FORT LEE, Va. - Preserving a legacy can make the difference in whether or not people remember you after you're gone. This was the intention of the 94th Infantry Division Historical Society transferring their flag to the 94th Training Division in an event held here at the Gerow Center on Nov. 21, 2016.
Col. John Aarsen, assistant division commander of the 94th Training Division, explained that traditions and heritage are keys to the success of carrying on the society's legacy.
"I think it helps us by strengthening our understanding of our past," Aarsen said about receiving the unit's colors.
Those who had passed the colors to Aarsen at the event were the 94th IDHS Immediate Past President Bill Van Sant, its Secretary John Clyburn, and Mr. Vivek Kshetrapal, chief executive officer of the 94th Training Division.
Earlier this year, Aarsen attended the society's veterans' reunion in Richmond. During the reunion, he met Clyburn, Van Sant and many other veterans. They quickly developed strong friendships and trust with one another. Aarsen explained that he "built an understanding that we want to continue their legacy and heritage."
Formerly a member of the Army Security Agency from 1961 through 1963, Clyburn currently serves as the society's reunion coordinator, as well as its secretary. He explained that at this year's reunion, the notion came about that it would be "a great idea to hand over the reins to the current 94th Training Division." Aarsen wholeheartedly agreed with him.
"Through the relationship we've developed between the 94th WWII generation and the historical society, who are essentially the children of the WWII veterans, we've built up a great connection between those two organizations," said Aarsen. "They felt comfortable enough to give us their WWII colors. We will preserve these. Just like we do every day by wearing the 94th patch, now we will preserve those colors."
Another important piece of the 94th's history is tied into their new training center that is currently being built here. Clyburn explained they are working on getting the center dedicated in honor of the 94th Infantry Division's Medal of Honor recipient Master Sgt. Nicholas Oresko. He was the last MOH soldier of the 94th who died three years ago.
"Now the 94th has no surviving Medal of Honor soldiers. Oresko was the last one," said Clyburn. "To memorialize Master Sgt. Oresko with this new school building is another way we can keep our rich history alive."
Looking at the big picture brings a bleak reality of the small number of 94th WWII veterans remaining. Approximately 20,000 soldiers from the 94th fought in the war. Today, about 200 of them are still alive. That's only one percent of the original number from WWII.
"That tells you time is taking its toll," said Clyburn. Aarsen added that those who remain alive today are the lower enlisted and second lieutenants, since most of the higher ranking ones were older. Aarsen explained that this is why the society no longer has the ability to take care of its colors and wanted to pass them to someone they could trust. "We are already entrusted with their patch and their history," Aarsen said. "It is truly an honor they have entrusted us with their colors, too."
Aarsen took a moment to reflect on the flag transfer's historical significance.
"We're here in this division for only a short period of time, but while we're here, we are doing all we can to maintain high standards and continue to preserve its history," said Aarsen. "We look forward to passing along these colors and legacy to the next generation of soldiers."