FORT HOOD, Texas – Here amidst the plains and scattered hills of central Texas, they gathered to recall old times, renew friendships and remember fallen cohorts. They came from across the country, New Jersey to Arizona and California, to this U.S. Army post, which is home to the First Cavalry Division, which was home for them.
These were the old warriors, although some weren’t that old in age or spirit, and many who were certainly didn’t act their age. Perhaps being among comrades and visiting with the young troopers of today’s modern cavalry revitalized them.
At any rate, these were men who have given of themselves so we can continue enjoying the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness we take for granted.
It would be difficult to find a library, let alone a book, which could hold the memories of these veteran troopers. These were the men of the First Cav and all its regiments, dubbed the “First Team” by Douglas MacArthur. They were the first to go into the Admiraltys and the Philippines, where they were the first to reach Manila.
These were the troopers who fought up and down the Korean peninsula from the summer heat of the Pusan Perimeter to winter’s bitter cold at Unsan. These were the men who became America’s first airmobile troopers and battled in the jungles of Vietnam at Pleiku and the Ia Drang Valley.
It was an honor to be among these men, especially since one of them was my father.
This is the first time he’d ever attended a reunion of his division, and the first time he’d seen his comrades in nearly 40 years. Counting him, four members of the Eighth Cavalry Regiment’s Fox Company reported for the reunion: Christopher, who works for the police department at Tucson; Coffey, retired from the post office in Oklahoma; and Houchins, a former government worker from Kentucky.
This was a chance for them to share their war stories with people who know what those who have never heard shots fired in anger will ever know. Not tales of great battles and glory, mind you, but personal anecdotes and memories of ordinary men thrust into extraordinary situations and how they faced them. Some, like Houchin’s account of an encounter with a snake while getting water, were humorous. Others, such as the ones about sitting in the dark and not being able to see who’s three feet away and whether they’re friend or foe, weren’t.
Such was the case of most of those attending the division reunion. Friendships born serving the country, especially on the battlefield, are special ones which time can’t erase. There is a special camaraderie forged in those circumstances unlike most people will ever experience.
These were men who remain proud of the First Cav long after many have served with it. Whether it was a lapel pin with the division crest, or a Stetson cavalry hat festooned with crossed sabers and pins, or a fatigue jacket bearing division and unit patches, they unashamedly, and unabashedly, showed their pride in the division.
As part of the reunion activities, the old warriors got a chance to see the new troopers and their modern equipment in action. Many could be heard to say, “If we had had those, …” as new tanks and helicopters were put through their paces. Today’s military has some truly awesome firepower at its command.
But it takes more than hardware, and the spirit of the old warriors lives on in today’s trooper. “Honor and Courage” remain the watchword of the Eighth Cavalry, just as “Garryowen” always shall be the call to honor for the Seventh. And to both the old and new warriors, they represent ideals that are at the heart of our way of life.
Some of the old warriors were able to acquaint themselves with some of the current generation of soldiers, and many bestowed their highest compliment upon today’s troopers: They are as good, if not better, than the old warriors. Should the need arise, they’ll be able to do the job.
And, since only old warriors can truly know what it’s like to answer the call, they hope that need never arises for today’s troopers.
(Note: Sad to say, since this column was written, the First Cav has been through two more wars, and its troopers were able to do the job.)