FORT BRAGG, N.C. - Two paratroopers sat at a patio table covered with empty plastic cups, drinking, laughing and sharing war stories about their time with the 82nd Airborne Division. One was a young man in his 20s, his muscular forearms bearing numerous tattoos; the other was an older gentleman sporting a distinguished gray mustache and a World War II veteran baseball hat.
Paratroopers of different eras came together to bond over their similar experiences during the 63rd annual 82nd Airborne Division Association National Convention held in Indianapolis, from Aug. 19 through Saturday.
The convention is held every year in a different city. Its purpose is to bring together veterans and active-duty Soldiers of the 82nd Abn. Div.
Steven Frazer, the association president, raises money and visits with wounded warriors from the division.
"We try to make sure they're comfortable, that they're not forgotten and that they're welcomed back," Frazer said.
This year, the association raised money so 42 wounded paratroopers would be able to attend the convention at no cost. Their plane tickets, hotel rooms and other necessities were paid for by donations. The troopers were welcomed with a dinner where all were given a lifetime memberships to the 82nd Association.
The convention officially kicked off Aug. 20, when three C-130 Hercules aircrafts landed at Mt. Comfort Airfield in Indianapolis carrying about 150 paratroopers.
The 82nd Chorus and color guard performed at various events throughout the week. The chorus sang the national anthem at a minor league baseball game Aug. 20, in Indianapolis while the color guard presented the colors.
Immediately after, the chorus was given a police escort to rush down the street to Lucas Oil Stadium. They again sang the national anthem, this time during the pre-game show for the Indianapolis Colts football game against the Philadelphia Eagles.
The following day, the chorus went to the Riley Hospital for Children and the Peyton Manning Children's Hospital to visit and perform for the sick children admitted there. Cole Branigan, 5, seemed delighted when several chorus members visited his room and performed an impromptu version of "Rockin' Robin."
Also that afternoon, the Marriott Indianapolis East, where the convention was being held, dedicated a newly erected fountain in the courtyard of the hotel to the military.
Brent Myrick, the general manager of the hotel, said several American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars groups hold conventions at the hotel, so he felt it was appropriate for the hotel staff to show support.
"We wanted to have an opportunity to dedicate this fountain and say thank you," Myrick said.
On Saturday, a formal banquet was held to wrap up this year's convention. At the banquet, Vietnam veteran, Darrell Ormes received a Silver Star for his bravery during his time with the 82nd. The entire room stood at attention as Ormes was presented with the award, for which he had waited more than 40 years.
Being a paratrooper is a special accomplishment to many Soldiers in the division, both past and present, and events like these remind Soldiers of why they're proud to be in the 82nd, many veterans said.
"There hasn't been a day I've been here that I haven't thought about my time in the 82nd," said Greg Fulbright, who was in the division from 1983 to 1985.
"I get to meet and talk to seven decades of troopers," Fulbright said. "I wouldn't trade the experience for anything."