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Association of the 1st Battalion, 50th Infantry
 First Fort Benning Reunion
April 24th through 27th, 2003
Columbus, Georgia

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Photo Contributions made by Ray Sarlin

Reunion 2003 was held from Thursday April 24 to Sunday April 27, 2003 at the Courtyard Marriott in Columbus, Georgia and at Fort Benning.
92 guests attended the reunion at the Home of the Infantry which was hosted by the 1st Battalion, 50th Infantry, a top-line training battalion in the Infantry Training Brigade at Fort Benning. Formal activities include a
Fort Benning Command Briefing, tour of the Infantry Museum and Gift Shop, trips to Callaway Gardens and the Andersonville Civil War Prison and P.O.W. Museum.
There were also luncheons, BBQs, dinners and the General Association Member Meeting. Many activities were shared with the training battalion.
We were invited to observe training, attend a graduation and many of us even were given an opportunity to fire the M16A4. We also were VIP guests at range firing of the lethal M2A3 Bradley Fighting Vehicles, which left us in "shock and awe".

Wednesday, 23 April. Check-in and Southern Hospitality.

Check-in was surprisingly smooth and painless. Bob Gold's email says it all, "Here it is two weeks already after the reunion. seems like it was yesterday. It seems that the older we get the old clock speeds up. The reunion was the best that my wife and I have been to so far. The best word that comes to mind that describes this event is OUTSTANDING. All of us that attended really appreciated the work and effort that the following people contributed to make the reunion a success. John Topper, Otis Ponds, Chuck McAleer, Gary Quint, Ray Sarlin, Jim Sheppard, and the others who helped in various ways, such as selling the raffle tickets, etc. We all thank you so very much.

"Upon arriving on Wednesday the 23rd of April the party started. Registration was set up and our rooms were ready. A special thanks to the hotel and it’s staff for being so considerate and helpful; whatever we needed they were there to assist us. The hotel was great. We enjoyed seeing everyone again and saw some new faces, some that I haven’t seen since Viet Nam. A total of 101 people including wives and families attende. I thought it was special to see that some of the members brought their children with them. This had to be an experience that they won’t forget, seeing their fathers being hugged by their fellow brothers, and sometime a tear or two."

Thursday, 24 April. The Home of the Infantry shows off.
Lunch   Officers Open Mess, FT Benning Command Briefing   Infantry Hall (Building 4)
Lunch at the Officers Club was our first indication of the tremendous support that the Infantry Training Brigade's 1st Battalion, 50th Infantry, was going to give us during our reunion at Fort Benning. During the next three days, we were treated as guests at the O Club, with functions in the main Lexington Room and the Drop Zone in the Annex.

The lunch also showed how thorough our Association's planning was for the 2003 Reunion. It gave us a great chance to mingle and chat with some of the other soldiers, veterans, families and friends with whom we would mix during the next three days.

In Classroom 6 of Infantry Hall (Building 4), LTC Terhune discussed the mission of Fort Benning and explained the training here including BCT, AIT, Airborne, Ranger, Pathfinder, marksmanship and other courses. He also discussed "What's new in the Army" including the Land Warrior concept (also called "Robocop") with body armor and a thermal weapons sight and the new Interim Armored Vehicle the "Stryker". This 19-ton wheeled armored vehicle combines firepower, battlefield mobility, survivability and versatility while carrying a nine-man infantry squad and a crew of two at 60 mph. We left with a good feel for the modern Army, and paused for a group photo in front of the M113 on display in front of Infantry Hall next to Iron Mike, the Infantryman's statue.
Infantry Museum Tour  FT Benning Bradley Live Fire   FT Benning
The National Infantry Museum covers 30,000 square feet of exhibit space on four floors within a historic masonry building. Displays cover four centuries of the American Infantryman from the 1607 wilderness of Virginia to the Persian Gulf. The museum shows not only the vehicles, weapons, uniforms, and personal equipment of U.S. Infantrymen, but also that captured from our enemies.

