The 24th Division to—the Congo?
By John Slattery, Headquarters Company, 2nd Battle Group, 2nd Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division.
During the early 1960’s, the 24th Infantry Division was deployed to Germany to defend against a potential Soviet attack on the West.
The Division’s troops were garrisoned in both the Munich and Augsburg areas. In particular, the 2nd Battle Group, 2nd Infantry was garrisoned at Gablingen near Augsburg.
Main Gate, Gabligen Kaserne, 2nd BG, 2nd Inf, 1961 http://libraryautomation.com/24th/johnslatterysalbum.html
Gablingen had been a Luftwaffe base during the WWII and had the buildings and infrastructure to easily accommodate the Group’s two thousand troops.
The 24th maintained its edge through rigorous training. Under the leadership and example of Maj. General Edwin A. Walker, every soldier was required to run five miles a day, six days a week.
Every two or three weeks the Division, or an individual unit, went on alert. And there also were the usual war games such as Winter Shield, Summer Shield and Frosty Lyon.
There are many stories about sleeping in the cold, cold snow while on these exercises, or on border patrol. These were the ordinary times of a Cold War soldier.
But this is about a little-known diversion for the men of the 24th — our assignment in the Belgian Congo! Yes the Belgian Congo!
On Saturday, July 8, 1960, the 2nd Battle Group, 2nd Infantry was placed on alert status and all troops were called back from passes and leave. Such a Saturday alert was quite unusual and calling everyone back from leave was even more unusual.
The base was locked down and transportation began moving the entire unit to Furstenfeldbrook Luftwaffe Base which is located just to the west of Munich.
As we arrived at this base we could see scores of U.S. Air Force C-130s landing. All-in-all there were more than twenty of these big birds.
During our briefings we learned we were going to the Congo. Apparently there was an undeclared war going on in what had been the Belgian Congo.
War broke out when the Belgians granted independence and left, and some U.S. citizens were trapped in our embassy.
Our job was to get them out.
In preparation for this mission we spent the next three hours getting numerous inoculations and updating our wills.
Meanwhile back in Gablingen no one knew where we had gone. Family members were very concerned because nothing like this had ever happened before, and they were not told anything.
Even the Soviet Military Mission could not locate us; security was that tight!
During the next two weeks, we spent numerous hours loading the planes, taking off, landing, and then unloading the planes. But we never left Furstenfeldbrook!
Planes took off and landed around the clock. It was like a shell game with C-130s.
After about two weeks of this strange adventure, the mission was ended and we returned to Gablingen.
Rumor has it that some of our troops actually deployed to Leopoldville, The Congo, and successfully completed a very secret mission. Time will tell.
John J. Slattery
7924 SE Double Tree Dr
Hobe Sound, FL 33455-8123
The Taro Leaf, Vol 63(2) Spring 2009, pg. 43.