Gulf War tribute kicks off Memorial Day weekend
June 1, 2011
FORT BENNING, Ga. - Two decades ago, U.S. and coalition forces shoved Iraq out of Kuwait in relatively rapid fashion to claim an overwhelming victory in the Gulf War. The first national ceremony honoring the 382 American men and women who gave their lives took place Thursday.
The National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center hosted a 20th anniversary tribute to the troops killed during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. It was part of Fort Benning’s Memorial Day commemoration and coincided with the basic training graduation of C Company, 2nd Battalion, 46th Infantry Regiment, at the museum parade field.
The crowd also paused to mark the 97th anniversary of World War I, 70th anniversary of World War II, the Korean War’s 60th anniversary and 50th year since the start of the Vietnam War.
Granite paved stones were unveiled along Heritage Walk for each Soldier, Sailor, Airman and Marine who died in the Gulf War. The event included participation by the top U.S. commanders in each branch from that conflict, where almost 500 American service members were wounded.
“This is their place the world will ensure they are never forgotten,” said retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey, who commanded the 24th Infantry Division (Mechanized) in Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
Maj. Gen. Robert Brown, who introduced McCaffrey as guest speaker, called the Gulf War “one of the most decisive military victories in United States history.”
The ground fighting lasted just 100 hours as the coalition defeated the Iraqi armed forces and liberated Kuwait.
Leading up to that, the Air Force and Navy flew tens of thousands of sorties from bases in Saudi Arabia and aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf and Red Sea. McCaffrey recalled seeing Tomahawk missiles screaming across the desert toward Iraq.
“It was the most unearthly sound I’ve ever heard in my life,” he said. “We put forth an unbelievable display of air and sea power in that war. They set the conditions for victory … that turned into a four-day blitzkrieg on the ground.”
The new pavers -- engraved with the names of those who died -- are in alphabetical order and arranged in three sections. In the center, a granite and brass monument tells the story of Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
Taps was played after the paver unveiling, while retired Gen. Ron Griffith, who led the 1st Armored Division during the Gulf War, and Command Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey Brown, a Desert Storm veteran and command sergeant major of 2nd Battalion, 46th Infantry Regiment, raised a newly designed, dedicated flag commemorating Gulf War operations.
“It was a special time in the lives of us who participated in that,” Griffith said. “Desert Storm was the climax and apex of rebuilding our Army after coming out of Vietnam. It was one of the greatest armies that ever went into the field. And the Soldiers who gave their lives on that battlefield were significant.”
Two of those casualties, Staff Sgt. Raymond Hatcher and Spc. Kevin Wright, served with Fort Benning’s 197th Infantry Brigade, based on Kelley Hill at the time. The unit supported the 24th Infantry Division, which conducted the 250-mile “left-hook” attack into Iraq.
Cliff Hazelwood, then a specialist and combat engineer with the 197th, drove down from Leitchfield, Ky., for Thursday’s tribute. He said he knew Wright personally.
“I wanted to pay my respects,” he said. “I’m glad they didn’t forget the ones that got killed.”
A wreath-laying ceremony on Heritage Walk featured other high-ranking commanders from the Gulf War -- retired Army Gen. Edwin Burba, the commander-in-chief of Forces Command; retired Gen. Chuck Horner, who led Central Command Air Forces; retired Adm. Stanley Arthur, former commander of the 7th Fleet and Naval Force Central Command; and retired Lt. Gen. William Keys, who commanded the 2nd Marine Division.
“It’s way overdue, but I’m glad they could put something together like this for the veterans who served in that war,” said retired Sgt. 1st Class John H. Brown of Columbus, who belonged to a logistics unit under the 24th Infantry Division. “It was perfect timing around Memorial Day (and) honoring all the Soldiers who died, not just the Gulf War vets. … Several of my comrades were killed. I don’t want to single out anybody, but I pray for all of them.”
Retired Sgt. 1st Class Fred Reynolds was assigned to the 1st Armored Division headquarters staff during Desert Storm. After the unit returned to Germany, he retired in September 1991 and now works at Fort Benning.
“It’s beautiful,” he said of the ceremony. “This is really nice, especially the flag -- it remembers all four services involved and those who paid the ultimate price. … I just want to say ‘job well done’ to the NCOs and enlisted guys who fought in that war.”
Retired Gen. B.B. Bell, who was Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf’s executive officer in the Gulf War as a colonel, delivered the graduation address for C Company, 2nd Battalion, 46th Infantry Regiment.
“This unit produces great Soldiers who serve in defense of freedom,” Bell said. “You’re now the strength of our Army and one of America’s finest. … And America remains the last best hope for man and womankind in the cause of freedom and liberty around the world.”