlier Wednesday, about 700 soldiers from the rotational 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division also gathered on Indianhead field to re-create their patch ahead of their own 100-year anniversary next year.
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