By Spc. Benjamin Watson/49th PADNovember 20, 2009
FORT BRAGG, N.C. - A crowd of former Soldiers whose service spans more than half of a century came together to honor the 173rd Airborne Brigade's storied history Nov. 8, at the Airborne and Special Operations Museum.
Executive Director of the Airborne and Special Operations Museum Foundation, Paul Galloway, viewed the get-together as part of the museum's extended welcome to the brigade, which it currently features in its special exhibit, The 173rd Airborne Brigade: The Legend Continues.
"We just want to spread the message that the herd of the 173rd has a home here at the Airborne and Special Operations Museum," said Galloway.
The "herd" refers to a nickname the brigade took for itself in its early days as an as an airborne brigade at the Japanese island of Okinawa in 1963. Back then, the brigade was roused from sleep each morning by the Frankie Laine song "Rawhide" (head 'em up, move 'em out, rawhide) over the base's loudspeakers. It is a nickname paratroopers of the 173rd still use to this day.
"It's been incredibly humbling to see the old herd and the new herd come together," said Staff Sgt. Ionna J. Peterman, who calls Albuquerque, N.M. her home.
"Some of these vets served through some really difficult times for the 173rd," said Peterman, a former member of the 173rd Brigade Support Battalion and currently a paratrooper with the 3rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 3rd BCT, 82nd Airborne Division.
Among those she was referring to was Pikeville, Ky. native and 12-year veteran Larry Coleman. Coleman was with the herd from 1966 to 1967 and during that time was deployed to Vietnam - an experience he vividly recalled with the help of a photograph on display in the museum's foyer.
The photograph showed three paratroopers of the 173rd, two of whom stand guard over a fallen fellow Soldier.
That fallen Soldier was Pfc. Caryl R. Coreman of Company A, 4th Battalion, 503rd Infantry, 173rd Airborne Brigade.
"He was my close friend," said an emotional Larry Coleman. "Just before this photograph was taken, just hours before, Caryl and I were talking about making a cologne from the smell of grenades.
"Just a joke to lighten the mood of the place," he said, choking up as he looked at the photo.
Coleman was reminiscing with another Vietnam veteran, Moses Best, whose second tour to the country was with the herd.
Best, a Wilson, N.C. native, recalled his time with the 173rd as one that had its pains, too - mostly from the many jumps he made onto various islands in the Pacific with the 173rd.
But both Best and Coleman said their experience was not something they regretted. Far from it, assured Coleman.
"I'd give anything to be jumping again," he said as Tom Wallace approached him and Best.
"The only thing I regret," joked Wallace, patting his belly, "is not being able to get into my uniform anymore."
Peterman, a two-time veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, and two other former members of the 173rd BSB - Cincinnati native Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Ellis and Capt. Kevin Carlisle, a native of Kirkland, Wash. - were also listening in to the exchange between the nostalgic vets.
In no time at all, Best had seemingly taken the OEF vets under his wing, almost as if they'd been gathered around for story time.
That was just the sort of scene Galloway and Airborne and Special Operations Museum director James Huggins had in mind when they planned the day's informal get-together.
"If we can get one new Soldier from the recent 173rd to speak with one from the past, we'll consider this a success," Galloway said before the event got under way.
To judge simply by the scene involving Best, Peterman, Ellis and Carlisle, the goal of the museum directors had been met.
By way of farewell to Best and the others, Peterman had one final thought for the group.