In October 1944, as the American army pushed eastward toward the Rhine, they approached the French city of Metz. This strategically-vital city, close to the German border, was surrounded by a network of fortifications that dated back several centuries and was key terrain in the earlier wars of 1870 and WWI. Hitler declared it a Festung (fortress) city to be defended at all costs. Among others, the men of the 95th Infantry Division were tasked with retaking the city and the forts, which they did after heavy fighting. The German commanding general, Lt.-Gen. Heinrich Kittel, who was captured by men of the Division’s377th Infantry Regiment, said the men who took the city must have been made of Iron, resulting in its nickname, ‘the Iron Men of Metz.’
In the ensuing weeks, the 95th Division pushed beyond Metz to the Saar River and the Siegfried Line as part of General Patton’s Third Army. Then it was transferred to General Simpson’s Ninth Army following the Battle of the Bulge, and fought with others to reduce the Ruhr Pocket, to capture Hamm and Dortmund and to liberate a military prison and slave labor camp at Werl. In the fierce fighting in WWII, the Division suffered 6,591 battle casualties, resulting in 1,387 deaths; 1,205 of these were (men) killed in action.
In September, 2017, the 95th Infantry Division Association held its 68th annual reunion in Kansas City, MO, and Carrot-Top Industries was honored to donate a French National Colors set (including flag, stand and bag) for use at the reunion. This flag set will be used in all future ceremonies honoring the unit, including their upcoming visit to Lorraine. When not in use, the Colors will reside at the 95th Infantry Division Memorial, at the 95th IET Division’s Headquarters in Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
At last year’s reunion, one of the original ‘Iron Men of Metz’, Charles “Red” Whittington, received the French Legion of Honor medal from Colonel Pierre Marchand, representing the President of France; this was the final step in his formal admission as a Chevalier (Knight) of the French ‘Ordre national de la Légion d'honneur ‘. Mr. Whittington was wounded in action fourtimes in the fighting around Metz and was awarded the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, Bronze Star, Purple Heart with One Oak Leaf Cluster, and the Metz Medal, among others. Now 96years old, Mr. Whittington went on to become a successful businessman in civilian life.
At the ceremony where he received this distinction, the French flag donated by Carrot-Top stood proudly next to the unit’s colors, proudly signifying the respect and admiration that the French people have for those men who came to their aid in time of need.
At Carrot-Top Industries, we also take our commitment to veterans seriously, and we’re grateful and honored to play even a small part in the lives and histories of this extraordinary group of men. We invite you to visit the 95th Infantry Division Association’s website to find out more about their organization. For more information on whether a WWII veteran you know may be eligible for the French Legion of Honor award, please contact your local French Consulate or the French Embassy in Washington D.C.