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A letter from an alum about the Bagstone Brigade

March 16, 2003

I recently read a caption in our newspaper, The Knoxville News Sentinel, under a photograph of some 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) soldiers deploying to possible combat in Iraq. These troops were described as members of the 327th Infantry Regiment, of the “Bagstone Brigade.” It occurred to me that perhaps the reporter, copy editor, and, in fact, many Americans may be losing a sense of our nation’s proud military history. Could the caption have meant Bastogne, as in Belgium? Maybe not.

Now I am no historian, although my former college roommates can certainly attest to my diligence as a history major, but I do try to keep myself educated by reading some and watching a lot of episodes on the History Channel. While I do not profess to any special expertise, like, say, that of the Dixie Chicks, I think I can hold my own in historical discussions.

I feel it is my duty to help everyone understand the glorious history of the “Bagstone Brigade,” including several little known facts about its colorful commander, Brigadier Harley P. Beauregard Bagstone. If there are some minor errors in historical fact in my report, I want to assure everyone that I had no help from James McPherson, Professor of History at my alma mater, and that the responsibility is solely mine.

You may remember General Bagstone from the famous battle which bears his name, or from the famous rallying cry which rang forth from his troops at the beginning of combat, “give ‘em Hell, Harley!” Harley’s troops, which were surrounded and in dire circumstances, refused surrender, and became known as the “battling bastards of Bagstone.” Also, Harley was constantly plagued by his considerable appetite for food, a struggle which, behind his back certainly, some of his junior officers referred to as his “Battle of the Bulge.”

It was during the same critical battle named after Harley, that his artillery commander, Anthony McAuliffe, suffered a horrible wound. McAuliffe became noteworthy in his own right when, asked where he sustained his injury, he answered with his now infamous one-word reply.

The Bagstone Brigade continued to garner glory in successive military conflicts. As a cavalry unit in the Indian Wars, after a particularly long campaign, many of the troops suffered serious saddle sores, and became known thereafter as “The Rough Riders.” It was not long after the Civil War that the Bagstone Brigade became part of the historical 101st Airborne Division. The Division wasn’t so historical back then – things got really historical much later on. In another milestone, some time after President Truman ordered the racial integration of the U.S. military — maybe during the Vietnam era — the 101st became known as the “Band of Brothers.” It’s a shame that Bagstone and his Brigade would not see what a legacy they initiated.

Well, I hope you all have a renewed appreciation for the history of one our Army’s proud units. We wish them Godspeed as the current members undertake a most dangerous mission in continued selfless service to our nation.

Robert F. Kemp ’68
Kodak, Tenn.

Bob Kemp is a retired Army colonel and current cubmaster, living in East Tennessee. He has never had the privilege of serving in the Bagstone Brigade, but has logged nine years in the 82d Airborne Division, another famous unit. The 82d’s paratroopers are noted for their spit-shined jump boots, and in an unfortunate “don’t ask, don’t tell” period, they became known as “those Devils in Biggy Pumps.”

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