Famous regiment reactivated on eve of deployment
By Pfc. David Ondik
October 18, 2005
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. (Army News Service, Oct. 17, 2005) -- Over half a century ago, these hills echoed to the sounds of “Currahee!” as hundreds of men endured weeks of hard training. They were toughening themselves, getting ready to face a dangerous foe in a distant land. They were young, but they were determined.
In epic battles across Europe, they made history.
Last week, on the eve of another journey into battle, a new generation of Airborne Warriors assumed their place among the “Band of Brothers.”
The 101st Airborne Division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team was officially reactivated as the 506th Regimental Combat Team at the Division Parade Field here Oct. 13.
The 506th has distinguished itself in combat repeatedly since its original activation July 1, 1942, and recently achieved yet another level of fame in the wake of Stephen E. Ambrose’s bestselling novel and the subsequent cable mini-series, “Band of Brothers”.
“This call to duty went out on Dec. 7, 1941,” said Col. Thomas D. Vail, 506th RCT commander, referring to the Pearl Harbor attack in his remarks following the uncasing of the colors. “Hundreds of Currahees made the ultimate sacrifice so that we could live in a world free from tyranny and oppression. Our Currahees have trained hard and are ready to join our brothers and sisters in Iraq.”
Vail outlined the role the 506th RCT Soldiers will play during their deployment.
“Our Soldiers will be defending this new government and this nascent democracy by training the Iraqi military and providing security for the Iraqi government,” Vail said.
Veterans share memories, experiences
Along with Soldiers and their families, more than 200 veterans who served with the 506th in past generations attended the ceremony. Behind the parade field, present-day Soldiers recreated the past with displays of places important to the unit’s history and wore replicas of period uniforms.
It was here where the old warriors mingled with the young.
Some veterans were moved to tears during the ceremony and were all too willing to impart a little wisdom on the young Soldiers of the 506th RCT, who will be deploying to the Baghdad area of Iraq.
Robert F. Gilbert, a retired command sergeant major, noticed the changes that have taken place since his time at Fort Campbell.
“I left here for Special Forces training 42 years ago, right now I’m standing where the drop zone use to be,” Gilbert said. “I recognized some of the trees as we drove up. That water tower there was the final checkpoint.”
He was standing at the edge of what is now the “Currahee” section of Fort Campbell, where the 4th BCT now lives and trains.
“They have got some great Soldiers here now, they’re very impressive,” Gilbert said. “You know, I still have pictures of the activation here over 40 years ago.”
Former 506th Sgt. Emory King Jr. noticed the difference between the Army he fought with and the Army of today.
“I couldn’t give [today’s Soldiers] any advice,” King said. “Today we have the best Army that we have ever had. They are more professionally trained and I can tell you, I was there then, and I’m here now, and I can see the difference. Back then we did what we had to do, but their job today is a lot more intricate.”
Today’s Army may be more involved and technologically advanced, but there is still an understanding between yesterday’s and today’s Soldiers.
“Watch each other’s back,” advised retired 506th Col. Mike Byington. “And know that Americans love ‘ya, respect ‘ya, appreciate what you’re doing, and hope you come home safe.”
“I’m the Korean connection to the 506th,” said Carl Rebele who served as a first lieutenant in Korea in the 1950s. “My experience changed my life and helped me to make better choices. I’m just grateful to have served my country. The troops here now need to remember two things. One, that with the 506th, you’ll show up on time and have everything you need to succeed. Two, like good coaching and good parenting, good training always kicks in.”
“A long and valorous history”
The 506th has a long and valorous history in major combat operations, during and since WWII. The unit distinguished itself first under the command of Col. Robert F. Sink, as the lead element of the D-Day invasion. Later the unit parachuted as a part of Operation Market Garden and resisted German assaults at in Bastogne, France. Finally the 506th advanced through the southeastern German countryside, overrunning Hitler’s “Eagle Nest” in Berchtesgaden.
The unit again saw action in 1967, when it was deployed to the central highlands of Vietnam. The “Currahees” were converted from airborne to airmobile during the unit’s four years in Vietnam. The 506th had its courage tested at Dong Ap Bia Mountain at the north end of the A Shau Valley.
From August 2004 until July 2005, the 506th fought the insurgency in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. In Iraq they continued to honor the unit’s proud history, detaining hundreds of insurgents and destroying tons of weaponry.
Now the 506th has returned to Fort Campbell and the 101st Airborne Division. The troops taking on the mantle of “Currahee” will not have much time to reflect on the heroes of the past. The next band of brothers has been packing equipment and preparing for imminent deployment during the lead up to the ceremony.
The legacy has been passed. And, once again, history waits to be written on the other side of the world.
(Editor’s Note: Michelle Gordon, Fort Campbell Public Affairs, contributed to this story.)
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