By 1st Lt. Bryan Medema, 1st Bn., 506th Inf. Regt., 1st BCT unit public affairs representativeAugust 11, 2015
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. -- Since its inception during World War II, 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), has built a legacy as one of the most storied units in the Army. The popularity of projects such as HBO's "Band of Brothers" and a plethora of books on the exploits of the "Currahees," have made artifacts of the unit's history immensely valuable.
This inherent value, paired with the sentimental value of a family member's belongings, makes a recent donation to the Don F. Pratt Museum here that much more special. The donation, two M1942 Airborne uniforms, one German MP40 submachine gun, and two photographs, represent a significant piece of both the 506th Inf. Regt. and 101st Abn. Div. history.
The artifacts originally belonged to retired Lt. Col. Robert Stroud, who served with Red Currahee as a lieutenant during WWII.
"The uniforms themselves are very rare, and their association [with] the 506th Infantry and the fact that they have both been worn in combat gives them a very high collector value," said Capt. Walter Gradzik, the commander of Company B, 1/506th Inf. Regt. and amateur military historian.
The MP40 submachine gun, a first in the Pratt Museum's collection, was captured "when my father [accidently] fell into a canal … and surprised a German soldier standing guard," said one of Stroud's sons, Bob Stroud. Each piece donated helps to tell the story of their father -- a member of the "Greatest Generation."
Arriving in England in May 1944, 2nd Lt. Stroud was kept as a replacement during the initial invasion of Nazi Europe. While he was unable to participate in D-Day, Stroud fought as a part of Operation Market Garden -- the historic combat jump into Holland in September 1944.
Later in the town of Foy, during the Battle of Bastogne, 1st Lt. Stroud was injured by enemy shrapnel and was evacuated to the city of Bastogne. A tear in one of the donated uniforms is believed to be from the injury he sustained.
Unable to be evacuated due to the German assault, Stroud waited out the siege until relief arrived and he was evacuated for proper medical treatment. Following his recovery, Stroud led 1st Platoon, Company H, on their mission ending in Berchtesgaden, home of Hitler's famed "Eagle's Nest" retreat. The war ended shortly after, and following brief occupational duties, 1st Lt. Stroud returned home and continued to serve until 1963, retiring as a lieutenant colonel.
The decorated WWII veteran passed away in February 2015 at the age of 95.
The donors, David and Bob Stroud, Robert Stroud's sons and both retired lieutenant colonels, wanted to find a place where "our father's items would be seen rather than sit in storage."
The museum was sure quick find a place of honor for the artifacts.
"The Pratt Museum, which houses numerous artifacts detailing the history of the 101st Airborne Division, has plans to immediately display the uniforms and rotate them so that they will last for generations," said Dan Peterson, the museum director.
The historic significance of the artifacts was not lost on any of those present at the donation ceremony during the Day of the Eagles celebration July 30, 2015.
"[These] items will continue to serve as a link to the past that will certainly stand alone amongst the museum's collection," said Gradzik. Throughout the ages, Currahee stands alone!