Battle memories resurface for visiting WWII veterans
June 7, 2010
PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. - The Battle of the Bulge may have occurred more than a half-century ago, but for a local group of veterans of that battle it didn't take much more than handling some infantry weapons from that era to unleash a flood of memories.
Members of the Peter F. Leslie, Jr., Chapter 54 of the Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge toured Picatinny Arsenal with their families recently, viewing a number of displays that included World War II weapons and even a restored Willys Jeep.
During their wide-ranging tour, the veterans were free to ask questions of the engineers and technicians on hand from the Armament, Research, Development and Engineering Center (ARDEC).
However, more often than not, it was the hosts who were regaled by the veterans themselves with memories that came streaming back across the decades upon handling a weapon they might not have touched in more than 50 years.
"It was amazing to witness the bond that's still so strong between those men after all these years and I'm honored to be a Soldier in the same army they fought in," said Staff Sgt. Marcos Collado, a mechanical engineering technician with the Crew Served Weapons Branch. He is also an Army reservist recently promoted to his current rank.
The Battle of the Bulge was six weeks of some of the fiercest and most grueling combat in WWII. From December 1944 through January 1945, allied forces in the Ardennes Forest of Belgium fought not only a vicious last ditch Nazi offensive but also the brutal Belgian winter and prevailed in what was the bloodiest battle of the war.
The veterans, now mostly in their mid- to late 80s, toured the newly built Armament Integration Facility.
There, personnel from the Armament Technology Facility, the Remote Weapons Branch, and Explosive Ordnance Disposal demonstrated some of the Army's latest battlefield technology.
At the Explosive Development Facility, the veterans saw the extent of the facility's capabilities as a research and development lab, as well as its live-fire explosive test chambers.
During their visit, the veterans also saw a demonstration of inert models of various shaped charges and other developmental explosive devices, along with examples of results from previous testing. The visitors also saw high-speed video of actual testing showing slow- motion detonation of grenades and claymore mines before touring the chambers that contain those explosions and make possible the data collection vital to the facility's mission.
As part of the tour, Picatinny historian Patrick Owens presented information on the arsenal's role in during WWII as well as a summation of arsenal activities today on behalf of the nation's warfighters.
Mark McFadden, chief of the Armament Systems Evaluation Branch, presented the veterans's chapter with two books on the history of the Battle of the Bulge as a token of their hosts' gratitude for their service.