82nd Airborne Defends Its Legacy By Rebuking Man Giving 'Nazi' Salute While Wearing Its Hat

The irony wasn't lost on the military.

A viral photo drew a strong response from the 82nd Airborne Division, one of the most elite divisions of the United States Army. The picture, widely shared on social media and taken during the rally in Charlottesville, Va., showed a man giving what looks strikingly similar to a Nazi salute while wearing a 82nd Airborne Division hat. (According to HuffPost, the salute is actually a Ku Klux Klan salute.) 

The irony was that the 82nd Airborne Division is famous for several battles it fought against the Nazis during World War II.

"Anyone can purchase that hat," the 82nd Airborne wrote on its official Twitter page. "Valor is earned."

The division's strong response to the image was no surprise. The 82nd Airborne was an important part of D-Day, a military victory in Normandy, France, that was a critical turning point in World War II. That operation was a devastating blow to the Nazis, which made the image of a man in an 82nd Airborne hat giving the offensive salute all the more confounding. 

But the 82nd Airborne Twitter account, run by Lieutenant Col. and Public Affairs Officer Joseph Buccino, didn't stop there. 

"Our WWII Airborne forefathers jumped into Europe to defeat Nazism," they tweeted. "We know who we are. We know our legacy."

"We are America's Division and have always represented the full cultural diversity and social evolution of the country," Buccinno told A Plus in an email. "Our nickname 'All Americans' comes from the fact that we were the first large unit organized for WWI comprised of volunteers and draftees from all over the country rather than from a specific region.  In fact, this was the first Army Division ever racially integrated."

August 25 marks 100 years of the 82nd Airborne Division, Buccino said, an anniversary that memorializes a century of representing American values. He pointed to 1947, the year their commander, General Jim Gavin, incorporated the 555th Parachute Infantry Company, the first unit of all-Black Paratroopers. They arrived almost a full year before the rest of the military was integrated. 

"That integration paved the way for the American civil rights movement," Buccino said. "Our paratroopers today come from all over the country and all over the world: We have paratroopers from all 50 states, six territories, and 118 different countries."

Two members of the 82nd Airborne Division lost their lives in Iraq in the last month — Sergeant Allen Stigler Jr. and Sergeant Roshain Brooks. Brooks, Boccino was sure to note, was born in Jamaica. 

Sgt. Roshain Brooks and Sgt. Allen Stigler Jr. 82nd Airborne Division.
Sgt. Roshain Brooks and Sgt. Allen Stigler Jr. 82nd Airborne Division.

It's clear that Buccino hopes that the 82nd Airborne Divison will continue to represent the best of America. That includes its diversity, regardless of what men giving these salutes think.

Cover image of paratroopers with 82nd Airborne division via U.S. Department of Defense /  Spc. Terrance Payton.

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