[Written for the occasion of the 32nd anniversary reunion
of the 486 Battalion, Third Armored Division, held at Portland,
Maine, July 2nd and 3rd, 1977.]
We come to this Reunion 32 years after World War II not to
regroup the military might we once knew, but to renew and sustain
the friendships that grew from our European campaigns.
At middle age now we no longer possess the raw power of youth
as when we soldiered, but are mellowed to the gentle recollection
of our army - the U.S. First Army - which historians have come
to rank as the greatest of armies.
So powerful a landforce was this army that it was said to
be invincible. We can never forget the years of the campaigns,
possibly because our Division, the Third Armored, was the so-called
"cutting edge" of this formidable army. In the old
days it was said the Third Armored with the First Infantry Division
in support could batter down any force on earth. Often they did
Numerous were the achievements of the Third, big brother to
our 486th Anti-Anything Battalion. For brevity sake, we mention
one instance: the Battle at Mons, Belgium where our Division,
teamed with the Big Red One, captured 23,000 of the enemy and
killed or wounded many thousands more.
All of this came about because of the mentality of a single
man -- Hitler. His existence caused our armies' existence.
His incredible quest was to halt the progress of a reasonably
decent civilization and hurl it back to the age of marauding
It is still difficult to believe that such an ancient ideology
was actually practiced during our generation to live.
Clearly, though in retrospect, Hitler must have never understood
the lessons of history -- civilization's trial-and-error crawl
from the caves of antiquity to our level of contemporary culture.
The incredible situation peaked during the late 1930's and
early '40's. Hitler's infected plan began with the capture of
Czechoslovakia in 1939. Then later you will remember his Final
Solution, the organized massacre of six million men, women and
children by deluding them into gas-rigged warehouses.
(Parenthetically, I occasionally encounter a young person
who makes mockery of all wars -- claiming fighting between nations
is totally unnecessary. I ask them: "In God's name, how
can you not justify World War II?") Six million humans destroyed.
The world trembled and knew a madman was loose on the planet.
Indignant to the limit of all that is decent, clear-thinking
people prepared to fight back.
Great legions were formed -- some the greatest the world had
One such legion was our First Army, commanded by General Omar
Bradley (later promoted to Group Commander). A man of deep-reaching
wisdom, his attack-plan exemplified his exceptional ability because
of its simplicity. He said: "We need to learn to set our
course by the stars, not by the lights of each passing ship."
And so we did. We rolled across Europe as a single powerful
unit, never straying too far from life-sustaining supply, as
other headline-grabbing generals did. We rolled straight into
the heart of Germany, helping destroy the madman and his followers
in fiery showdown.
But tens of thousands of our comrades died, leaving a monument
of valor. To this day we pain for them.
Even though chest ribbons were awarded to those of us who
survived, as symbols of appreciation, there are more significant
ways to remember.
Who among you does not have locked indelibly in memory the
tear-stained face of a certain liberated man, woman or child,
looking at our armor, welcoming us to their towns of France and
I do. You do.
Who among you can forget the summer flowers they tossed on
our halftracks and tanks as we passed, expressing heartfelt gratitude
for their new freedom?
I can't. You can't.
The dusty foot soldiers, riding armor, were awarded kisses
from the pretty girls. For those of us higher up on armor this
was not so easy, but we managed.
Beyond all this, there are other ways to remember such as
the friendships that have endured the 32 years and are evident
It is these friendships that give humble voice to the thought
that our contribution of 32 years ago must remain as a bright
light on a tall tower to remind the world that all of us were
once on the edge of annihilation.
Even though the world moves on and tends to forget, we don't.
We cannot. Our input was too great.
Witness our presence here tonight.
Starting as of tonight, we want the young to know and the
not-so-young to remember: our contribution came by bloody encounter.
Think of our group here tonight as directors attending an
We come to this meeting with full understanding that the contribution
we made, our investment, is locked in permanent trust.
And as our contribution remains in trust, so do our fervent
hopes that it will never be betrayed by zealots, who may yet
chance along among the generations in years ahead.