2012 Currahee Reunion
Hilton Garden Inn, Columbus, GA
May 2-5, 2012

After-Action Report

Issued by John Lally (A Co, 1st BN, 1970-1971)

Towards the end of the Business Meeting at the 2010 Currahee Reunion in Harrisburg, the members took up the last agenda item . . . a discussion of possible venues for the 2012 reunion. After a number of suggestions were made, MG(Ret) David Grange rose to advance the idea of going to Fort Benning, Georgia. He cited the new Infantry Museum then being completed, as well as many other attractions of the post and the nearby city of Columbus.

As is the usual process, the Reunion Committee (Gene Overton and Fred May along with others) did its due diligence in exploring all of the suggestions, Their recommendation to the full Board of Directors supported Columbus as the best site for our 2012 Reunion. It turned out to be a very good recommendation.

Many — perhaps most — Currahees have some connection with Fort Benning. At one time or another, we may have attended Basic Training there, or Infantry AIT, or one of the advanced programs like Airborne training, Ranger training, OCS, the NCO Academy or professional career classes at the Infantry School. Today it is the home to over 100,000 soldiers, civilians and their families.

From the very beginning, the site team received wonderful cooperation from the staff in Columbus to find an appropriate hotel (at an advantageous rate) for the reunion center and then work with us to provide the “goods” we need — good meals, good service, good rooms, good QM space and good technical support. From first to last we had cheerful, competent staff and a smooth operation overall.

The cooperation from the active duty Army at nearby Fort Benning and back at Fort Campbell was also outstanding. Many of the leaders at the post and of the individual components had connections with the Currahees and couldn’t be more cooperative. The end result was one of the largest and most enjoyable get-togethers in anybody’s memory.

Day One—Wednesday, 2 May

The opening day of every reunion is a mixed bag of individual activities. This Wednesday was no exception. Some of the early birds staged mini-reunions spontaneously in the lobby and our hospitality room. As usual, Bruce Moore and Peggy Pearson were everywhere, welcoming attendees, managing registrations, making introductions, fixing SNAFUs and attending to all of the historical displays. Members, active duty troops, guests and families drifted in and out all day, talking endlessly, shopping at Ron and Ruth’s QM store and then heading for golf or individual explorations of Fort Benning and Columbus.

Wednesday evening the group began to come together as individuals and couples connected with old friends and new acquaintances, talked, drank and snacked until late in the night. Quite a few active duty personnel were there and mixed freely with the veterans. Topics of conversation were varied . . . tactics and weapons, politics and family management, all matters of interest across generations. Paralleling what COL Val Keaveny noted in his remarks, the connections were palpable. By the end of the evening, my back was sore from standing tall and sucking in my stomach as the “kids” praised the veterans and we, in turn, admired their youth and professionalism.

Day Two—Thursday, 3 May

Thursday was the first structured day of the reunion. As veterans and their families and guests continued to arrive, organized and disorganized — make that UNorganized — trips to Fort Benning’s buildings, special training and firing ranges. One of the highlights was a visit with members of the Army’s crack Marksmanship unit, plus a chance to handle some of the most advanced competition and combat small arms in the world. Many of us came away with a burning desire to actually shoot a few of these beautiful weapons. We have many avid pistol shooters in the group, and we all knew that if we had one of those $3,000 custom 1911’s we could show those young soldiers a thing or two. Unfortunately, the size of our group and the risk of an accident kept us from proving or disproving that theory.

We did see the World and Olympic champions in action on the range, and it was impressive . . . at what seems like an impossible distance, four shooters with modified M-16s and iron sights shot several magazines rapid fire at silhouettes, and shot them to pieces!

The Hospitality Room continued to be in use all day and most of the night. Thanks to Rick St. John’s connections, the B&B Beverage Company of Columbus made a generous and very much appreciated donation of 20 cases of beer. This was as welcome in 2012 as in 1942. This evening we assembled there for an excellent Buffet Dinner with good food, good conversation and lots of laughter. The conversations continued unabated until the wee hours.

