FORT CAMPBELL, Kentucky -- By late fall of 1944, Allied forces had halted the German advance and secured Paris, France, during World War II. Victory seemed to be at hand. During the relative calm of the German retreat, 101st Airborne Division Soldiers, stationed in Champagne, began to plan a Christmas day football game, known as the "Champagne Bowl."
In mid-December, however, a German counterattack began in the Ardennes region, and 10,000 Soldiers of the 101st -- having never played their game -- were called upon to march north and partake in what we now know as the Battle of the Bulge.
More than 70 years later, Helen Ayer Patton, granddaughter of the legendary Gen. George S. Patton, Jr., who commanded the U.S. Third Army in France and Germany following the Allied invasion of Normandy, decided to visit today's "Screaming Eagle" Soldiers at Fort Campbell, Feb. 25, in hopes of reviving and commemorating the infamous "game that never happened."
Redubbed, Patton and Hans Van Kessel, curator of the 101st Airborne Museum Le Mess in Bastogne, Belgium, pioneered the inaugural "Remembrance Bowl" football game last year in France. It pitted two teams of the 101st Abn. Div. against one another during the 74th Anniversary of D-Day in Sainte Mere-Eglise. The game was a success, and Patton hopes to turn this game into an annual tradition.
"We are not just talking about an event that will grow in popularity in Normandy," said Patton while speaking with 101st Abn. Div. senior leaders about the possibility of future "Remembrance Bowls." "This concept of a football game, or to play the 'game that never happened,' is something that is as much a part your genealogy here, and rooted here at Fort Campbell, as it is anywhere else."
During the visit, Patton and Van Kessel toured the division headquarters, the Don F. Pratt Memorial Museum, several memorials throughout the installation and The Sabalauski Air Assault School, following a brief office call with Maj. Gen. Brian Winski, 101st Abn. Div. commander and Brig. Gen. K. Todd Royar, 101st Abn. Div. deputy commanding general for support.
"It [visit to Fort Campbell] was very personal because my eye would catch a glimpse of a general that I might have known as a young girl, who may have served with my father [Maj. Gen. (ret.) George Patton IV] on one of the various military bases," said Patton. "I was also particularly moved by the Gander Memorial."
The Gander Memorial honors and remembers 248 Fort Campbell Soldiers who died when the plane they were travelling aboard crashed in Gander, Newfoundland, during a return flight from a peacekeeping mission in the Sinai Peninsula. Patton, a former actress and theatrical entertainer, took part in entertaining military forces worldwide and performed for 101st Abn. Div. Soldiers in the Sinai Peninsula the year before the tragic plane crash.
Moved by the memorial and by other historical tributes on the installation, Patton shared personal stories of her father and grandfather as she toured Fort Campbell.
"The pieces of the 101st that I have filed away in my own knowledge and memory bank sometimes brings about a lot of emotion because I have met so many of the veterans of the old World War II," said Patton after viewing memorials like the Screaming Eagle Memorial Aerie, a solemn hallway in the 101st Abn. Div. headquarters listing the names of every fallen "Screaming Eagle" Soldier who died in every major conflict since D-Day, June 6, 1944. "These memories were brought together by the museum, by the spirit of the base, by catching those Soldiers I saw rappelling [at The Sabalauski Air Assault School] out of the corner of my eye. I now can place them in a home, and that home is here at Fort Campbell."