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
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
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.