By VINCE LITTLEApril 4, 2012
FORT BENNING, Ga. (April 4, 2012) -- The 46th Infantry Regiment honored its combat heritage and switched gears a bit at this year's Torchlight Ceremony.
The annual tradition took place at dusk March 27 in Memorial Grove, a small patch outside the unit's headquarters on Sand Hill that represents "strength, purity and rebirth," its leaders said. The event pays tribute to all regimental veterans from World War II through Vietnam and up to today. It began in 1987 at Fort Knox, Ky., and continued a second year on Fort Benning.
In a largely symbolic move, the regiment also re-designated 2nd Battalion -- the first Fort Knox battalion headquarters to arrive here under Base Realignment and Closure at the end of 2010 -- as 1st Battalion, casing the old colors and shifting responsibility for the unit's basic combat training mission.
"This is such an important day for our cadre as we reflag to become the 1st of the 46th, reconnecting the active force to our legacy from Vietnam," said Lt. Col. J. Cale Brown, the battalion commander. "And it's such a momentous night for the regiment as we celebrate our history and remember the sacrifices of those who've come before us."
The Torchlight Ceremony is staged each year on the anniversary eve of the Battle of Fire Support Base Mary Ann, waged in the early hours of March 28, 1971, when Viet Cong sappers attacked the U.S. camp in Quang Tin Province, South Vietnam. Thirty-three Soldiers from the regiment's 1st Battalion were killed and more than 80 wounded. It was the deadliest attack on a single U.S. firebase during the Vietnam War.
The commemoration is dedicated to all the campaigns the 46th Infantry Regiment participated in -- 18 total -- from World War II to Vietnam. During the March 27 ceremony, two Soldiers in period uniforms lit torches for each campaign streamer.
The battle's veterans began conducting their annual reunion in the tricommunity last year to coincide with the ceremony. Brown said the occasion provides a link between Soldiers serving in the battalion now and the sacrifices made by troops who wore the regimental patch before them.
Guest speaker at the Torchlight service was retired Col. Clyde Tate, the 46th Infantry Regiment's honorary colonel. He completed two tours in Vietnam and was commander of 1-46 Inf. during the assault on Fire Support Base Mary Ann.
"He shouldered the daunting task of pulling together the unit in the immediate aftermath of the attack," Brown said.
Tate enlisted in the Army at age 17 and served as an Infantryman for nearly 36 years, retiring in 1983.
"Our history in the 46th Infantry Regiment is filled with acts of heroic endeavor and many campaigns, as reflected in this Torchlight Ceremony," he said. "You troops have to be proud to march in the footsteps of those men before you."
He addressed those in the audience who fought alongside him in Vietnam.
"There are several things that kept me going during those demanding periods," he said. "First was your steadfast loyalty. … Second, you had a positive, can-do attitude. Your spirit fed you and fed me in our desire to continue the fight, despite suffering the loss of so many killed and wounded.
"The enemy was strong. He was well-rehearsed for this attack, and the element of surprise was on his side."
Tate, joined at the ceremony by Sadie, his Army wife of 60 years, said the essence of a Soldier is the "willingness to fight for each other," and that also helped sustain him.
"You were tested in battle, and you passed the test," he told the veterans. "To our comrades who gave their lives on Fire Base Mary Ann, they lie gently at eternal rest. They now and forever live as a lofty example of America's best Soldiers."