Veterans of the 24th Infantry Division and the Gulf War came back to Fort Stewart on Monday to remember their fallen comrades.
Some wore the chocolate chip desert camouflage uniforms, floppy hats and brown boots made famous during the war, which after months of build-up in 1990 was unleashed as Operation Desert Storm in January and February 1991.
Others at Monday’s 26th Anniversary memorial ceremony wore black t-shirts emblazoned with the words “First to Fight” and the taro leaf patch that symbolized the 24th ID and until 1996 was as familiar a sight in Hinesville as the Marne patch is now.
“It really doesn’t seem like it’s been that long ago,” said Darlene Robinson, a radio operator with the 24th Signal Battalion during
Desert Shield and Desert storm. “But we can look around at each other, and we can tell it’s been that long.”
Robinson came from Texas to mark the war’s 26th anniversary, and to see two additional names added to the memorial.
Capt. Jeffrey Bnosky and Pfc. Shawnacee Noble were assigned to the 5th Engineer Battalion, which was based at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri and attached to the 24th ID during Desert Shield.
“The first time we trained with the 24th was when we were on the ground in Saudi Arabia,” said Stephon Jones, who served as a platoon leader with the 5th Engineer Battalion and knew both Bnosky and Noble.
A former enlisted man, Jones served in the Gulf War and later left the Army after reaching the rank of captain and serving as a company commander. Now working in the automotive industry, he came from Indianapolis to attend the memorial and a reunion of Desert Storm veterans in Hinesville.
“It’s an awesome time to reconnect,” Jones said. “Everyone here understands what we went through, and what our families sacrificed. It’s a great time of healing and you can just see the emotion. The struggle is still not over for some of us still suffering the effects of going through combat.”
The names of Bnosky and Noble were not on the monument when it was first built because they were in an attached unit and no one realized they’d been left off until after 24th ID veterans met in 2016 on the war’s 25th anniversary.
Retired Army Maj. Dan Aschraft, a company commander with the 5th Engineer Battalion and the main speaker at Monday’s ceremony, saluted the 3rd ID and 24th ID veterans who pulled off the feat.
“You just can’t go and inscribe names on a monument after it’s been dedicated,” he said. “There are regulations and the process takes 10 years. These folks did it in eight months.”
He said there was no monument at Fort Leonard Wood for Bnosky and Noble until soldiers got together and paid for one.
“People were asking why build the memorial if it was only two soldiers,” Ashcraft said. “Folks, it was one of yours it would be worth it.”
Chris Stapleton, a former artillery NCO who served with the 41st Field Artillery Regiment, was among the 24th ID soldiers who helps plan the veterans’ annual reunions and worked to get Bnosky and Noble added to the memorial before the group met for the 26th anniversary.
“Which, if you think about it, wasn’t much different than what we did during the war,” Stapleton said, referring to the defeat of the Iraqi Army and liberation of Kuwait. “What they told us we couldn’t do in a year, we did in just about 45 days.”