The 25th Infantry Division Association was officially chartered in 1950 as a result of initial groundwork done by Col. William Dick and other former Division leaders during the previous year. The first annual reunion took place in July of that year, and was attended by 253 members and their guests. The first issue of Tropic Lightning FLASHES, the Association newsletter, was published in October 1950 and was distributed to 2,300 former members of the Division; later editions were only circulated to Association members. In that first year, membership stood at 442, though membership drives in future years would bring that number to its current level of 4,100.
The earliest recorded chapter of the Association is the Cacti Chapter (35th Infantry Regiment), formed in Korea on April 18, 1953. Other chapters were formed in Division Artillery, Special Troops and other commands, as well as Ft. Knox, Ft. Ord, Ft. Meade, Ft. Benning and other posts where large contingents of 25th members were located. These early active duty chapters existed for varying periods of time, and then disappeared. The only current active duty chapter is the Schofield Barracks Chapter, which was formed December 7, 1973, when the Division returned from Vietnam.
In the ensuing decades the Association would face challenges in keeping alive such programs as scholarships, FLASHES, and the annual reunion, due to deficiencies in membership levels and funds. Early attempts to gain tax-exempt status for the Association failed, adding to the financial problems. Steps were taken to correct these problems, including raising membership dues, reducing newsletter costs by temporarily cutting back on the number of issues, and setting goals for attracting new members.
A change in Association leadership in 1978 brought about consistent, forceful action to deal with these long-standing issues. Membership dues were adjusted again to a level that could sustain the Association’s programs. Tax-exempt status was finally achieved in 1982, after 20 years of effort. And a steady rise in membership by Vietnam veterans began at the National Vietnam Veterans Salute in Washington, D.C. in 1983.
Further steps were taken in 1989 to ensure long-range viability for the Association. An accounting firm was hired to prepare properly formed financial reports and assist in budget preparation. Five years later an investment advisor was retained to reinvest the Association’s funds, further strengthening our economic base. Special funds were also established at that time for the perpetuation of the scholarship program. These funds ensure that money is earned each year to fund the annual scholarship awards. A former Association President, William Hazlett left a sizable portion of his estate to the Scholarship Fund when he passed away in the late 1990s. Thanks in large part to this donation and the significant donations of chapters and individuals, the Scholarship Fund has grown to the point that we have been able to award over $30,000 in scholarship each of the past several years.
In 1995 the Association entered into an agreement with the George C. Marshall Foundation to establish an Archive collection at the Foundation’s Museum and Library on the campus of Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia. Since that time members have donated hundreds of articles to the Archive collection including maps, reports, letters, books, photographs, uniforms and other memorabilia of service with the Tropic Lightning Division. The Association has donated funds each year to the Marshall Foundation to underwrite the cost of care and preservation of our collection. In 1999 the Association began publishing an annual calendar featuring photographs drawn from the Archive collection. Funds raised by this calendar have been set aside in a special fund to support the Archive.
Association members have been deeply involved in other veterans’ activities. Two former 27th Regiment members became prime movers in establishing the Korea War Veterans Association (KWVA) in July of 1982, and 7 of the 39 charter members of the KWVA were also members of the 25th Infantry Division Association. In 1989 the 25th IDA pledged $5,000 to the Korean War Memorial, which broke ground in 1992. Several busloads of Association members attended the Memorial’s dedication, which coincided with the 1995 annual reunion in Alexandria, Virginia. In 2000 Association officials met with Sen. Bob Dole and presented him with a check for $10,000 towards the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.
The year 2001 marked another significant period for the Association. The annual reunion was scheduled for the first week in October, some three weeks following the dastardly attack on our Nation. Over 420 members and guests were registered for the reunion in Hawaii. After September 11th, some predicted that members would withdraw support for the reunion and it would be cancelled. In fact, twenty cancellations were received, as were thirty new registrations. For the first time in Association history, veterans revisited their former post at Schofield Barracks in time of war. The officers and Soldiers of the 25th Infantry Division (Light) gave the Association a wonderful reception and the veterans and their guests thanked hundreds of soldiers they met for their service to the nation. Handshakes and pats shoulders were the order of the day as Veterans and Soldiers bonded in camaraderie.
Also at the 52nd annual reunion, the Association voted to adopt new by-laws that created a position of Executive Director. A By-laws Committee, under the leadership of Dave Garrod and including Rev. Dennis Roe and former-President Jerry Headley, labored several years to reorganize the Association and make it more efficient and effective in addressing the goals of the Association. Former President Butch Sincock was appointed as the Association’s first Executive Director.
As the Association moves into the 21st century, it finds its organization built on a firm foundation through good, solid leadership, sound financial management, a centralized administration and a commitment to continue to expand through maintaining and building membership. The Association is pledged to continue its many programs including the Scholarship program, the Archives collection, support of the Tropic Lightning Museum at Schofield Barracks, support of selected memorial projects, publication of Tropic Lightning FLASHES quarterly, and reunions that are entertaining, enlightening and enjoyable. In addition, the Association is firmly committed to support our Armed Forces, especially the men and women of the 25th Infantry Division, in this time of war. The 25th Infantry Division Association will continue to be a leader in the area of veterans’ non-profit organizations.
Contributors to this history include former Association Historian BG Uzal Ent (PANG-Ret.) and former Secretary-Treasurer John Boyle.