“A” Co. 2nd Battle Group, “A Lasting Bond”
By John Dunn, 9150 Hwy. 51, Westover, AL 35147-9527, Ph:205-678-6165 and Bob Boyles, 1107 Runneberg Rd, Crosby, TX, 77532-5939, Ph: 281-328-2672, both of “A” Company, 2nd Infantry Regiment, 24th Division, Fort Riley and Gabligen Kaserne
Camp Funston, Fort Riley, Kansas, June 1958.
Recruits as varied as the places they came from arrived daily from induction centers all across mid-America. From Minnesota to Texas, Nebraska to Ohio, and a few places in between; drafted college graduates to high school volunteers, newly married to newly singles that had lost their deferments, and even a few national guardsmen seeking a real Army experience—they all arrived at Ft. Riley in June 1958.
Master Sergeant John F. Willingham, with a cadre of battle hardened WWII and Korean War veterans, had the onerous task of whipping these raw recruits into a combat ready infantry line company.
We were to be “A, ‘Always First’” Company, 2nd Battle Group, 2nd Infantry.
Training was tough, intense and continuous. Those war hardened vets that made up our cadre were trying to ensure that this unit was going to be ready for combat should the Cold War suddenly not be cold.
Winter field gear was new with the latest style parkas and thermal boots. There was no shortage of training aids and ammunition.
We spent many hours cleaning and maintaining equipment, but if something needed replacing, it was.
Field rations were the only shortcoming; as late as 1960 we were still eating C and K rations dated 1943 and 44! They probably tasted no better back then than they did in 1960.
Many memories and special bonds were formed during these weeks of Basic Training. But, our world was moving into a crisis that would shortly affect us all. And to respond to these crises, the Army was restructuring into “Battle Groups,” that consisted of many companies.
Such orders were received at Fort Riley; we were to become the 2nd Battle Group, 2nd Infantry, and assigned to Germany. And, much to the surprise of the cadre, they were now called upon to become a part of this Battle Group along with the trainees.
Everyone received their orders, and a short leave of absence. Upon their return they received new patches that they sewed on all their uniforms, the patch that would identify them as a part of this Battle Group—this patch was the Taro Leaf of the 24th Infantry Division.
Our new Battle Group boarded a troop train at Fort Riley and three days later we arrived in New York City to a waiting troop ship, the MSTS Gen. Simon Buckner, that took us to Bremerhaven, Germany. From there we boarded another train taking us through the beautiful Rhine River valley to our new post, Gabligen Kaserne near Augsburg, Germany.
Unlike the two-story wooden barracks at Ft. Riley that would house perhaps two rifle platoons, our new home was a three story building that held the entire company, including day room, armory, supply room and the CO’s offices, plus a German laundry contractor. Our class room and storage area, and company mess hall were across the street.
Gablingen is a small German village, about a twenty minute drive north of Augsburg, the principle city in this part of southern Germany. On a clear day, we could see the German Alps to the south.
The base had been a German air base in WWII; the runway was still intact, as were several hangers that were being used for other purposes.
The southern portion of the base was a 200-300 acre level field that was being used as a drop zone by units of the 11th Airborne Division. Every few months a large herd of sheep appeared to keep it mowed; fortunately we did not do any training in that area.
After about five weeks at Gablingen, were given passes and allowed to go into Augsburg and see all the pretty German girls.
For company level and smaller, tactical training, we would march 2-3 miles through several small villages into large forested areas. Vehicle use was limited, and track equipment was prohibited. Of course there were no live fire operations and firing blank ammo was prohibited after 10:00 p.m.
It was rather amusing to be in a platoon simulating an attack and in the process need to avoid a couple of elderly German women picking up limbs and sticks for fuel to heat their houses.
Or to be firing blanks at the oncoming aggressors and have a young German boy right behind policing up the brass casings.
Hohenfels and Grafenwhor were our two large field training areas; they were near the Czechoslovakian border. By convoy it generally took the better part of a day to get there from Gablingen.
A trip to one of these ranges usually lasted at least two weeks. We had the opportunity to train with tanks, personnel carriers, and artillery, and the mortar and bazooka teams were able to get in live fire training. Riflemen had the chance to fire live rifle grenades to develop some degree of accuracy by watching the trajectory of the round.
On several live fire exercises the line of advance would be facing into an artillery impact area. We were instructed not to fire into “dud” rounds that were clearly marked on the up slope of the facing hill. Either the artillery rounds were inert or our marksmanship was lacking, at any rate we were never able to get one to explode.
Despite the ongoing training, there was plenty of opportunity to travel and see the sights of Europe. This was limited primarily by the amount of money one won or lost on payday, or the amount of robust German beer consumed!
Some of the men were able to visit every country in Western Europe during our tour.
Though we were Cold War warriors, we believe that the 24th Infantry Division was thoroughly prepared to carry out the assigned mission.
This tour of duty allowed many young men to grow and mature, and to assume responsibilities beyond anything they had previously experienced. Training, working, living, and playing together as a unit for three years created an “esprit de corps” that bonded some for life!
But by mid-1960, the service time of many “A” Company men was approaching completion. Mostly, only cadre and the Regular Army men would continue service.
So they returned to the states and were discharged. Most returned to the life style they had left two years earlier, and did not think much about all the bonds they made in the 24th in Germany.
But there were a few who gave it much thought, and by letters and phone calls they explored the viability of getting the members of Company “A” back together for a reunion. There indeed was interest and St Louis, Missouri, was chosen as the first reunion site.
Now the bond that was formed many years ago in Ft. Riley and Gabligen Kaserne was about to enter a new phase. From that first gathering in May 1985, at St. Louis, Company “A,” 2nd Battle Group, 2nd Infantry, 24th Infantry Division, was united in the truest manner.
Last year, 2008, marked the 50th year since the group first formed at Ft. Riley! In addition to St. Louis, we have met in Kansas City, Springfield, and Branson.
This group of soldiers, along with their spouses, has shown a dedication to each other that words cannot explain. Many travel great distances from their various states to share time with each other, and to maintain very close friendships.
They love to share information about spouses, children, grand-children and all facets of their own personal lives.
These men who formed this bond fifty years ago went into all walks of life when they left service — factory workers, auto builders, truck drivers, law enforcement personnel, educators at all levels, business owners, and a District Attorney of great prominence, just to name a few.
Yet whatever their lives required, all felt the strong “bond” that was formed from the beginning, and that became an important part of their lives.
The Taro Leaf, Vol 63(2) Spring 2009, pg. 37-39.