By Mollie Miller, 1st Infantry Division Public Affairs August 23, 2011
Stories of difficult missions and great sacrifice floated like smoke on a battlefield around the Adam's Mark Hotel in Buffalo, N.Y., last week as hundreds of current and former Soldiers gathered for the 93rd Annual 1st Infantry Division Reunion.
Although the dates on the calendar indicated the reunion took place Aug. 17 to 21, it may just as well have read June 6, 1944, Aug. 25, 1966, May 14, 2007, or May 16, 2011, as the Soldiers in attendance brought their brothers in arms back to a mist covered field in France, to a dark path in the middle of an enemy base camp in Vietnam, to a dusty road on the outskirts of Baghdad or to an aid station on a desolate hillside in Afghanistan.
"Every Soldier here has a story and, at this reunion, there are men who remember and understand the stories," Sgt. Maj. (ret.) Buddy Wallace, executive director of the Society of the 1st Infantry Division, said. "These men can taste the conversations because they have smelled the smoke, heard the gunfire and know the bond that comes from sharing a battlefield from home."
Five, 30, 50, even 70 years seemed to melt away as the words "so there I was" were uttered again and again over heaping bowls of peanuts and cold bottles of beer. Men and women who served in places like Aachen, Srok Dong, Kirkuk and Kandahar laughed, shed a few tears, made new friends and renewed old bonds as they celebrated the story of the Big Red One.
"This storied division has, (during) its 94 years of history, seen more than its fair share of courage, bravery and sacrifice," Maj. Gen. William Mayville, commanding general of the 1st Infantry Division and Fort Riley, said. "Rest assured that the tradition of heroes past continues with the men and women who proudly wear the Big Red One patch today."
Getting to know more about the BRO Soldiers serving today seemed to be a key goal of many of the veterans in attendance at the reunion. Gathering their active duty brothers into various meeting rooms that had been turned into "command posts" for the division's regimental societies, the veterans peppered the Soldiers with questions about everything from uniforms and equipment to enemy tactics.
As the young Soldiers told stories of new technologies, berets, patrol caps and improvised explosive devices, an understanding seemed to emerge among the veterans and active duty Soldiers that though the places and faces are different, the heart of the BRO Soldier, the dedication to the mission and to the men and women on the left and right, hasn't changed at all.
"Whether we shared a piece of dirt or not, we are all still brothers," Vietnam veteran Bob Douglass said.
Today's 1st Inf. Div. Soldiers agree with Douglass.
"It's amazing to talk to these guys and realize just how much we all have in common," Iraq veteran Maj. Aaron Welch said. "This is like being with extended family."
The future of the BRO appears bright to both the division's current and past leaders and Soldiers.
"This division is blessed with some of the finest Soldiers in our Army," Mayville said. "I assure you, our accomplishments today reflect admirably on the history of (the Big Red One)."
The veterans agreed that the future of the 1st Inf. Div. is in very good hands.
"We all understand what it takes to wear this patch and to march on into battle when we know it is dangerous to even stand up," Brig. Gen. (ret.) William J. Mullen III said. "We are blessed to have people like these who stand to defend our freedoms today."