FORT BENNING, Ga. - The 3rd Infantry Division’s newest generation of veterans broke bread and shared stories with some of the Rock of the Marne’s oldest Dog Face Soldiers, June 20, during a special luncheon at Fort Benning, Georgia.
Nearly 80 veterans, accompanied by their significant others and Family Members, with the Society of the 3rd Infantry Division came from all over the country to meet at Fort Benning for the society’s 95th annual reunion June 19 to 22.
They joined Sledgehammer Soldiers with the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd ID, at the Gibson Dining Facility on Kelley Hill. The luncheon was one of many stops for the group, as they made their way around the installation during the three-day reunion.
Following lunch, the men and women visited the 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment’s China Room. The China Room is the only museum within the Department of the Army that is owned and maintained at the battalion level, said Command Sgt. Maj. Phil Keli’i Barretto, command sergeant major of 1st Bn., 15th Inf. Regt.
"Everything inside this room was moved from Germany," explained Barretto, an Oahu, Hawaii, native. "Each piece is accounted for and maintained here in our building, and the door to the museum is security locked … because this is the battalion’s history inside this room."
A number of veterans, clad in their "Can Do" 1st Bn., 15th Inf. Regt., t-shirts and hats, served in the battalion during previous battles.
"We had a gentleman who was walking into the China Room and noticed the pictures of the battalion’s Medal of Honor recipients and, as he was glancing through them, pointed out his former platoon sergeant and said ‘I was the one who pulled out the shrapnel they talk about in this narrative’," Barretto said.
Barretto was especially thankful for the group’s stop at the China Room because, he said the Soldiers of today wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the service of the veterans that have come before them.
"They are the foundation of where we are today," Barretto said.
For Whitney Mullen, who was a private 1st class when he fought in World War II as a rifleman with Company I, 1st Bn., 15th Inf. Regt., said the room was a way to reconnect to his past experiences with a battalion he is proud to have served in, he said.
"I’ve been to quite a few reunions and each year the number of participants dwindles down, but it’s still a great experience," Mullen said, of Vineland, New Jersey.
For the newer generation of Soldiers, the veterans were a chance to hear first-hand about their combat experiences in WWII, the Korean War and the Gulf War.
"It’s been pretty interesting. There are a lot of good stories they tell, and they are rich in history, too," said Staff Sgt. Derek Gonzalez, an operations noncommissioned officer with 1st Bn., 15th Inf. Regt.
History was exactly what the veterans knew and they were more than happy to share their stories with anyone who had the time to listen.
"You can go into the China Room and read about the actions of Can Do Soldiers," explained Lt. Col. Scott Mueller, commander of the 1st Bn., 15th Inf. Regt., "but to hear about it from the men who were there gives it a whole new meaning."
The group’s reunion also included a basic training graduation, a tour of the National Infantry Museum and a dinner with the 3rd ID commanding general, Maj. Gen. John M. Murray, who was the evening’s guest speaker.