[Continued from above]
Hitler had already enslaved most of Europe; Rommel and the
British 8th Army were battling in the deserts around Tripoli;
and Hitler had 22 divisions amassed in the snow before the gates
As with numerous other start-up units, the motivation of the
colonel's newly formed 486th Battalion was clear: A madman was
loose on the planet and the world was a mess.
Everyone who had come to believe that Freedom would be a better
choice than Nazi Tyranny wanted to help stop this self-anointed
zealot who believed he was preordained to rule the world without
a safety net of checks and balances - an ideology as wacky as
To join the millions in the nation who were mobilizing to
check this threat to a free society, the colonel, in record time,
directed us through the rigors of basic training in the swamp
country of North Carolina. Within a few months we left the swamps
as qualified commandos. Then we became an anti-aircraft unit
and were issued armored M-15 half-tracks that mounted a 37 mm
cannon flanked by twin .50 caliber machine guns; and M-16 half-tracks
armed with four fifties. Both vehicles carried great firepower
for ground targets as well as for aircraft.
The summer of '43 the battalion participated in the massive
war games on the Sabine River along the Louisiana/Texas border.
In December we shipped to England on the Queen Mary, having become
efficient enough to take over a shift in the gun turrets of that
famous ship - then converted to a troop transport.
We arrived in England just before Christmas. Colonel Dunnington's
first order of business was to have each man in the battalion
adopt a London orphan (there were many) for Christmas Day. Each
soldier had to be certain his orphan-for-a-day was presented
with a gift before being chaperoned to an unforgettable Christmas
We had been under the colonels' command for nearly a year
and were becoming familiar with his style of leadership. Fueled
by the ancient, military code: fair, firm and honest (a natural
manifestation of his character), his concern for the common soldier
evolved around his inherent need to be around large groups of
people and become involved in the betterment of each - the mark
of a natural born leader.
Never in the battalion had anyone heard the colonel say an
unkind word about another, and no one had ever heard another
say an unkind word about the colonel, the perfect balance of
mutual respect; the precursor for successful command; the awakening
of pride within ones' psyche for the whole unit; and the necessary
fermentation that nurtures esprit de corps, the vital component
that formulates the perfect fighting machine.
A thoroughly honest man, the colonel carried a sincerity that
made others feel secure in his leadership. Yet he was as common
as the men he led. Never ostentatious in dress or manner, his
speech direct, clear, and as practical as the earth he stood
upon, he had a subtle way of making each soldier feel the importance
of his assignment, thus trusting his decision-making process.
After a year under his command and six months before D-Day,
he made the battalion efficient enough to qualify as an integral
part of the crack Third Armored Division - the unit that would
spearhead the U. S. First Army across France and Belgium and
become the first unit to capture a German town since the Napoleonic
wars - Roetgen.
The Third Armored often teamed with the First Infantry Division
(The Big Red One), and the P-47 Thunderbolts of the Ninth Tactical
Air Force, and it has been recorded that those three units attacking
as a single force were unstoppable. Our 486th Battalion was proud
to have been part of that combat team.
For this, we point to Colonel Dunnington for making us that
way . . . even though at times during basic training, while hiking
the earthen roads of North Carolina - once 35-miles - we couldn't
figure out what he was up to.
And now as our years turn golden, the memories of those exciting,
historical happenings return again and again as in kaleidoscope
and they rest gentle on our minds.
I am reminded of our battalion reunion at Enfield, Connecticut
during August of 1997. I was standing in the hotel yard with
other men and their wives, saying farewell to comrades who were
departing in every direction. The colonel was one of them, on
his way to the airport. During the reunion we were concerned
he might become overtired. He was 92. He had made a great effort
to travel from Springfield, Illinois, accompanied by his niece,
Dr. Joanne Frank.
Normally, a rugged, two hundred pound man, his weight was
down to 121 pounds, and we all knew he wasn't feeling well, but
he came "to be with my boys" - the way he often put
Standing in the hotel yard, I thought about his generous contributions
since 1947 to assure the success of each reunion, and I thought
about the great distance he drove each time to attend them, and
how he would make an additional donation to the Battalion Association
if he didn't get a speeding ticket on the way home.
And while watching the colonel being assisted into his car,
in a sudden rush I began a mind game of comparing his gift of
leadership with other administrators I happened to have been
associated with since the war. None came close.
As the colonel's car left the hotel yard (the last time we
would see him), I heard the comrade standing next to me utter:
"There goes one hell of a man."
The rest of us nodded and watched his car disappear from view.