Torches lit to remember Soldiers' sacrifices
April 5, 2013
FORT BENNING, Ga. (April 3, 2013) -- For more than a quarter of a century, veterans and Soldiers of the 46th Infantry Regiment have staged a memorial torchlight ceremony to remember those who came before them -- particularly those who gave their lives in service to their country.
While a torch is lit for each of the regiment's 18 campaigns, one battle is remembered each year with particular solemnity.
"Though the Vietnam War was winding down for the U.S. Army in 1971, the regiment had built and still manned the remote fire support base called Mary Ann, which was intended to provide a protective shield for Da Nang and other coastal hamlets, as well as to serve as a jumping off point for operations designed to disrupt the flow of men and materiel coming down the Dak Rose Trail," said Capt. Amanda Oldaker, 1st Battalion, 46th Inf. Regt., mistress of ceremonies.
"It seemed that 1-46 Infantry was causing too much trouble from Mary Ann, and as a result, the enemy launched a spectacular attack on the fire support base. The ensuing close-quarters combat claimed 30 of the regiment's sons."
Dozens of veterans from across the country traveled alone, with family or former battle buddies to attend the annual ceremony. Dempsey "Bud" Eason, a one-time machine gunner with the regiment, is like many of his fellow veterans, a faithful attendee year after year, first at Fort Knox, Ky., and now at Fort Benning in the battalion's consecrated memorial grove.
He said he made the journey from his hometown in North Carolina in honor of his best friend, a medic named Sgt. Kyle Hamilton, who everyone called "Doc."
"We were coming home. We had nine days left," Eason said. "They were short a medic on the base that day, so they flew him out there. He was supposed to come into the rear area that night, and another guy I talked to at a reunion at Fort Knox had got his foot hurt. And Doc said, 'Your foot's so bad, you need to go back to the rear. There's only one seat left on the chopper. You take my seat, and I'll catch the one after in the morning.' He gave his seat up because another guy needed treatment. And he got killed that night.
"I come to remember him. If not but two men come, those guys won't be forgotten."
Eason, on duty back at headquarters, wasn't on the base that night. Retired Staff Sgt. John Calhoun Jr. was. The former NCO was hit three times during the short-lived, but catastrophic firefight in the early hours of March 28, 1971.
Calhoun, guest speaker for the ceremony, said the service was intended to give honor to the unit, "to the brave men who have served and to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for this country."
The two-time Purple Heart recipient didn't speak much about that night on Fire Support Base Mary Ann. As both veterans and trainees listened, he spoke about courage, something battalion commander Lt. Col. J. Cale Brown said was needed of regimental Soldiers then, in combat and still today as the unit conducts a training mission.
"Throughout my time in the military, I have been instructed that courage is one of the values of leadership," Calhoun said. "Personal courage as defined by the Army is to face danger fear or adversity. Personal courage is the ability one has to overcome a difficult situation … to do the moral and right thing.
Through their display of courage, Soldiers of the regiment have won honors for their unit since it was first constituted May 15, 1917, during World War I. Unit commendations include three awards of the Republic of Vietnam Cross of Gallantry, two presidential unit citations, two awards of the Croix de Guerre and a valorous unit award.
While the unit's warfighting past has transitioned to a future focused on training warriors, the battalion's Soldiers will still "carry the torch with dignity and honor, showing future Soldiers how to lead to victory," Oldaker said.
That, too, will take courage, Brown said.
"The greatest of hearts must be courageous," Calhoun said. "It matters not the height of a man, if he lacks the courage to take a stand. Nor does the breadth of his shoulders matter has he not the courage to bear weight on them. The most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have confidence but to have fought well."