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'It's home again': Historic WWII flag returns to Fort Drum

Current and former members of the 10th Mountain Division Artillery help unveil the World War II flag during a ceremony Jan. 22 at Fort Drum, New York. Charles Thompson is the third

MICHAEL STRASSER/U.S. ARMY

By CRAIG FOX | Watertown Daily Times, N.Y. | Published: January 23, 2019

FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Tribune News Service)  — For nearly 14 years, former Fort Drum soldier Chuck Thompson proudly displayed an American flag that flew over Italy during World War II above his fireplace mantle in his Allendale, N.J., home.

The retired captain, who spent four years at Fort Drum from 2001 to 2005, knew the flag wasn’t his to keep.

It needed to be with the 10th Mountain Division Artillery, which helped lead the surrender of the German Army in Italy before the unit was deactivated soon after the Second World War, he said.

For all of these years, he kept that cherished flag safely above his mantle in a wood-framed display case.

Until now.

He brought it back where it has always belonged.

“It’s home again,” he said. “I’m going to miss it, but it wasn’t mine. I’m glad it’s home.”

About 150 soldiers, their families and local dignitaries watched as the historic U.S. flag — with 48 stars on it because Hawaii and Alaska had not become states yet — was unveiled during a ceremony on post on Tuesday.

It’s the first time that the flag has been at Fort Drum since 2004.

Col. Jason T. Williams, current commander of the 10th Mountain Division’s artillery division, known as DIVARTY, told the crowd that the flag was part of the division’s rich history. DIVARTY was again reactivated in 2015.

He was glad that so many Fort Drum soldiers were there to learn about its legacy,

“What a perfect day to honor our lineage,” he said.

It came back Monday after Thompson drove from his home in a rented vehicle that would fit the 5-by-7-foot flag and the 90-pound display case.

Until Monday night, Thompson, now 43, had not stepped foot on Fort Drum since leaving the Army in 2005, following a military career that included attending West Point and subsequently serving in Afghanistan.

Shortly before he left the Army, DIVARTY was deactivated. In 2004, Mr. Thompson was assigned to ensure about 150 artifacts from the original artillery division be protected and end up in their rightful places, including its colors.

It wasn’t for the lack of trying. Four months after getting that assignment, he opened up a box and there it was.

He first tried to get the post museum, then located in a small space, to take the flag. But there was no room.

Efforts then switched to giving the historic piece to the family of Maj. Gen. David L. Ruffner, who died in 1973. As the first 10th Mountain Division DIVARTY commander, he was a beloved figure.

Williams described Ruffner as a tough leader, who wanted the most out of his men.

“He loved his men and his men loved him back,” Williams said.

Thompson also tried to donate it to the Virginia Military Institute, the major general’s alma mater, but that also fell through.

Other possible places had hoped to send the flag included West Point or the Union League, the New York City social club that helped erect the Statue of Liberty. When those efforts failed, he brought it back to his home where they remained until earlier this week.

They will now be boldly displayed in a conference room in artillery division headquarters for all Fort Drum soldiers to see.

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©2019 Watertown Daily Times (Watertown, N.Y.)
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