By Ms. Adoratia Purdy (AMC)September 17, 2012
World War II veterans and family members from all around of the country came to Huntsville, Ala. to enjoy an evening of camaraderie and remembrance at the 71st Infantry Division reunion Sept. 15, 2012 at the Huntsville Marriott.
General Dennis L. Via, Commander U.S. Army Materiel Command served as the guest speaker for the event and conveyed his pride and gratitude to the soldiers of the 71st.
"Thank you for coming home and building a great country for my generation to inherit, to care for and to pass on. You gave us a world that was safer, you gave us a country that was greater and you gave us an Army that was stronger," said Via.
Via went on to share how the 71st service in Europe and the Pacific still plays a role in the strength of the Army's 9/11 generation serving in the Middle East.
"[The Army's] strength can be seen in the tightly woven experiences that bind Soldiers together…a bond built through shared sacrifice, shared service and shared commitment."
Via recounted how in March 1945, a 71st soldier fired the first Howitzer against the enemy while deployed to the far eastern region of France.
"That sound was more than just the thunder of artillery, it was a message, 'The Red Circle' had arrived and they weren't leaving until the job was done," said Via.
The Huntsville reunion was coordinated through the 71st Infantry Division Association, with the help of U.S. Army Security and Assistance Command Chief of Staff, Col. Bob Pastorelli, whose father, retired Col. Jim Pastorelli, 91, served with the 71st and who was also in attendance.
The four-day event was aimed at honoring the veterans, preserving history and sharing knowledge. Approximately 100 veterans and their family members were in attendance.
World War II veteran Art Kramer, Bravo Battery, 609th Artillery Battalion of Jeannette, Pa. shared his thoughts on this year's reunion.
"We were excited to come to Huntsville…seeing old friends, renewing old stories and just being here, we've gone to many reunions and our bond is very strong," said Kramer.
Dr. Robert O. Fisch, shared his powerful testimony about how the 71st liberated himself and others from a Nazi Concentration Camp.
"87 years, 5 months and 11 days I was liberated by the 71st…I don't think I can have any words, what can I say to them? I can't thank them because that would be nothing. I consider them my second parents, had they not come I would have been dead within days…what they did is beyond comprehension, they gave me my life back," said Fisch.
Jennifer Heublein, one of the reunion organizers and daughter of 71st veteran, retired Col. Bob Funke, 89, explained the impact Huntsville has had on the attendees.
"Bringing them to the Arsenal that was behind a lot of the war effort during World War II has been very meaningful to them, and they are saying Huntsville is one of their most favorite reunions, they really enjoyed the technology and the collaboration between the city, NASA and the Arsenal," said Heublein.
The evening closed with dancing, laughter and the reaffirmation of a bond made between soldiers, survivors and loved ones forged more than 80 years ago.