July 26, 2011

Blue-Gray warriors face to face with WWII vets during AT

By Staff Sgt. Andrew H. Owen      
Virginia Guard Public Affairs

FORT A.P. HILL, Va. — With estimates at around a thousand American World War II veterans passing away each day, the opportunity for current Soldiers to meet with these heroes of the greatest generation and share their experiences with one another becomes a thing of the past. Fortunately for the Soldiers of the 29th Infantry Division, they got to do just that.

 

Members of the 29th Division Association, including veterans of WWII, visit Soldiers of the Fort Belvoir-based 29th Infantry Division on Annual Training at Fort A.P. Hill July 18. The Soldiers showed the vets, all prior members of the 29th ID, current weapon systems, vehicles, uniforms and body armor. During the visit, the vets ate lunch in the mess hall and witnessed 29th Soldiers navigating the Leader Reaction Course. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Andrew H. Owen, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

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Members of the 29th Division Association, including several veterans of the Second World War from Virginia and Maryland, visited the 29th ID during their annual training at Fort A.P. Hill July 18. The veterans saw modern Soldiers training and witnessed first-hand the changes the military has seen in the past 65 years.

“We invited our 29th Infantry Division Association here to visit with us during this annual training period,” said Maj. Gen. Frank Batts, division commander. “We took an opportunity to bring out some of the members of the association to look at the training and to interact with our Soldiers.”

Throughout the day, the Soldiers of the 29th showed the veterans static displays of their current weapons systems, vehicles and personal protective equipment while listening to tales of days gone by. The modern Warriors spent several hours trading stories and marveling at the similarities, as well as the differences between the two fighting generations.

“If you look at the division coin, it says 'The Spirit of Omaha Beach.' Many of these Soldiers were actually on Omaha Beach, so there's no better way to convey that spirit from the last greatest generation to this new generation than to have them interact,” said Batts.

Many of the WWII vets awed at how far the technology had progressed over the years and jumped at the chance to get their hands on the new weapons systems, including the Army’s newest grenade launcher, the M320.

 

A WWII veteran promotes a 29th Infantry Division Soldier during a visit from members of the 29th Division Association at Fort A.P. Hill July 18. Many of the veterans visiting the 29th ID were present during the allied invasion of Normandy, June 6, 1944. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Andrew H. Owen, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

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“I look at these guys and I think that they are a fine bunch of men, and they're well trained with stuff that we never had,” said John Kessler, a retired lieutenant and WWII veteran. “You've got modern equipment like that grenade launcher...we had to throw that thing, we threw it just as far as we could and that was it. The weapons they have now are fabulous.”

At the end of the day, the current Soldiers of the 29th and the legacy Soldiers left with a sense of connection through their shared sacrifices, and the modern day warriors continued their training with new perspectives on how far the military has advanced in some respects yet remained the same in others, according to Spc. Sean Spurr, 29th ID, Special Troops Battalion.

“Obviously a lot of things have changed since World War II, they were definitely interested, there were a lot of hands on,” Spurr said. “They were very interactive; they were very open about their experiences and sharing with the Soldiers.

“I gained a huge sense of pride from these men coming in here and talking to us. I think it's a great thing what they do, and what they did and I think it's a great credit to the Army and a great credit to the 29th Infantry when they can come in and talk to the Soldiers and relate on that kind of level.”

During their annual training, the Soldiers also focused on Army Warrior Tasks, individual weapons qualification, crew-served weapons qualification and participated in a command post exercise. The 29th Division also tested their inter-state communication abilities in preparation for real-world civil support missions.

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