He led the ‘hot shots’ of the ‘blood and fire’ division

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 9, 2002

One U.S. Army two-star general during World War II who had a solid connection with Albert Lea was Louis E. Hibbs.

His paternal grandparents were David R. P. and Anna (Vandegrift) Hibbs. The grandfather lived in Albert Lea from 1872 until his death in 1911, and was a prominent local attorney and officer in three banks.

The general’s father, Frank W. Hibbs, grew up in Albert Lea and graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. He then became a U.S. Navy officer and was a pioneer member of the submarine service. A good portion of his military duty time was spent in Seattle and Bremerton, Wash. After retiring with the rank of captain, Frank and his wife returned to Albert Lea and lived at 525 Park Ave. during the late 1930s and early ’40s.

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Their son, Louis, was born on Oct. 3, 1893, in the state of Washington, And records show it’s from this state that he entered the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1912.

Cadet Hibbs graduated with the Class of 1916. The speaker for this ceremony was President Woodrow Wilson.

The new Army officer went to France during World War I and quickly rose to the rank of major in the field artillery branch of the service. He participated in four major campaigns, was wounded twice in combat, and earned two Purple Heart medals.

From 1918 to the early 1940s Hibbs was a part of the &uot;peacetime army&uot; with various assignments. He serve as an adjutant or aide to Gen. Douglas

MacArthur for three years. (Another officer who served as MacArthur’s aide at a different time during this era was Dwight Eisenhower.)

Hibbs graduated from the prestigious Command and General Staff School at Fort Levenworth, Kan., and attended the Army War College and the Chemical Warfare School.

At his alma mater, he served as an instructor, adjutant, and graduate manager of athletics at West Point for several years. And from 1927 to 1930 he was the commanding officer of the 13th Field Artillery Battalion in Hawaii.

By the start of World War II in late 1941, Hibbs had attained the one-star rank of brigadier general. In 1942 he became the commander of the artillery units assigned to the 36th (Texas) Infantry Division.

However, when the 36th went overseas, Hibbs was nominated for promotion to the rank of major general (two-star) by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and given the assignment of organizing a brand new division. Thus, in early 1943, he became the youngest major general and division commander in the U.S. Army at this particular time.

This new division was organized at Camp Blanding, Fla., and later trained at a camp in Mississippi. Hibbs is given credit for creating the distinctive insignia and the &uot;Blood and Fire&uot; motto for the 63rd Infantry Division.

In either late 1944 or early 1945 the division of over 18,000 soldiers Hibbs called his &uot;hot shots&uot; was sent to France. The 63rd was assigned to the Seventh Army, commanded by Gen. Alexander Patch. This division had 125 days of constant combat contact with the German forces.

At the end of World War II in Europe in May 1945, the troops of the 63rd Division were in the Sauer Valley on the north edge of the German Alps and in the heart of Bavaria.

Hibbs was preparing his division for redeployment to the Asiatic-Pacific Theater and the pending invasion of Japan. The end of World War II in August 1945 resulted in the 63rd Division being deactivated. Major General Hibbs became the commandant of the U.S. Army Field Artillery School at Fort Sill, Okla.

In early October 1945 Hibbs was awarded the Silver Star and the Army’s third highest award, the Distinguished Service Medal. His medal citation states:

“Maj. Gen. Louis E. Hibbs, as commanding general, 63rd Infantry Division, during March and April 1945, by thorough planning and outstanding leadership was responsible for the success attained by his division in breaching the Siegfried Line, crossing the Rhine, and capturing Heidelberg. In the preparation and execution of these attacks, each element at the disposal of the division commander, including reinforcing artillery, tanks, tank destroyers and air support, were employed in exceptionally coordinated action which resulted in the successful accomplishment of every mission assigned. Inspiring his men by his coolness under fire and by his interest and concern in their welfare, General Hibbs demonstrated superb confidence and assured high morale throughout the division at all times. His aggressiveness and skill in directing the actions of his combined arms contributed to the rapid advance of the Seventh Army across the Rhine and beyond the Danube.”

During late 1945 and early 1946 the general visited his parents in Albert Lea on several occasions. (His mother died in Albert Lea on Feb. 17, 1946.)

Louis E. Hibbs retired from active duty with the U.S. Army in 1947. Little is known about his retirement years except that he lived in the Republic of

Mexico and New Hampshire for part of this time.

The major general who led the &uot;hot shots&uot; of the 63rd &uot;Blood and Fire&uot; Division died on April 28, 1970, in Vero Beach, Fla., according to the historical files of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.