Correction: 24th Infantry Division Association Vice President Chris Stapleton was misidentified as Chris Carpenter in the Courier story Wednesdsay. The Courier regrets the error.
It’s been happening for years now — 24th Infantry Division veterans of Operation Desert Storm come back to Fort Stewart to remember their war and those who fought it.
Retired Lt. Col. Dave Jensen, who commanded Task Force 3-7 Infantry during the Feb. 24, 1991, ground invasion of Iraq, said Friday that veterans return for the same reason soldiers find the courage to fight.
“The real reason why a soldier fights is that soldier
next to him,” Jensen said. “That soldier next to him in a foxhole, or the turret of a Bradley, or a tank, or in a Humvee. It’s the same reason you came to this reunion and came to this memorial service. It’s that Victory Division soldier you fought, including those named on this monument, and they must not be forgotten.”
The desire to remember went back beyond Desert Storm during the 24th ID’s annual memorial ceremony Friday, as a monument to the division’s Medal of Honor winners from World War II and Korea was dedicated.
Retired Brig. Gen. Gene Spicer, who as a private and an infantryman fought in Korea before eventually becoming an officer, said he returned to Fort Stewart from his home in Indiana because of “that Taro leaf.”
He was among the Korean War veterans at Friday’s ceremony who helped make the Medal of Honor monument possible during a six-year campaign to raise money. Spicer even drove his pickup from Madison, Ind., to Buffalo, N.Y. to pick it up and drive it to Savannah last fall.
But the original unveiling, set for September, was postponed by Hurricane Irma. And there was a hiccup before Spicer could get started.
“The morning I was getting ready to leave some (bleep) stole my pickup,” Spicer said. “I had to rent a truck. The (crook) left me a scooter with his license plate on it.”
Spicer delivered the monument because “It was important to me,” he said. “Once you become a Taro leafer, there’s just something about it.”
Spicer’s fellow Taro-leafer and Korean War veteran Dan Rickert also helped make the Medal of Honor monument happen.
The plaque was designed by his granddaughter, Danielle Rickert, and created by artists Larry Jones and David Freda. It was supposed to be placed at Arlington National Cemetery, but Rickert, a combat engineer who served his entire Army career in Korea, said that didn’t work out.
“They wanted us to give them $5,000 and then maybe they would find a place for it,” he said.
Instead, it wound up at the Desert Storm Memorial on Fort Stewart, which is where the 24th ID hung its colors until the division was inactivated in 1999.
“I didn’t want those men to be forgotten, that was the whole gist of it,” Rickert said. And he pointed out the savagery of the Korean War, and the 24th ID’s role in it, by noting that of the 16 names on the plaque, the majority of the medals were won in Korea.
“World War II lasted four years and there are four names here,” Rickert said. “Korea lasted only two and a half years, and you have 12 names here, and two more that have to be added.”
Earning the Medal of Honor is unique, Rickerd said, because “nobody ever asks you to do it, nobody ever orders you to do it, but yet these men did it. I feel these men should not be forgotten, but they are. Think of all the Medal of Honor winners nobody knows about, and it’s the most important medal a man can get.”
Still, it was a Bronze Star that captured Randall Geoghagan’s attention.
Geoghagan, 12, found the Bronze Star and other medals in trash on the side of a road near his Pensacola, Fla., home in May.
He and his mother tracked down the name on the back of a medal and learned it had been awarded to Spec. William C. Brace, one of 18 soldiers from the 24th ID killed in Desert Storm. For Geoghagan, who made the trip to Fort Stewart to attend the ceremony, there was never any question of keeping Brace’s medals.
He has a number of relatives with military service and wants to serve in the Navy once he gets out of school. Besides, it’s wrong to keep something you didn’t earn, he said.
“It belonged to somebody else, it’s not right to keep it,” Geoghagan said, shortly before 24th Infantry Division Association Vice President Chris Stapleton, an artilleryman and Desert Storm veteran living in Spartanburg, S.C., promoted him to honorary sergeant a few feet away from where Brace’s name is listed on the Desert Storm memorial.
That memorial, Jensen said, is to the soldiers “who were with us, they stood alongside us. They were the reason we chose to fight, we were the reason they chose to fight. I salute you for your determination to remember them. Let us never forget them, and may they rest in peace.”
Plans are already in the works for the 30th anniversary Desert Storm reunion.