Activated in 1917, the 86th Infantry Division served in France during World War I. During World War II, the "Blackhawk" division arrived in France in March 1945. It quickly proceeded to Germany, where it took part in the fierce fighting in the Ruhr area. It then was ordered to move southward and crossed the Danube River on April 27, 1945, advancing into Austria.
As the 86th advanced into the Ruhr region, the troops discovered the Attendorn civilian forced-labor camp on April 11, 1945. The camp had been established to provide labor to area factories and it housed up to 1,000 conscripted Polish, Soviet, and Czech laborers.
The 86th Infantry Division was recognized as a liberating unit by the US Army's Center of Military History and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1996.
Casualty figures for the 86th Infantry Division, European theater of operations:
- Total battle casualties: 785
- Total deaths in battle: 161
The 86th Infantry Division developed the blackhawk as its insignia during World War I, to honor the Native American warrior of that name who fought the US Army in Illinois and Wisconsin during the early nineteenth century. The nickname "The Blackhawks" or "Blackhawk" division is derived from the insignia.