The museum holds Infantry artifacts from the days of Christopher Columbus through to the present day, ranging from muskets and a a 16th-century 6-foot-long Scottish Claymore, to Civil War cannon from both the North and South, to relicts of the Indian Wars, World Wars I and II, Korea, Dominican Republic, Bosnia and Iraq and everything in between.

While the museum's displays are static, they provide triggers for many action-packed memories. The Vietnam and 1960s sections flooded me with many memories, especially the K9 section... and most especially the photo of a terrified dog about to parachute out of a perfectly good airplane.
We were treated as VIPs to a live fire exercise. The weather was rotten, but fortunately the grandstand had a roof as we watched live fire of the M4 rifle, mortars and the M2A3 Bradley Fighting Vehicle. The Bradley replaced our M113A1s and was dominant on the battlefield in Gulf Wars I and II. It has day and night fighting capability and its 25mm Bushmaster chain gun can hit targets several thousand meters away while on the move. Designed to fight as a team with the M1 Abrams tank, the Bradley uses FLIR (Forward Looking Infrared Radar) to put the first burst on target and eliminate the need for sensing rounds.

There is a downside to all this technology: the 600 HP Bradley weighs 37 tons and with a crew of 3, only has room for a fire team. Still, it's awesome as many Iraqis can now attest. But what makes any weapon work is the Infantryman, and the demonstrations showed that the modern Infantryman is as good as we were, and much better equipped. Three current mortars were also demonstrated, the 81mm, 60mm, and the new 120 mm that replaced our era's 4.2" (106 mm).
Dinner w/ 1/50 Officers  Officers Mess Share and Care   Marriott Courtyard Hospitality Room
We got to mix with the current officers of the 1/50 and their families before and during the dinner. Afterwards, John Topper gave a speech and presented 1/50 Battalion Commander Lt. Col. Payne with the bronze statue "A Tribute to a Fallen Comrade" by Wyoming artist Ben Foster made in honor of those 1/50 soldiers who gave their lives in Viet Nam from 1967 - 70. LTC Payne was "shocked and awed" by the honor, which has been placed in the hallway of the Battalion Headquarters. He then gave a very moving speech about the hardships that we endured in Vietnam and about our loyalty and respect for our fallen brothers who gave so much for freedom. The evening was moving, and I'd suspect that there were tears in more eyes than mine. That night back at the hotel all got together in the hospitality room to share photographs and stories and share some beer and drinks. The hotel put on a great spread.

Each attendee received a 1/50th T -shirt with our unit crest, a 1/50th baseball cap, a 1/50th plastic coffee mug for the car and a 1/50th coffee mug. All of these items are available on base for the soldiers, families and friends of the current 1st Bn., 50th Infantry.

I personally will long treasure the experience of sitting around the pool as the night dragged on chatting with so many other people who shared the same memories of our war.

Friday, 25 April. Fort Benning's 1st Battalion, 50th Infantry.
1/50 Graduation   Sand Hill Lunch with Trainees  Sand Hill
We were invited to be guests of honor at the graduation from OSUT (One-site Unit Training, a combination of BCT and AIT) as one company of the 1st Battalion, 50th Infantry completed the full cycle of training.

We played a part in the graduation, too, and presented the Distinguished Graduate, Specialist Keith Mann, with a miniature version of the bronze statue "A Tribute to a Fallen Comrade" presented earlier to the battalion. The distinguished Drill Sergeant, SSG David Robinson, also received a statuette. In addition, Specialist Mann, SSG Robinson and SGT Monica Sutton each received the Army Achievement Medal for their work in the 1/50th.
Following the graduation ceremony, we were the invited guests of the Battalion Commander of the 1st Battalion, 50th Infantry for lunch at Sand Hill. It was sensational to share the enthusiasm, enjoyment and probably relief of the newly graduated Infantrymen, and they showed a great deal of interest in what we had experienced decades earlier in Vietnam.

