Harry Kinnard

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Harry Kinnard
Harry Kinnard.jpg
Born(1915-05-07)May 7, 1915
Dallas, Texas
DiedJanuary 5, 2009(2009-01-05) (aged 93)
Arlington County, Virginia
Place of burial
AllegianceUnited States of America
Service/branch United States Army
Years of service1939–1969
RankUS-O9 insignia.svg Lieutenant general
Commands held1st Cavalry Division (United States) 1st Cavalry Division
Battles/warsWorld War II

Vietnam War

AwardsDistinguished Service Cross
Distinguished Service Medal (2)
Legion of Merit (2)
Silver Star
Bronze Star
Purple Heart
Military William Order Fourth Class

Harry William Osborne Kinnard II (May 7, 1915 – January 5, 2009) was an American general officer who, during the Vietnam War, pioneered the airmobile concept of sending troops into battle using helicopters. Kinnard retired from the military as a lieutenant general.

Kinnard grew up in Dallas, Texas. After graduating from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1939, he entered military service.[1]

Military service[edit]

On December 7, 1941, Kinnard was stationed at Pearl Harbor, and manned a machine gun to defend the base on the morning of the Japanese attack.[2]

He parachuted into France in the early hours of the Normandy Landings in June 1944, and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his heroism during Operation Market Garden, as part of the Allied airborne attack against German forces in the Netherlands in September 1944.[1]


Acting commander of the 101st Airborne Division, Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe and Harry Kinnard, pictured here as a lieutenant colonel, commanding officer of the 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry, at Bastogne after the victory battle.

In December 1944, during the Battle of the Bulge, German forces surrounded the town of Bastogne, a town in Belgium then held by the U.S. 101st Airborne Division and located at a crossroads that could have allowed the Germans to break through the American lines and reach their goal of retaking the port city of Antwerp. With the American forces surrounded, short on supplies and suffering the effects of the bitter cold weather, two German officers approached the American lines with a demand that the U.S. forces surrender or face destruction.[1]

Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe was serving as acting division commander and was handed the German demand. Kinnard, then a lieutenant colonel serving as the division's operations officer, recounted later that McAuliffe had laughed and said "Us surrender? Aw, nuts." After considering the German demand, McAuliffe said he didn't know what to say in response, to which Kinnard replied, "That first remark of yours would be hard to beat."[1]

As recounted by The New York Times in his 2009 obituary, "McAuliffe said, 'What do you mean?' I answered, 'Sir, you said, 'Nuts.' All members of the staff enthusiastically agreed. McAuliffe then wrote down: 'To the German Commander, Nuts! The American Commander.'"[1]

McAuliffe's response was passed on to the two German officers who didn't understand its meaning. Colonel Joseph Harper, commanding the 327th Glider Infantry Regiment, who had delivered the message, explained to the Germans, "If you don’t know what 'nuts' means, in plain English it is the same as 'go to hell.'"[1]

McAuliffe asked Kinnard to compose a message that he delivered to the troops in Bastogne on Christmas Day, 1944.[3] The message has been variously recorded as:

What's merry about all this, you ask? Just this: We have stopped cold everything that has been thrown at us from the North, East, South and West. We have identifications from four German Panzer divisions and one German parachute division. The Germans surround us, their radios blare our doom. Their commander demanded our surrender, and received the following reply... 'NUTS!' We are giving our country and our loved ones at home a worthy Christmas present, and, being privileged to take part in this gallant feat of arms, are truly making for ourselves a Merry Christmas.[4][5]

With improving weather allowing air support to assist the troops, the American forces were able to hold Bastogne, with "nuts" coming to symbolize the American determination to overcome against the odds.[1]

After the war, William Wellman's film "Battleground", based on the experiences of the 101st, was filmed and released in 1950 with a script written by a veteran of the battle, Robert Pirosh, with Lieutenant Colonel H.W.O. Kinnard listed as Technical Advisor.[6]

Twenty years after the Battle of the Bulge, Kinnard drew criticism from members of the 101st Airborne Division for his comments in a newspaper interview where he said "We never felt we would be overrun. We were beating back everything they threw at us. We had the houses, and we were warm. They were outside the town, in the snow and cold". Many members of Easy Company of the 506th Parachute Infantry sent military historian Stephen Ambrose, the author of Band of Brothers, the article containing the comments with their own opinion, the mildest comment by an E Company member being "What battle was he in?".[7]


