By Debra FulkNovember 20, 2011
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- About 110 advanced individual training Soldiers from the Ordnance School at Fort Lee spent Veterans Day at the National World War II Memorial here, paying tribute to those who served in past wars.
The excursion to the nation's capital was one of many the Ordnance School has organized over the past two years to help Soldiers "comprehend the breadth of their military service," according to Staff Sgt. David Kress, one of the tour organizers from the 59th Ordnance Brigade Chaplain's Office.
During this latest visit, the Soldiers - many of them teenagers - acted as escorts for the WWII veterans who participated in the ceremony that honored their service. Mother Nature provided a beautiful, brisk day, but the cooler temperatures did not hinder the massive crowd of supporters who turned out to show their appreciation. The ceremony's keynote speaker was retired Army Lt. Gen. Julius W. Becton Jr. This year's program offered special recognition to African Americans who served during World War II, including the Tuskegee Airmen and Montford Point Marines. Members of the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, 92nd Infantry Division, The Prometheans, Red Ball Express and Central Illinois Honor Flight were also recognized.
Retired Col. Porcher L. Taylor Jr., a Petersburg resident and veteran of World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars, attended the event. He said the Fort Lee Soldiers who participated in the ceremony embodied many of the attributes of those who sacrificed so much.
"They are a microcosm of our military: young, smart, brave, dedicated, strong, loyal and proud to be Americans and the greatest military on earth," he said.
Many of the Soldiers who volunteered to serve as escorts said they felt privileged to be among a group of elite individuals who served in previous wars.
"It made me understand the reality of military service," said Pvt. Charles F. Murphy. "I had the opportunity to escort a veteran who shared with me his amazing experience while serving during WWII. This Soldier was on his second jump and his unit was at the Rheine River. It was only a 550-foot drop. The Germans fired as soon as they exited the plane. He made it to the ground, but his chute was full of holes. He was really shaken up and yet was able to get up and fight. Hearing his experience made me more aware of my life and things that I take for granted."
Kress said the ceremony itself underscored the importance of honoring the nation's WWII veterans.
"These proud Americans are dwindling away," he said. "They are living history and I want to hear their stories first hand. I could not think of a better way to spend Veterans Day."
For the trip's primary organizer, Chaplain (Capt.) Chris Wallace, 16th Ord. Bn. chaplain, it was another opportunity to pay homage to those who sacrificed much for the country and another reason to feel good about his service.
"My grandfather served as a cook with the rank of corporal in the Army," Wallace said. "By hearing (the veterans') stories, it encourages me to endure and persevere because they did. New day, same Soldier ... we both carry and instill the same Army values."