By Sgt. Joseph GuentherSeptember 7, 2012
FORT BRAGG, N.C. -- Families and friends of Paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division gathered together at Pope Army Airfield's passenger terminal to greet their loved ones as they arrived home from their deployments to Afghanistan. Some were hardened combat veterans of the Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team, others from the Division's headquarters battalion.
The crowd exploded with excitement as the plane landed on the tarmac. After the excitement quelled again, a group of 43 unique guests stood in formation and began marching together toward the landed airplane. They carried guidons familiar to current Paratroopers and their families, and others that would be difficult to recognize today.
These special guests were from Vietnam's 3rd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, fondly known as the "Golden Brigade". On this particular evening, they led the newest returning veterans to the passenger shed and shared the experience of a welcome home.
A 22-month chapter of the rich heritage of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division was celebrated by its current and former Paratroopers Sept. 3 -- 5, 2012. This chapter was the war in Vietnam.
The celebration included the welcome home march of Vietnam veterans alongside Afghanistan veterans, the placing of a ceremonial wreath at the Golden Brigade memorial at the division museum, a dining facility dedication to the era's brigade commander, and a "Panther Rendezvous" organizational day for current and past members of the brigade.
The first ceremony celebrated Maj. Gen. Alexander Bolling, Jr's. command of the 3rd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division.
Bolling, who passed away Oct. 2011, was known for his attitude of always placing Soldiers first, and for his successes as commander, said guest speaker Mike Hood a former company commander in the brigade.
That success was made legendary when Gen. John Throckmorton, the commander of the XVIII Airborne Corps. in 1968, said "Bolling, everything your brigade touches turns to gold, doesn't it?" It was a statement that stuck, and earned them the nickname "The Golden Brigade."
Hood, during his speech at the dining facility dedication said, "We're up here because of General Bolling's legacy of love and respect for the American Paratrooper."
"It's that legacy that allows us to be here," Hood continued. "He has done it again. He has honored us by allowing us to be here in his name."
Bolling's attitude of excellence, professionalism, and Soldiers-first inspired the Golden Brigade veterans and Division leadership to rededicate the 3rd BCT dining facility to him.
Bolling was too humble for such an honor; he would have refused the renaming, Hood explained. "This is for the Soldiers," Hood said he would have told Bolling. "That's what he would have understood."
He would have only accepted the honor knowing that his spirit would be eating with his Soldiers every single day, three times per day, for many years to come, Hood said.
Along with a new name, the Bolling Dining Facility was reminted to reflect the sacrifice and commitment of Paratroopers from World War II, Vietnam, and the War on Terrorism. Photographs of current 3rd BCT Paratroopers line the walls alongside those of veterans of the past.
In the spirit of the "Soldiers first" mentality, guests entering the dining facility are greeted by a hand-painted portrait of Bolling created by one of 3rd BCT's own Soldiers, Spc. Mia Klavon.
As the guests and troopers began to leave, Burnie Mangibyat, a former combat photographer, wandered the facility and gazed at photos on the walls. "I took that photo, and that one," he said as he pointed to Vietnam photos on the walls.
A Silver Star narrative on one wall displays an American Paratrooper aiding a Vietnamese Soldier after a heavy indirect fire attack. "I took that photo right before I was injured," Mangibyat reminisced.
The veterans paused to share their stories together with the younger Soldiers and veterans attending the ceremonies. They were seen laughing together as they remembered the good times, and still took long, somber pauses to remember their fallen friends.
The ceremonies of the day were concluded at the 82nd Airborne Division Museum. The veterans, along with the 2012 Forces Command Soldier of the Year, Spc. Jeremy Shivick, an infantryman of 1st Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, placed a ceremonial wreath in front of the monument displaying the names of the more than 180 "Golden Brigade" Troopers killed in action.
After the ceremony, veterans of Vietnam, the longest war in American history walked to the memorial and gazed at it as if for the first time. Many remembered their friends as if they had paid the ultimate price only yesterday.
"This monument is a constant reminder that young men and young women give their lives personally confronting the evils of war," said guest speaker Bob Merle, a Golden Brigade veteran. "Understanding that fact is the key to understanding the ultimate sacrifice and devotion of Soldiers."