By ANIESA HOLMESOctober 9, 2013
FORT BENNING, Ga., (Oct. 9, 2013) -- Fort Benning welcomed veterans from the 87th Infantry Division Thursday at the National Infantry Museum as a new monument was presented in honor of their sacrifices during World War II.
The "Golden Acorn" division was stationed at Fort Benning during World War II and was the first Infantry division to be decommissioned after the war. Now ranging in ages 85 to 90, veterans exchanged memories and participated in activities for their 64th reunion, including the basic training graduation of E Company, 1st Battalion, 46th Infantry Regiment, a tour and monument dedication at the NIM and a banquet at the Benning Club.
The monument was erected at the NIM's Memorial Walk of Honor after months of planning and fundraising from the 87th Infantry Division Legacy Association. The monument honors the memory of Soldiers during the division's five months of combat, in which 1,154 were killed in action, 4,342 wounded in action and 141 died of wounds.
Thomas Burgess, a Charlotte, N.C., resident who graduated from the Infantry School at Fort Benning in 1944, said remembering fallen comrades and continuing fellowship between veterans were the most important aspects of the reunion.
"We're going to keep this going as long as there are those of us who are healthy enough to be able to still come," he said. "It's about being able to sit down with your fellow veterans and find out what they're doing and how they're doing. Like me, most of them say they are thankful to still be alive."
According to the legacy association website, the 87th Infantry Division fought during World War II after months of training at Camp McCain, Miss., and Fort Jackson, S.C, before they shipped overseas on the Queen Elizabeth. They first entered combat in France's Alsace-Lorraine, and after extremely bloody fighting, crossed the German border in the Saar region, capturing the towns of Walsheim and Medelsheim. After walking 100 miles overnight to the Belgium border, the division fought in the historic Battle of the Bulge on Dec. 29, 1944.
Burgess, who was sent overseas to fight in the war immediately upon graduation, said he most remembered how young and dedicated the Soldiers were.
"We were a very young group, and six months before the division was shipped out from Fort Jackson, a very large number of GIs had been pulled out and sent overseas as replacements to Infantry divisions," Burgess said. "Several thousand of us who had enlisted at age 17 had been in Army Specialist Center Program and had just gotten through basic training. A high majority of us were volunteers and not draftees, mostly straight out of high school. We felt it was an obligation to our country and are somewhat disappointed that more people don't do it today."
The 87th Division returned to the States in July 1945 expecting to be called upon to play a role in the defeat of Japan, but the sudden termination of the war in the Pacific while the division was reassembling at Fort Benning changed its future. The division was decommissioned Sept. 21, 1945.
Since then, veterans have valued the importance of reunions, a time to share fond and sometimes difficult memories.
Worcester, Mass., resident John McAuliffe, who was also drafted in the Korean and Vietnam Wars, studied as a pre-med student prior to leaving with a replacement unit overseas during World War II. He said he became interested in researching war veterans and participating in reunions many years later to help keep memories alive.
"I think we do well remembering the service and sacrifices of our veterans," he said. "We have dedicated many monuments to the ones we left behind and those who have died since. I will be leaving (the reunion) with fond memories, but also sad memories and I hope I can come back again next year."
For more information about the 87th Infantry Division, visit www. 87thinfantrydivision.com.