Monday, June 7, 2010

173rd Airborne Brigade Dedicates Memorial To Their Fallen at Patriot Park, Fort Benning, GA

1 June 2010 was a typical hot, humid summer day at Fort Benning, GA but it didn't deter hundreds (no idea of actual attendance numbers but estimated at 2,000) of Paratroopers, family and friends from the 173rd ABCT past and present from attending the dedication of the 173rd Airborne Memorial at Patriot Park adjacent to the National Infantry Museum just outside the gates of Fort Benning, GA.

As we walked through the alley of flags towards Patriot Park

It was touching to see the traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall on display next to the National Infantry Musuem.  I imagine there were some Vietnam Veterans who had come to the 173rd Memorial dedication who may never had had the opportunity to travel to Washington, DC to visit the permanent Memorial Wall and to pay their respects.

I recalled the first time I visited the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC.  It was on a very cold and snowy night.  The sky was clear and the moon was full and bright in the night sky.  As I approached the wall in the darkness the moon was reflecting on it and seemed to set it aglow.  It was incredibly moving and took my breath away.  Visiting the Vietnam Memorial in DC or even one of the traveling Memorial Walls is, in itself, moving.  Yet seeing the cans of beer, flowers, flags, unit patches, medals, flags, stuffed animals, combat boots, photos, notes and memorabilia of all sorts left by the living for their fallen brothers in arms is indescribable.  There is, obviously, a personal story behind each item left. I often wonder what many of those stories are.  The Pentagon Channel has a video here that shows momentoes and tells about how they are ALL (except for perishable items) collected each day, cataloged and kept forever.

I was grateful the traveling wall was at the National Infantry Museum to give us the opportunity to pay our respects.

The crowd continued to filter in passed the National Infantry Musuem:

The color guard comprised of Soldiers from the US, Australia and New Zealand marched across the parade field to present the colors.  From the National Infantry Museum website:
"Soil collected from eight wars in Infantry history was sprinkled across the field by heroes of those wars or their descendants, accompanied by present day soldiers in period uniforms. Among the soil spreaders were descendants of Alexander Hamilton, Theodore Roosevelt and Alvin York, as well as Lieutenant General Hal Moore and Command Sergeant Basil Plumley, who led an historic assault on the Viet Cong at Landing Zone X-Ray. Each new soldier passing in review during graduation ceremonies from this date forward will march across the sacred soil, a tangible connection to the legacy they have just joined.

Color Guard

The band played the national anthems of New Zealand, Australia and the United States of America:

Prior to the dedication of the 173rd Memorial MG (R) Jerry White, President of the National Infantry Museum, revealed the plans for the "Walk of Honor".  I didn't take notes (wish I had) and I couldn't find any specific information on the web site but when completed the "Walk of Honor" will allow visitors to the National Infantry Museum and Patriot Park to follow the pathway past over 60 Memorials and exhibits.  A jump tower will be erected in close proximity to the 173rd Memorial.

Plans for the "Walk of Honor"

After MG (R) Jerry White's remarks and unveiling of the plans for the "Walk of Honor" there was a transition into the dedication of the 173rd ABCT Memorial.  Weather, unfortunately, prevented a jump by the "Silver Wings" and a Sky Soldier Flyover.  As hot and humid as it was thankfully the rains stayed away during the ceremonies.

BG James Yarbrough began the remarks dedicating the Memorial.  Almost 10 years ago to the day he was the Brigade Commander who reactivated the 173rd ABCT in Vicenza, Italy.  He told several stories about the events surrounding the reactivation and he invited all of the former paratroopers for "one more jump."    I'm convinced some of the Vietnam Veterans were absolutely ready to line up for that.  His remarks about the history of the Brigade were insightful and uplifting.  His remembrance of those who have given their lives in action was incredibly meaningful and honorable.

Brigadier General James Yarbrough, former Commander of the 173rd Airborne Brigade (2000-2002)

After BG Yarbrough's remarks, CSM Nicholas Rolling (CSM of the 173rd ABCT in Afghansitan made remarks).  Sorry I didn't get a photo.

Next to address the crows was MG John G. Caligari of the Australian Army.  (Again, apologies for no photo)  Many aren't aware that the Aussies and Kiwis served side-by-side with the Sky Soldiers in Vietnam.  The names of the KIAs from both of those nations are enscribed on the 173rd Memorial.  The bond between the three Armies is a strong one with friendships that continue even now.

MG John G. Caligari, Head, Modernization & Strategic Plans, Army, representing the Chief of the Army (Australia)

After MG Caliagar's address BG A. D Gawn of the New Zealand Army spoke.  He began and ended his remarks in Maori.  Once again I wish I had been taking notes to be able to tell you all what he said and his translation.  It was very moving though.

COL (R) Ken Smith, 173rd Natioanl Memorial Foundation, closed the remarks.  COL Smith along with dozens of others have spent tireless days, weeks, months and years working with the National Infantry Museaum, Architects, Contractors, etc. to make the Memorial a reality.  I applaud him and all who have done so much.  The Memorial is breathtaking.  The site is perfect.  The ceremony could not have been more honorable and perfect.

Everyone was invited to move to the Memorial for the wreath laying part of the ceremony.  Along with representatives of the 173rd and Gold Star families the Australians and New Zealanders laid a wreath as well.

Crowd moving from bleachers to Memorial Monument

Crowd moving to Monument


Red Poppy Wreath from the Australians and New Zealanders

Awaiting time for the three volleys

Firing of the Three Volleys

The Buglar (very inconspicuous standing under the tree)

Helicopter Fly Over

Helicopter Fly Over

Helicopter Fly Over

Retiring of the Colors

I am thankful for the opportunity to attend the Memorial dedication and to sit with one of the Gold Star families.  It was an emotional day but one that brought so much honor on the fallen. 

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