What We Stand For:
Their military service started here; now 62 years later, the last survivors of a World War II parachute infantry regiment gathered here for their last reunion and to retire their regimental colors.
More than 150 veterans of the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment descended on the place where they learned to be Soldiers. For many, it was their first visit to here since the regiment was formed here in October 1942.
After basic training at Camp Blanding the regiment went on to Fort Benning Ga., then Camp Mackall, N.C., and to England where they continued to train for combat.
The 508th “Red Devils” fought in some of the most crucial battles in the European theater during the war. The Soldiers saw action in Normandy, Holland and in the “Battle of the Bulge.”
The men of the 508th were awarded every military decoration the U.S. Army could bestow. Some were even decorated by the French and Dutch militaries, said Greg Parsons, curator of the Camp Blanding museum.
When asked about being among his comrades again, Lawrence Jeffers of Hockingport, Ohio, said, “I like to be back… I hate to see it blow up, but all of us are dying off.”
The guest speaker at the event was Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, a paratrooper who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“To honor their sacrifice today is particularly fitting as their fellow paratroopers – their descendents – are in combat today fighting for the same ideals, the same freedoms, and the same values as these paratroopers did 60 years ago,” General Kimmitt said.
General Kimmitt called the men of the 508th a “national treasure.”
“The stakes for these men were as high as they are for brave young Americans in harm’s way in Afghanistan and Iraq,” he added.
A color guard consisting of one paratrooper from each company presented the regimental colors to be retired. After casing the flag, they were donated to the museum where they will be displayed.
After the ceremony, the men and their families toured the museum which includes a C-47 transport plane – the same type of aircraft that took them into battle 60 years ago.