Arthur L. Chaitt, 87, of Glenside, director of the Society of the First Infantry Division for four decades, died of Alzheimer's disease Friday at Abington Memorial Hospital.
Mr. Chaitt led the society, which represents more than a million veterans who served in the Army division, from 1953 until he retired in 1997. The division, known as "The Big Red One" for the numeral on its soldiers' sleeve patches, has participated in World War I, World War II, the Korean and Vietnam Wars, and peacekeeping missions. Members are now serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Mr. Chaitt, who fought in the division in World War II, organized reunions and initiated tours for veterans to the battlefields of North Africa, Sicily, Normandy, Belgium and Germany. In Europe, he made contacts with townspeople and set up meetings between U.S. veterans and former enemy soldiers. In 1990, he told a reporter that though World War II veterans were dying off, the tours were getting bigger - luring retirees with money to spend who wanted a link to their past.
Mr. Chaitt was most proud of the scholarship fund he established in 1966 for children of First Division soldiers killed in Vietnam, said his brother, Elliot. Veterans contributed to the fund, as did active-duty soldiers who raised money from poker games and entertainment events. The fund now benefits children of division soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In 1977, Mr. Chaitt successfully lobbied for an addition to the First Infantry Division Memorial in Washington to honor soldiers killed in Vietnam. He was a former editor of the Army Divisions Association newsletter.
Mr. Chaitt graduated from Central High School and attended Temple University. He joined the First Infantry Division in France after its assault on Omaha Beach on D-Day and was assigned to a mine-sweeping unit. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge and credited his survival to "the bravest group of combat soldiers ever known," his brother said.
After his discharge, Mr. Chaitt worked for several years for Wolf Bros. Paper Co. in Philadelphia before becoming assistant to the director of the Society of the First Infantry Division in 1950.
He was engrossed in his work and in military history, his brother said.
Mr. Chaitt's wife of 35 years, Lynne Orlinger Chaitt, died in 1984. In addition to his brother, Mr. Chaitt is survived by two cousins.
A graveside service will be held at 2:30 p.m. next Thursday at Roosevelt Memorial Park, 2701 Old Lincoln Highway, Trevose.
Memorial donations may be made to the First Infantry Division Foundation, 1933 Morris Rd., Blue Bell, Pa. 19422.