During lunch, an engraved Brunton Gentleman's Compass was presented to the Distinguished Graduate, Specialist Keith Mann. Another was presented to the wife of Roger Burch's son, PFC Roy Burch, who is currently serving in Iraq with 101st Airborne Division. The gifts made a moving linkage between our generations of Infantrymen.
M16 Range Firing   Ft. Benning 1/50 Graduation BBQ   Uchee Creek, Alabama
We then went to the rifle range and saw the boots qualify with the M-16. As they finished they gave us 20 rounds and put us in the fox holes and let us fire the M-16. What a sensational activity for us old Viet Vets to share at our reunion! What more could we ask for?

Well, there was some good-natured grumbling about perhaps driving APCs or firing the mortars or M79 grenade launchers, but maybe that will be on the agenda in 2005!

Certainly, the M16 range came as a total surprise for our seasoned warriors in 2003! If they'd let us fire for qualification, I dare say that we would have set some course records! Now bring on the bayonet course!
That evening we went to a cook out hosted by LTC Payne's wife Linda and the families of the 1/50 cadre. The BBQ was held at the Army's Uchee Creek Campground across the Chatahoochee River in Alabama just north of the Fryar Drop Zone familiar to all our paratroopers. The food was delicious and the beer and soft drinks never seemed to run out! It was a great opportunity to mix and mingle, and I was honored to catch up with the current COs and XOs of the two companies that I'd commanded in Nam.

On behalf of the Association, Gladys Grubb presented Linda Payne with an engraved rosewood encased pen. On the rosewood box was engraved the regimental crest and an inscription thanking her for her help with the reunion.
Dick Guthrie presented the 1/50th CSM Milton Fields and the 1/50th's NCOs with a print of Lee Teter's painting "Reflections", personally inscribed to the 1/50th and signed by the artist (left). Jim Sheppard presented LTC Payne with an engraved Brunton compass and Ray Sarlin presented COL Baldy and LTC Payne with a 8"x7' World War I photograph of the 50th Infantry.

Among the memorable speeches, one comment by COL Brian Baldy, Brigade CO, stood out, "You know, there's a reason that the 1st Battalion, 50th Infantry was chosen to remain on active duty, and what you did in Vietnam is a large part of it." LTC Payne told us how proud and honored they were that we chose to come to Ft. Benning for our reunion.

Saturday, 26 April. Tours, Dinner and General Meeting.
Andersonville   National Historic Site and POW Museum
Callaway Gardens is world famous for both horticulture and recreation. Callaway is an award-winning, 14,000-acre gardens, resort and preserve nestled in the southernmost foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, in Pine Mountain, Georgia. Callaway, a man-made landscape in a unique natural setting, was conceived and created by Cason J. Callaway and his wife, Virginia Hand Callaway. The purpose is to offer a wholesome family environment where all may find beauty, relaxation and inspiration.

Callaway Gardens is an outdoor, action-oriented location, with plenty of paved bicycle trails, hiking trails, championship golf courses, tennis courts, and 13 fly-fishing lakes. There's also the Callaway Discovery Center, Birds of Prey show, Butterfly Center, Mr. Cason's Vegetable Garden, Overlook Garden and miles of nature trails that showcase the beauty of nature.

Unfortunately the John A. Sibley Horticultural Center was closed for renovation and half of the azaleas in the Azalea Bowl had just bloomed, but the gardens were quiet, peaceful and inspiring.
The notorious Civil War prison camp now shares the POW experience with the nation and the world. Andersonville, or Camp Sumter as it was officially known, was the largest and most notorious Confederate military prison during the Civil War. During the 14 months the prison existed, more than 45,000 Union soldiers were confined here. Of these, almost 13,000 died from disease, poor sanitation, malnutrition, overcrowding, or exposure.

Today, Andersonville National Historic Site also serves as a memorial to all American prisoners of war throughout the nation's history. The 495-acre park consists of the historic prison site, the National Cemetery and the National Prisoner of War Museum. This is truly hallowed ground, and an awesome emotional experience.

