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Home : News : News
NEWS | Aug. 28, 2017

JBSA-Fort Sam Houston honors World War I centennial

By Staff Sgt. Tomora Nance U.S. Army North Public Affairs

The year is 1917. It’s approximately three years after the onset of World War I, also known as the “Great War.”

Most of the world’s economic, great powers are already involved in a taxing warfare in terms of money and loss of lives – both civilian and military. However, on April 6, 1917, the U.S. ended its non-intervention policy, and Congress declared war on Germany entering into the Great War after the breach of international law through unrestricted submarine warfare, the publicized Zimmerman Telegram and the sinking of several U.S. merchant ships.

With a small military force, the Selective Service Act allowed the U.S. government to increase its force through manning of the Army. Over 4 million men and women from the U.S. served in the armed forces. Not only did the manning forever change the Army, so did the structure with the inception of divisions. One of those divisions was the 90th Infantry Division.

Fast forward 100 years.

Soldiers and civilians gathered Aug. 25 for Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston’s World War I Centennial Ceremony honoring the 90th Infantry Division inside the historic Quadrangle for an outdoor ceremony.

As this year marked the national commemoration for the 100th anniversary of U.S. entry into World War I, military basses across the U.S. are celebrating their storied unit’s involvement and accomplishments in ceremonies. And, Fort Sam Houston is no different.

“I’m so honored to be able to witness this ceremony; it was very humbling and emotional to witness the unfurling of the division’s colors,” said Jeanie Travis, daughter of retired Maj. Gen Robert H. Travis, the last commanding general of the 90th Infantry Division. “I grew up respecting the Army because it was a part of my everyday life as a small child. And when I read the history of the division, his [her father’s] stories come back to me.”

For Travis, her father’s commitment to the Army and the country has become a major part of her family’s heritage.

Travis said after doing some research she realized that not only was this the 100th anniversary of World War I but this was also the 100th anniversary of the 90th ID.

Travis wasn’t the only direct connection to the 90th ID.

“This is exciting and a real honor for me to represent my division,” said retired Master Sgt. Vernon Schmidt, one of the last surviving members of the 90th ID’s World War I veterans, who is 91 years old. “Today, there were a lot of good things said about the 90th ID during the ceremony and I’m so proud that I have just a little part of serving in the 90th in combat. It’s just a thrill to be here.”

During the ceremony after the 90th ID colors were uncased and unfurled, Schmidt walked up to the division’s colors and placed a streamer on it to signify one of the many achievements held by that unit during World War I.

“I feel blessed today; this has been a real neat occasion for me,” said Schmidt, with red-watery eyes.

The uncasing and commemoration ceremony occurred 100 years to the day that the 90th Division activated at Camp Travis, what is now Fort Sam Houston.

Although JBSA-Fort Sam Houston’s inception pre-dates the World War I era, Camp Travis was acquired during the war as a mobilization camp for units deploying in support of the war.

 “The 90th Infantry Division was actually organized here at Camp Travis and was later integrated into Fort Sam Houston after the war, in a way, part of Fort Sam Houston is 100 years old this year,” said Jacqueline Davis, Fort Sam Houston Museum director. “So, and having the here makes sense, because this is the unit’s origin.”

The unit was even given the nickname the “Alamo Division” because of its proximity to San Antonio’s historic landmark. However, that wasn’t the only nickname the unit received. They were affectionately dubbed “Tough ‘Ombres” loosely based on the letters in their unit patch.

“The patch has a ‘T’ and ‘O,’ which stands for Texas and Oklahoma because majority of the men that formed the division came from those two states. However, over the years, they were dubbed the “Tough ‘Ombres,” which signified their Hispanic linage and their revered fighting abilities,” Davis said.

After the ceremony, all guest were invited to attend the reception inside the Fort Sam Houston Museum.

Davis, who has been working with the museum for over 25 years, described the special displays at the museum that was erected in honor of the 90th ID’s involvement in World War I.

“We’ve had several family members donate to the museum, so the museum has several artifacts from the 90th ID World War I Soldiers. I am most excited about the patches worn by the division’s Soldiers because of the handiwork it took to create the patches, which were sewn directly on to the uniform,” said Davis, as she pointed to the World War I uniform with the 90th patch sewn-on the sleeve.

Although the 90th ID was inactivated, its lineage is carried by the 90th Sustainment Brigade, a reserve unit headquartered in Little Rock, Ark.