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History Is Balanced on the Edge of a Blade

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  • History Is Balanced on the Edge of a Blade

    In World War I, Great Britain experienced a patriotic surge of young volunteers at the start of the war, many of them bright and well-educated, the country’s next generation of leaders. That first wave of volunteers largely perished in the mud of Flanders. When the United States entered World War II it was determined to not make the same mistake.

    In 1942 the United States Army established the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP) to identify particularly talented personnel (the entry requirements were tougher than Officer Candidate School) and, after they had completed basic training, send them to engineering schools to continue their college education. The thought was that they would provide the officers for the post-war army of occupation, where technical skills would be at a premium. Good idea.

    In 1944, however, the manpower crunch became very severe and the ASTP program was abruptly terminated. All those bright college kids, who probably would have ended up in technical or rear-area service slots if they had gone ahead with their regular military career, now suddenly were dumped into the replacement system and, almost without exception, became riflemen — exactly what the ASTP program was created to prevent. So much for the plan.

    The U.S. 84th Infantry Division is an outfit I have been interested in for years and it provides a good picture of how important those ASTP replacement were. The 84th trained in the U.S. but was raided for trained riflemen to go overseas early and replace losses. As a result the division ...




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