By Heather Clark, Courier staffJuly 3, 2013
CAMP TOCCOA, Ga. -- "Three miles up, three miles down!"
It was the rallying cry of Easy Company, 506th Infantry Regiment, as the Soldiers left Camp Toccoa, Ga., and ran to the top of Currahee Mountain and back down again under the constant vigil of Col. Robert Sink and Capt. Richard Winters. As World War II raged overseas, the experimental airborne regiment endured rigorous physical and combat training at Camp Toccoa, all in the name of forming a cohesive team of American fighters -- a Band of Brothers. The paratroopers invaded Normandy on D-Day during Operation Overlord, united under a motto derived from the translation of the Cherokee-named mountain: "Stands alone."
As the birthplace of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, many Soldiers of the 4th Brigade Combat Team have made the sojourn to Currahee Mountain to run the famed trail in preparation for deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. Recently, the Currahee Military Museum and Camp Toccoa historical society have announced the inception of a phase-based project to restore key structural elements of the military camp to create a center of remembrance for Easy Company Veterans and Families and a historical visitation site for generations to come.
"Toccoa is the spiritual touchstone for the regiment," said Lt. Col. Joel D. Hamby, rear detachment commander of Fort Campbell's 4th BCT. "It has a lot of significance for the WWII Veterans, but it also has a lot of significance for the Currahees that are in Afghanistan right now." At the end of WWII, Camp Toccoa, like many other military camps in the United States, was deconstructed and virtually erased. A single masonry building remained standing on land that was eventually purchased by the Pacolet Milliken textile company.
"All of the evidence was gone that there was ever anything there, but one building was left standing," said Brenda J. Carlan, executive director of the Currahee Military Museum. "The textile facility closed and the historical society was very interested in that building."
A donation from Pacolet Milliken gave the museum nearly six acres of land and the original Camp Toccoa building it contained. This donation would put the first piece of the restoration puzzle into place. The next would arrive courtesy of the Latham Family, who farmed the land in close proximity to the now-defunct Army camp.
"They took several [camp] buildings down and kept them to make barns, chicken houses, that kind of thing," said Carlan. "They had one barracks [building] that they never did put back together, and that Family has donated it to the historical society."
In addition to restoring the original building, the society hopes to rebuild the original barracks building to a capacity that allows it to house visitors.
"We have a lot of people, especially Veterans and historians, that actually want to sleep in that building," said Carlan. "We have a lot of people that want to come and run the mountain. We'll be rebuilding it and hopefully building some new facilities."
"It won't be a reconstruction of the entire camp, but it would be an extremely authentic sense of living in basically a plywood barracks," said Hamby.
Carlan said that because the entire camp cannot be fully restored and reconstructed, the society will focus on the few original structures serving as a focal point of a site that reflects the legacy of leadership that was bred at Camp Toccoa and revered in the years that followed. As a Soldier and living historian who works with the staff of Fort Campbell's Don F. Pratt Museum, Hamby agrees that preserving that legacy is of utmost importance.
"Keeping in touch with our history lets us as Soldiers know that we're not doing this alone," he said. "Others before us have gone and carried the colors, and we're living up to their traditions. We're remembering their sacrifices, even while we're making our own."
It is a concept, according to Hamby, which goes far beyond simple history -- something easily understood to those who have put on a uniform and answered the call to war.
"It's hard to explain to someone that isn't in a regiment how important it is to remember what has gone before," he said, "because it gives you strength to overcome what is placed in your way, in peacetime and in war."
While the military and museum and historical society are hard at work in their attempts to get the phases off the ground, Carlan admits that the non-profit organization is operating on a very small budget.
"There is a rush -- and sadly, it's a financial rush," she said. "We can only do so much at a time. But we've got an awesome story here. It's more than a story -- it's real. We're just trying to make sure the story continues to be told."
When times are tough, it never hurts to have friends in high places. On June 10, camptoccoaatcurrahee.org announced the receipt of a $25,000 donation for the restoration project, courtesy of the Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson Foundation. Hanks, who paired up with Steven Spielberg to produce the HBO miniseries "Band of Brothers," conveyed his personal support in an email to Robin Sink McClelland, daughter of Col. Robert Sink and president of the Camp Toccoa Board of Trustees.
"I cannot imagine a more fitting site to recreate and honor as would a refurbished Currahee -- a stop for all history students, no matter the age," he said, ending his correspondence with "Bravo -- and Currahee!"
"You can tell he totally respects these WWII men; there's not a doubt in my mind that he donated this money out of appreciation for what they did," said Carlan. "We've gotten several phone calls since that happened. We're proud of it and we're grateful for it."
With the inactivation of 4th BCT and several others recently announced, there has been a renewed fervor to move the Camp Toccoa restoration along.
"We're all kind of in turmoil right now with the deactivation of some of the Currahees," said Carlan. "It's a long line of legacy and heritage that we're proud of here in Toccoa. People all over the world, they want to know that story."
"We've always known that when it came time to downsize, 4th Brigade would be the last hired, first fired," said Hamby. "The brigade colors will fold, but the regimental colors will live on."
With all of the changes taking place, Hamby hopes that the historical society's ambitious plans to restore the camp will come to fruition -- and that he will have the opportunity to visit the storied mountain, running on earth tamped decades ago by the boots of Easy Company paratroopers.
"Keeping that history alive, you can't calculate a cost," said Hamby. "It's very important. You can bring your sons, your daughters here and show them how they lived, how they trained and how they went to preserve our freedom."