Our visit was made even more memorable by "local boy" Gus Allbritton (C Co., 9/69-9/70) making a special trip from his property 80 miles away to share with us. He escorted our bus in his Jeep through little seen parts of the park before saluting us off to Americus, GA, for lunch at "the best food in the South"! It was !

Dinner  Officers' Open Mess General Meeting   Officers' Open Mess
At any reunion, much less at any one as jam-packed with both old and new memories as this one, it's hard to pick one highlight out of so many. As we assembled at the Officers Club for our final dinner together, the love and care that people had put into their appearance, especially the ladies, was ample evidence of the impact that this reunion had had on all of our lives. Let's just say that the reunion itself was a highlight!

The final "formal" dinner and membership meeting tend to run together as a single event, but I must admit that I saw them as two distinct activities. The dinner (and the many photo shoots of Charlie Company, HHC, Delta, Bravo, Alpha and so on) took on a life of its own - with conversation swirling around the room as friends drifted from one table to another swopping stories, feelings, addresses, phone numbers and promises to stay in touch. The poor barmaid was also overwhelmed, but not with emotion.

The O Club kitchen outdid itself with a brilliant hot peach cobbler (well, after all, we were in Georgia), and we amicably settled down for the formal part of the evening.
The meeting started with the election of officers. The Association officers were reelected for an additional two year term by acclamation. They include John Topper as President; Randolph Smith, Vice President: Gary Quint, Secretary; Chuck McAleer, Treasurer; Toby Jordan, Chaplain; and Jim Sheppard, Historian.

Each officer gave a report, and Ray Sarlin gave a short presentation on the website. The Association then presented John Topper with a plaque for his time and effort in producing this fine reunion. Dotty and Jim Edwards were presented with a framed picture for the time ,effort, and the money that they and Seiples have saved the Association in printing and mailing our newsletter.

The main business of the evening was the review and adoption of the Association's Constitution and Bylaws. See MINUTES (PDF file)

A motion was made on the floor by John Nichols to have another pig roast next year, which caught last year's host Bob Gold by surprise and paralyzed him until his wife smiled. Bob tells us to look for more on this in coming newsletters.
Raffles  Officers' Open Mess Hospitality   Marriott Courtyard Hospitality Room
Now came time for the raffles. Bob Knightly won a 50/50 drawing for the amount of $535.00; Bob collected half and half went to the Association's coffers. Dotty Edwards won a plaque which was donated and we collected $138.00 for the Association. All the members received a free ticket for a multiple drawing. The first item drawn was an Australian Royal Military College challenge coin donated by Ray and Marti Sarlin's son 2LT Shane Sarlin, a recent graduate. Then the remaining numbers were drawn for remaining batches and badges until all were gone. No one left empty handed. Upon leaving the O Club by bus, both busses took up a generous collection for the drivers. They appreciated this nearly as much as we appreciated the excellent job they did for us over four days in getting us around with consistent friendliness and patience.

Upon returning to the hotel, we met in the hospitality room to have a few more beers, to try to finish everything that had laid undone for over thirty years, and to say a few good byes.

Sunday, 27 April. Check out, bon voyage and memories.
All good things must come to an end. While there were no formal activities on Sunday other than an Executive Committee meeting over breakfast, the reminiscing continued full speed for many who were left.

Sunday morning was when I visited with Gladys Grubb (right) and looked through the Memorial Book that she keeps. I also touched base with Jim Shepard and picked up some unit records, and several friends gave me photos to publish on the website. We then bid farewell and hit the road for Florida.

Sunday was also a time of introspection, and for discussing with my wife whether the trip and expense were worth it. Not only was the experience so valuable that we're already planning to come again in 2005, but we also changed the remainder of our itinerary to take in the Vietnam Wall in Washington, DC, an additional 10-hour trip (see below). That's how deeply I was affected by touching base again with old comrade and with my old roots at Fort Benning.

Gladys Grubb with the Memorial book open to her husband Steve's entry.

John Topper and Jim Woodall present the battalion with our memorial be put in place in front of the Battalion Headquarters before the next reunion in 2005