Day Three—Friday, 4 May

Friday we boarded a couple of busses and headed out to the Airborne training area so near and dear to so many Currahees. The cadre did a great job of explaining the jump qualification cycle, including the Low Tower. At that point, vets and some family members began to gear up and start the long climb. The old enthusiasm for stepping out the aircraft door was still present, but the form was not as stylish as jumper after jumper struggled with too-small helmets and other equipment malfunctions.

After checking for loose or missing body parts, we boarded the buses and headed off to the beautiful new Infantry Museum. We spent an enjoyable couple of hours viewing the astounding exhibits, including those celebrating the careers of Currahees like Mark “Zippo” Smith. There are still several important exhibit halls not yet completed but those we did see could easily occupy our attention for many more hours.

The museum also included one unplanned event—a mini-reunion of sorts. Ron Kane (D-1/506) kept checking out one of the museum volunteer guides. It turned out to be Owen Ditchfield, Ron’s former commanding officer from Vietnam, now retired.

After a brief visit to the revitalized Columbus downtown, (the gourmet ice cream cones were great!) Friday night was reserved for unit dinners; for the folks without a place to congregate, the Hospitality Room was — hospitable.

Day Four—Saturday, 5 May

Saturday morning was the biannual business meeting.

The big event of the day was the Currahee Memorial Dinner. The active duty Currahees were much in evidence, with the color guard and brigade and battalion leadership team joining us for the evening.

CPT Brian Brennan — the gravely wounded officer roused from his coma by GEN David Petraeus’ shout of “Currahee” — led the pledge of Allegiance, Chaplain LTC(Ret) Otis Smith did the invocation, and Fred May led the always moving Remembrance ceremony. After incoming Chairman John Lally and new president Bob Seitz recognized outgoing President Don Theis and Secretary Chris Garrett for their service to the regiment and the Association, we enjoyed an excellent meal.

The year 2012 marks the 70th Anniversary of the formation of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, so it was only fitting to have a 70th Anniversary Cake at our Reunion. However, it was decided that when it came to cutting the cake a simple knife just would not do; a more fitting way would be for it to be cut using an Infantry tool, the bayonet. But not just any bayonet would do, it had to be the same type of bayonet that the unit used in training as well as combat during the history of the Regiment. So we obtained three such items:

  • the M1 that was used in stateside training at Camp Toccoa, during WWII, as well as during training of troops for the Korean War;
  • the M7 that was used during pre-VN training, during the VN War, and then stateside during the post VN training; and
  • the M9 that was used as the Unit trained and stood guard in Korea as the most forwardly deployed US unit and during the Unit's four deployments in the last ten years [Iraq and Afghanistan] in support of the War on Terrorism.

These three bayonets symbolize the Regiment's continued service to our country whether in peacetime where the soldiers were honed to a sharp edge in training or in actual combat against ene-mies of our Nation.

Gene Overton played Zorro, cutting the Currahee birthday cake with three bayonets, and then we sat back to listen to our two speakers. 4th BCT Commander COL Val Keaveny, Jr. did an excellent job with his remarks about the regiment, its future and its relationship with the Association. Bob Seitz assisted the colonel in adding several new campaign streamers to the regimental flag.

The highlight of the evening for most of us was our featured speaker, MAJ(Ret) Mark “Zippo” Smith. The indomitable veteran of four combat tours in Vietnam and former POW was as plain-spoken and entertaining as his reputation suggested.

After dinner and a marathon session of photo shots, hugs and handshakes, the 2012 Currahee Reunion ended, a great success by all accounts. The Association is deeply appreciative of the efforts and contributions of the many people it takes to bring this event off. We particularly want to thank the following:
COL Keaveny
Mark “Zippo “Smith
Bob Gilbert
Rick St. John
Dick Hagan and B & B Beverage Company
John Foley
MAJ Kamil Sztalkoper
the hotel staff of the Hilton Garden Inn
LTG(R) David E. Grange, Jr.
MAJ Rob Milan
COL Ron Clark
CSM Mike Catterton
Sid Kaminsky and Ashley Woitena of the Columbus, GA Convention & Visitors Bureau
and (of course) Bruce Moore, Peggy Pearson, Ron and Ruth Helwig, Gene Overton and Fred May.

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506th Airborne Infantry Regiment Association (Airmobile - Air Assault)
This page updated 04/06/13