Building on his paratroop service, Kinnard helped develop the airmobile concept, by which troops would be flown into battle by helicopter. He was able to develop this approach while commanding the 11th Air Assault Division (Test) at Fort Benning in 1963. This unit evolved into the First Cavalry Division (Airmobile).[1]

Kinnard commanded an operation in October 1965, in which 5,000 troops took control of the Suai Ca Valley, which placed the crop-rich valley under South Vietnamese control. Associated Press reporter Bob Poos who rode with 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment of the 1st Air Cavalry Division, for two days of this operation described the innovative use of the "Sky Cavalry", combining light infantry on armed helicopters, as constituting "the first cavalry charge of modern warfare".[8]

General Kinnard was in command in November 1965 during the unit's first major operation in the Pleiku Campaign. During this action, the division conducted 35 days of continuous airmobile operations. The opening battle, the Battle of Ia Drang, which resulted in heavy North Vietnamese casualties at the cost of 300 American deaths, was described in the book We Were Soldiers Once… And Young, which was also the basis of the subsequent Mel Gibson film We Were Soldiers.[1] The unit also earned the first Presidential Unit Citation (US) presented to a division during the Vietnam War.

Kinnard retired in 1969 from the armed forces.[1]

Honours and awards[edit]

Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
1st Row Distinguished Service Cross
2nd Row Distinguished Service Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster Silver Star Legion of Merit with Oak Leaf Cluster Bronze Star Medal
3rd Row Air Medal Army Commendation Medal Purple Heart American Defense Service Medal with one bronze star
4th Row American Campaign Medal Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with one campaign star European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with four campaign stars World War II Victory Medal
5th Row Army of Occupation Medal National Defense Service Medal with one bronze star Vietnam Service Medal with one campaign star French Croix de Guerre 1939–1945 with Palm
6th Row Belgian Croix de Guerre 1940-1945 with Palm Belgian Order of the Crown - Officer Grade Netherlands Military William Order - Knight Grade Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Palm

On November 14, 1946 by Royal Decree, Kinnard was knighted by Queen Wilhelmina, with the rank of Knight 4th class of the Military William Order. The Order is the highest and oldest honour of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, which is bestowed for "performing excellent acts of Bravery, Leadership and Loyalty in battle".[9] It is an extremely prestigious award, comparable to British Victoria Cross, the French Légion d’honneur or the American Medal of Honour ,but far less frequently rewarded.

Kinnard in Museums[edit]

World War II memorabilia from Kinnard can be seen in Belgium where he fought during the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944, at December 44 Museum, La Gleize.

Kinnard Mission Training Center, a digital systems training complex at Fort Campbell, Kentucky is named for him. His awards, decorations and several historical items of interest relating to him are on display in its lobby.


Kinnard died at age 93 on January 5, 2009, in Arlington, Virginia. He was survived by his wife, Libby; two sons, three daughters, a stepson, 2 stepdaughters, 16 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Goldstein, Richard. "Harry W. O. Kinnard, Who Said One Word Would Do, Dies at 93", The New York Times, January 10, 2009. Accessed January 20. 2009.
  2. ^ Downey, Kristin. "Multi-War Veteran Under Siege As Sewage Plant Din Roars On", The Washington Post, August 19, 2007. Accessed January 11, 2009.
  3. ^ "Audie Murphy Award 2005 Recipient: Lt. General Harry W.O. Kinnard"[dead link], American Veterans Center. Accessed January 11, 2009.
  4. ^ Skelly, Joseph Morrison. "Bastogne!: Saving Western Civilization on Christmas." Archived 2007-08-08 at the Wayback Machine, National Review, December 21, 2006.
  5. ^ Associated Press. "Article 7 -- No Title", The New York Times, December 29, 1944. Accessed January 11, 2009.
  6. ^ "Harry William Osborn Kinnard II". Arlington National Cemetery. Retrieved 2015-02-09.
  7. ^ Ambrose, Stephen E. (2000). Band of Brothers. Thorndike, Maine: G.K. Hall, p. 309-310.
  8. ^ "The Evening Standard from Uniontown, Pennsylvania, Page 3", Friday, October 15, 1965. Accessed September 13, 2015.
  9. ^ Military order of William - Official website Archived 2011-07-16 at the Wayback Machine

External links[edit]