Lt. Col. Christopher Willis, left, hands a torch Sunday to Staff Sgt. Johnathon Haines, a drill sergeant who wore a World War II-era uniform at the ceremony.

FORT BENNING, Ga. -- A quarter-century-old Fort Knox, Ky., tradition has unfolded at Fort Benning for the first time.

The 2nd Battalion, 46th Infantry Regiment, staged its annual Torchlight Ceremony at dusk Sunday in Memorial Grove outside the unit's headquarters on Sand Hill. The event pays tribute to all regimental veterans from World War II through Vietnam and up to today. It honors the 46th's history, sacrifices of its Soldiers and families, and connection with those serving now.

"It's important to carry it on (and) that we as an Army recognize those who have gone before us and are fighting today, and the sacrifices they've made," said Command Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey Brown, the battalion command sergeant major.

The ceremony takes place each year on the anniversary eve of the Battle of Fire Support Base Mary Ann, waged in the early hours of March 28, 1971, when Viet Cong sappers attacked the U.S. camp in Quang Tin Province, South Vietnam. Thirty-three Soldiers from the regiment's 1st Battalion were killed and more than 80 wounded. It was the deadliest attack on a single U.S. firebase during the Vietnam War.

Brown said the Torchlight Ceremony is dedicated to all the campaigns the 46th Infantry Regiment has fought in, 18 total, from World War II to Vietnam. The commemoration began in 1987.

Two Soldiers in period uniforms lit torches Sunday for each campaign streamer. Battalion leaders also recognized Irene Holloway, the Gold Star Mother of a Soldier killed on Fire Support Base Mary Ann, who was among the attendees.

A year ago, the battle's veterans voted to move their annual two-day reunion from Fort Knox to Columbus and Fort Benning, battalion officials said. About 70 people attended the 2011 gathering.

The veterans ate with battalion Soldiers at the unit's dining facility just before the Torchlight Ceremony. On Monday, they held a memorial service at Uchee Creek on the fight's 40th anniversary for those killed at Fire Support Base Mary Ann.

The yearly reunion and ceremony provide a great lesson to Soldiers in the battalion today, Brown said.

"This will hit home more than sitting in a classroom and talking about what happened," he said. "Here, we have the actual veterans who took part in a firefight there and an assault on a firebase. We have many veterans among our ranks now, too, with multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. We're now on a level playing ground when it comes to talking to these veterans. It's a great chance to exchange stories."

Brown said it's important for the battalion to pass the regiment's traditions and history on to the new Soldiers going through basic training.

"They need to understand why we fight," he said. "It isn't all about a paycheck. It's about what we can do for our fellow Soldiers. I think you can talk to just about any Soldier who's been in a firefight ... he was fighting for his brother next to him."

"That's what these men at Fire Base Mary Ann did. They underwent an atrocious assault and they came together and fought back and came out victorious. We want our Soldiers nowadays to understand what the sacrifices were back then and what they may be asked to make one day."

Earlier Sunday, the battalion took part in a groundbreaking for the Americal Division Memorial at the National Infantry Museum. In Vietnam, the 46th Infantry Regiment fell under the Americal Division.

"This year's Torchlight Ceremony marks a pivotal moment in the history of the 46th Infantry Regiment," said Lt. Col. Christopher Willis, the battalion commander. "Although Fort Knox was a wonderful home to the 46th Infantry, we are excited about being at Fort Benning."

The 2nd Battalion, 46th Infantry Regiment, conducted basic combat training at Fort Knox from 1987 to 2010. In January, the unit became the first Fort Knox battalion headquarters to move to Fort Benning under Base Realignment and Closure. It now performs the same mission here.

The regiment's 1st Battalion was inactivated in December.

Page last updated Wed March 30th, 2011 at 12:10