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-- A Memorial Service 60 Years Later --
Dick Goodie
486th AAA Bn, 3AD
Written in 2005

Col. John C. Welborn, 1909 - 1995
of Task Force Welborn of 1944-45


On a rainy October afternoon in 2005 in South Portland, Maine, I attended the memorial service of Betty Welborn, the widow of Colonel John C. Welborn. She had passed away at age 87.

It was August of 1944 - just after the 3rd Armored Division had crossed the Seine River near Paris - when Betty's husband had taken command of the 33rd Armored Regiment, and thereafter led that regiment through some of the Division's toughest action.

Often, my gun crew ran with "Task Force Welborn" across Eastern France, Belgium, and into Central Germany.

Forty years later, having no idea the Welborns were living nearby in Maine, I occasionally would come across the name: John C. Welborn in the Portland area phone book, and each time I wondered what if? Curious, one day I phoned and Betty answered. I quickly learned it was the same John Welborn of the 3rd Armored Division.

The same month of that surprising discovery, I happened to have been involved in the process of helping set up our 1987 annual 486th AAA Battalion reunion at South Portland's Sheraton Hotel. My assignment was to handle the speaking program, which included searching for an individual who would lend a glow of preeminence to our gathering. But now, after the Welborn's discovery, that task was made easy. I invited the colonel and his wife, Betty, to the reunion as honored guests. I offered to taxi them to and from the hotel. Betty promised to get back to me.

They graciously accepted.

The colonel, appearing fit and neatly dressed in a dark suit, sat in the front seat of my Volvo wagon, while Betty sat in the back. On the way to the hotel, she and I conversed but the colonel never spoke. Betty later explained he was in the early stages of failing health.

Our 1987 battalion reunion was one of our better-attended gatherings. The banquet room was filled with veterans, their wives and children. The veterans, mostly in their mid-60's, were happy to see each other, and everyone was in a festive mood that pleasant, summer evening.

Hearing that Colonel Welborn was to attend, several veterans of the 32nd and 33rd Armored Regiments showed up. During the evening they continuously visited the Welborn table as if they were rock stars.

It was during that reunion we staged the infamous "Helga Skit." Wanting to follow a solemn memorial service with something less somber, I had hired an actress to portray a "Helga Schmidt" of Ertzhausen, Germany, a stressful but determined Fraulein who came to the podium - escorted by the hotel manager who was in on the joke - holding a photo of "an American GI" and insisting on searching along the banquet tables for her natural, wartime father. (Later, I learned that two aging veterans present had actually hid under their tables.)

Even though the colonel was not himself that evening, I can remember looking out from the podium and seeing him quite amused by that humorous nonsense, and I have always felt good about that.

Soon after the 1987 reunion, the colonel's condition worsened, and he went to a soldier's nursing home. Betty once invited me along to visit. He never spoke or showed signs of recognizing us. He passed on several years later.

A compelling, self-reliant women, Betty, finally adapting to the difficult change of living alone, kept busy with her many creative projects, and moved on. I helped her when I could, once ferrying some furniture in my wagon to her summer cottage on Peaks Island in Casco Bay; and transporting her to the repair shop when her Buick needed attention.

Often, she talked about "Jack" - his days at West Point, his combat experiences as Battalion Commander of the 70th Tank Battalion in North Africa, Sicily, and D-Day on Utah Beach. She proudly showed me the thick books of documents, award citations, and pictures she had compiled, depicting the colonel's war years, as well as similar books containing his father's records - Colonel Ira Welborn, also a West Pointer, who won the Medal of Honor while serving with Teddy Roosevelt's troops in the Spanish-American War. She was most proud of John and Ira Welborn's accomplishments.

She once told me of their life after the war, how she and the colonel had a 42-foot lobster boat refitted into a "comfortable home" and lived on it for fifteen winters in Florida, spending summers at their cottage on Peaks Island, Maine.

At the reception that rainy October afternoon, I had occasion to talk to the Welborn's daughter, Suzanne, and their son, Carl, and mentioned how well respected the colonel was by the soldiers of the 3rd Armored Division.

I also mentioned how Betty talked me into giving a talk to her group of Daughters of the American Revolution about the Battle of the Bulge, which, later, fleshed out, appeared in the Maine Sunday Telegram, as well as on the 3rd Armored Division History Website. I am grateful to Betty for persuading me to write that essay.

I also related to Suzanne and Carl a brief, eyewitness account of that horrific early evening encounter outside of Paderborn, Germany, when Task Force Welborn was ambushed by several, dreaded, Tiger tanks - the same night our division commander, Major General Maurice Rose, was fatally shot, a few hundred yards away.

The eulogies spoken at the service told of Betty's many and varied accomplishments, as well as making reference to the colonel's impressive military career, leaving those in attendance with enduring memories of two remarkable people who made a difference.

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