Five 83rd ID WWII veterans visit Fort Knox for tour, dedication ceremony
106-year-old World War II veteran Al Klugiewicz salutes during the playing of the national anthem at a room commemoration ceremony at Haszard Auditorium Aug. 5, 2022. Klugiewicz and four other veterans from the old 83rd “Thunderbolt” Infantry Division joined members of 83rd Army Reserve Readiness Training Center for the ceremony as part of the 83rd Association’s 75th annual reunion. (Photo Credit: Eric Pilgrim, Fort Knox News) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT KNOX, Ky. — A large auditorium at Gaffey Hall filled up Aug. 5 as several from the Fort Knox area attended the dedication of a conference room at the 83rd Army Reserve Readiness Training Center in honor of Medal of Honor recipient Sgt. Ralph Neppel.

A Soldier assigned to 83rd Infantry Division “Thunderbolt” in World War II, Neppel was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in the European Theater. He was leader of a machinegun squad defending an approach to the village of Birgel, Germany, on December 14, 1944, when an enemy tank, supported by 20 infantrymen, counterattacked. The German armor fired a high-velocity shell into the American emplacement, wounding the entire squad and resulting in Neppel losing one of his legs. Despite being severely wounded, he maintained machine gunfire on the Germans until they withdrew. He eventually lost his other leg due to irreparable damage.

Five 83rd ID WWII veterans visit Fort Knox for tour, dedication ceremony
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – 83rd Infantry Division veteran and World War II POW Ralph Rogers walks through a cordon of saluting 83rd Army Reserve Readiness Training Center Soldiers Aug. 5, 2022, prior to the dedication of 83rd ARRT’'s conference room to Medal of Honor recipient Sgt. Ralph Neppel. (Photo Credit: Eric Pilgrim, Fort Knox News) VIEW ORIGINAL
Five 83rd ID WWII veterans visit Fort Knox for tour, dedication ceremony
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – 83rd Infantry Division Association member Al Klugiewicz is wheeled through the cordon on the way to Gaffey Hall. (Photo Credit: Eric Pilgrim, Fort Knox News) VIEW ORIGINAL

Sitting among the several instructors and leaders of 83rd Army Reserve Readiness Training Center were five other World War II veterans who also had helped carve out the storied Thunderbolt legacy on the battlefields of Europe. The veterans were attending the 75th annual 83rd Infantry Division Association reunion, which took place in part at Fort Knox.

Though each veteran shared in the combined legacy of 83rd, each had a very different story of service to the nation.

“I joined the Army in December of 1943 because I did not want to be drafted,” said Andre Beaumont, from New York. “If I had been drafted when I turned 18 in January, I would have lost the college credits I had earned. It gave me a chance to finish my first year of college.”

Beaumont shared stories of when he thought he was getting promoted to radioman from infantry only to find himself a ready target for the enemy with his antenna sticking high in the air. His legacy, however, began during his first moments of battle.

“This 83rd legacy was a very significant part of my life,” said Beaumont. “It was about myself. I discovered that I was courageous and brave.”

He recalled what it felt like during those first few moments of war.

“I was a [private], and we attacked this town [in France],” said Beaumont. “The bullets started flying all around me, and I just sort of convinced myself, ‘these [Germans] can’t shoot, and I can shoot back.’ So I sort of got over my fear of battle.”

The veterans, which also included Art Jacobson, Chet Kochan, Al Klugiewicz and Ralph Rogers, later enjoyed lunch at Saber & Quill, a meet-and-greet with Maj. Gen. Johnny Davis, commander of U.S. Army Cadet Command and Fort Knox, a tour of the General George Patton Museum and a helicopter flyover of the post.

Five 83rd ID WWII veterans visit Fort Knox for tour, dedication ceremony
1 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – (from left) Chet Kochan, Andre Beaumont, Ralph Rogers, Art Jacobson and Al Klugiewicz applaud with everyone else at the unveiling of the Sgt. Ralph Neppel conference room commemoration. (Photo Credit: Eric Pilgrim, Fort Knox News) VIEW ORIGINAL
Five 83rd ID WWII veterans visit Fort Knox for tour, dedication ceremony
2 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Soldiers of 83rd Army Reserve Readiness Training Center unveil the artifacts that will be displayed in the newly dedicated Sgt. Ralph Neppel Conference Room. (Photo Credit: Eric Pilgrim, Fort Knox News) VIEW ORIGINAL
Five 83rd ID WWII veterans visit Fort Knox for tour, dedication ceremony
3 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Maj. Gen. Johnny Davis, commanding general of U.S. Army Cadet Command and Fort Knox, shakes the hand of Andre Beaumont prior to the start of the commemoration ceremony. (Photo Credit: Renee Rhodes, Fort Knox Visual Information) VIEW ORIGINAL

Jacobson said he served in four of the five campaigns that 83rd fought in during World War II.

“It was hell,” said Jacobson. “I was on the frontline about eight months.”

He met some of the members of 83rd Army Reserve Readiness Training Center after the ceremony and offered some advice if they ever find themselves in future wars.

“Keep your head down,” he said. “Just do the best you can. That’s all you can do.”

Klugiewicz — the oldest of the veterans present — was born in Erie, Pennsylvania two years before the establishment of Camp Knox. Klugiewicz had started his military career in the cavalry as a horseman in 1934 and was later called back in to fight in the war.

Now 106 years old, Klugiewicz offered very different advice to Soldiers serving today: “Don’t live 106 years … 100 years is enough.”

Five 83rd ID WWII veterans visit Fort Knox for tour, dedication ceremony
(Photo Credit: Renee Rhodes, Fort Knox Visual Information) VIEW ORIGINAL

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Editor's Note: For more photos of the visit, go to the Fort Knox official Flickr page