Friday, June 4, 2010

173rd, 2-503 Bravo Bulls (Vietnam 1965-66) Memorial Punch Bowl Ceremony

The Memorial Punch Bowl and Cups.  One cup for each "B" Company (Bravo = Vietnam, Battle = Iraq and Afghanistan) Hero who was Killed in Action and one for each surviving member of the Bravo Bulls.

As if the day hadn't been special enough I was invited to attend a dinner and Memorial Punch Bowl Ceremony with the Bravo Bulls.  Earlier in the day I had attended their Memorial wreath laying ceremonies at the Ranger Memorial and Airborne Walk.  After the first two events I dashed back to my hotel room to freshen up.  The wreath laying ceremonies were held in the morning but the hot Georgia sun coupled with the humidity were already pretty fierce.  I swung by to pick up COL Ostlund and off to the National Infantry Museum we went.

The National Infantry Museum

The National Infantry Museum, Patriot Park and the 173rd Memorial are a must see!

Bravo Bulls and wives

Bravo Bulls and wives

Bravo Bulls and wives

Bravo Bulls and wives

Bravo Bulls and wives

Cheryl, Terry, Daniela, Stan and Becky Blaskowski - Gold Star parents, widow, brother and sister in law of SFC Matthew Blaskowski, KIA Afghanistan 23 Sept 2007

Carol and LTC Roy Lombardo (Vietnam) and COL Bill Ostlund (2-503 Commander OEF VIII)

BG James Yarbrough, Former Commander of 173rd Airborne Brigade (2000-2002) and COL Bill Ostlund Deputy Commander 75th Ranger Regiment

As we were eating dinner COL Ostlund, who had been with us earlier but had to leave for the 173rd Memorial dinner, came into the room with a gentlemen.  LTC Lombardo went forward to greet them then introduced to us Brigadier General James Yarbrough.  BG Yarbrough was the Commander of the 173rd ABCT when it was reactivated in Vicenza, Italy in 2000.  He commented that it was almost 10 years to the day that the Brigade was reactivated in Italy.  He shared several stories with us about the events surrounding the day of the official ceremonies.

One story he shared was that on the day they uncased the colors and attached all of the ribbons there was a point when Major General Ellis Williamson (you really should go to that link and read about MG Williamson) was to pass the colors to BG Yarbrough but didn't seem to want to let go of them.  BG Yarbrough said he told MG Williamson that he would make sure that the history and the traditions of the Sky Soldiers were maintained.  It was only then that MG Ellis relinquished his grip on the colors.  (You can read a prior post of mine regarding MG Williamson here.

Another story BG Yarbrough told was about the day they were to jump the colors into Italy at Aviano airfield about an hour or so from Vicenza.  It was a stormy day.  Windy.  Rainy.  Low ceiling.  Everyone was geared up and ready to board the Air Force jets for the jump.  The Air Force personnel kept checking the weather data and it remained sketchy at best.  BG Yarbrough and his Paratroopers were determined to jump those colors in.  They loaded up and took off with the intent of flying out some distance in hopes the storm would pass the field and allow them acceptable weather for the jump.  (I apologize for my lack of specific details.  BG Yarbrough certainly told the story much better than I am).  Anyway, not long after they took off the ground personnel reported and opening in the weather and almost calm winds.  Apparently the Air Force personnel were skeptical that they could turn all of the jets around in such close proximity to the jump zone.  But they did.  The paratroopers jumped the colors in and all hell broke loose with the weather again.

It was quite a treat to have BG Yarbrough stop by to say hello and relate his stories to those of us at the dinner.
BG Yarbrough, COL Ostlund, LTC Lombardo (Former 173rd Brigade Commander, Battalion Commander and "B" Company Commander)

As a "sidebar" the following photo was taken in Vicenza, Italy in September 2008 at a Welcome Home party for the 2-503 after their deployment in OEF VIII.  LTC Lombardo flew to Italy to present the punch bowl shown below to then LTC Ostlund.  The punch bowl was owned by MG Ellis "Butch" Williamson and his wife.  Their daughter Nan asked LTC Lombardo to take it to Italy and present it to the ROCK.  Quite by coincidence the welcome home party and LTC Lombardo's trip were in the same window of time.  Definitely a "meant to be" moment.

After dinner LTC Lombardo approached the Bravo Bull's Memorial punch bowl.  With the assistance of one of the Bravo bulls he began to make the punch:

From each of three vials he added to the punch bowl soil from Landing zone Zulu, Zulu in Vietnam, soil from Iraq (location unknown) and soil from Afghanistan

He then added one bottle of cold beer - the designated beverage of the Paratrooper he said

Next he added a bottle of vodka.   This, he said, was the designated beverage of the NCOs

A bottle of Brandy was added to symbolize the affiliation between our Army and other affiliated Armies such as the Australians, New Zealanders, the Iraqi forces that have been stood up and the ongoing work to stand up the Afghan Army.

Three bottles of champagne were added.  One to symbolize WWII, one for Vietnam and one for the service of the 173rd Paratroopers in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait.

Finally he added a bottle of red wine to symbolize the blood shed by the Sky Soldiers.

The turning over of the cups of those who were KIA and whose cups will never be used in honor of their memory

After the punch was made LTC Lombardo begain to read the list of names of all "B" Company (Bravo and Battle) who have been Killed in Action.  As each name was read one of the Bravo Bulls would come forward and turn that cup over symbolizing that no one would ever drink from it since the man (whose name is engraved on the cup) will never be there to use the cup.

Incredibly moving.

LTC Lombardo pouring the punch for each Bravo Bull in attendance.

After all of the names were read for those KIA in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistand LTC Lombardo then read the names of all of the Bravo Bulls in attendance and announced that it is the largest group of Bravo Bulls to be together in many years.

LTC Lombardo giving a cup of punch to the Bravo Bull we had accidentally "found" just after the Memorial ceremony at the Airborne Walk earlier today

The toast by the Bravo Bulls to the fallen "B" Company Paratroopers

Once each of the man had their cup of punch they toasted the fallen "B" Company brothers and drank to their memory.

The Blaskowskis

After the formal toasting was complete they graciously (and I think for the first time) invited the wives and the rest of us to join them by bringing our glasses forward for punch.  They proposed a toast to their wives and family members.  The Blaskowskis and I had our own toast for Matt.

Here's to you Matt.  We miss you like hell!

Cheryl Blaskowski and me toasting the fallen including SFC Matthew Blaskowski and SGT Joshua Brennan and well as all Sky Soldiers from Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan

I have said it before and I will say it over and over again, I have been blessed and am incredibly fortunate for the opportunities I have had to participate in remembering, honoring and supporting the Sky Soldiers.  I am forever grateful to LTC Lombardo for including me in the events this Memorial Day weekend and on Veterans Day at Arlington in years passed.  I am also indebted to COL Bill Ostlund for allowing me to support his Paratroopers forward as well as the wounded.  Above all I am thankful, grateful and honored beyone words for the Gold Star families such as the Blaskowskis and Brennans for allowing me to be a part of their lives.  I love you all.

In the next few days I will write my final post about the weekend at Fort Benning.  On Tuesday 1 June I was present for the dedication of the 173rd Memorial.  Another exceptional day and memory.


JihadGene said...

Thanks for letting us in on this, Leta. One of your best posts.

tankerbabelc said...

Thank you Gene. What an honor this was. What an honor.

Dana said...

Great post, thank you! And a BIG thank you for the pictures from the Little Rock Film Festival of Misha/Ostlund accepting Restrepo's award!

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