Months before the blood, salt and sand of Normandy's Utah Beach, the U.S. Army's 4th Motorized Infantry Division sharpened its combat skills and resolve on the sandy patches of pine forest at Fort Gordon.
Dubbed the "Ivy Division," the 4th was the first division-sized unit to live and train on the military post -- then called Camp Gordon -- after its construction in 1941, according to Steven J. Rauch, the U.S. Army Signal Center's command historian.
The time it spent training in Augusta was put to good use almost immediately early on the morning of June 6, 1944, when four companies of the 8th Infantry Regiment splashed ashore and cleared a two-mile stretch of the Cherbourg peninsula. The 4th Division's armor and engineer units rushed into the enemy positions behind the beach.
Though the D-Day invasion has gone down in history, the 4th Division's unique and experimental past is less well known.
Unlike any other U.S. Army units before it, the 4th Division integrated soldiers and mechanized equipment on a large scale.
"Much as the 4th ID serving in Iraq today is the first 'digitized' division using advance combat and information technology, its predecessor at Fort Gordon 60 years ago was the prototype for the 'motorized' division concept of 15,000 men using over 2,300 high-tech vehicles and equipment that a regular infantry division did not have," Rauch wrote in a paper on the unit titled "Fort Gordon-trained Soldiers Hit the Beaches at Normandy 60 Years Ago."
A unit of the division, the 4th Signal Company, was also at the forefront of military technology at the time. Using new equipment such as the walkie-talkie, the unit oversaw radio, telegraph, pigeons, aircraft and motor and foot messenger services, Rauch wrote.
It also was assigned 17 Comanche "code talkers." They used a language and dialect few outside the tribe understood to transmit coded messages securely from one unit to another.
Shortly after they stepped ashore on D-Day, a code talker sent one of the first messages to an incoming boat: "Five miles to the right of the designated area and five miles inland, the fighting is fierce and we need help."
Over the next 15 hours, the entire division -- 20,000 men and 1,700 vehicles -- would land on Utah Beach under the command of Maj. Gen. Raymond O. Barton, for whom Fort Gordon's Barton Field is named.
The men broke through German lines to meet with members of the 82nd Airborne Division at St. Mere Eglise.
Barton went on to lead the 4th Division through France, the assault on the Siegfried line of Germany and the Battle of the Bulge, Rauch said.
All along the way, the 4th Signal Company set up communications networks on the rapidly expanding Allied front.