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General brings message of thanks

The 61st annual convention of the 99th Infantry Division Association culminated July 24, with a reception and banquet.

President B.O. Wilkins welcomed everyone and sergeants-at-arms Jesse Coulter and Mark Mueller presented the colors, followed the recitation in unison of the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag.

The invocation was given by Herman Saunders.

Following the meal, Wilkins introduced the association officers and those seated at the head table. He presented outgoing president Herb Knapp with a plaque and president’s pin.

Sam Notkin of Dublin, Ireland, was recognized as the member coming the greatest distance and F/393 received the monetary prize for having the largest group of members – seven – in attendance at the convention. F/393 just edged out K/393, who had six members.

50/50 winners were announced: Evelyn Fannin, $200; Bohdan Pacala, $100; Warren Thomas, $100; Dorothy Williams, $50; and Abe Meltzer, $50.

Wilkins introduced MG William Monk, commanding general of the 99th Regional Support Command, who shared some brief remarks:

“I want to take a few minutes to share two thoughts with you – two messages that I ask you to keep in your hearts as you leave here.

“The messages are simple, but nonetheless extremely important. First and foremost, I bring you a message of thanks. Thank you, on behalf of all the soldiers in the United States Army, and especially those who proudly wear the 99th patch today, for giving us the rich and honorable legacy that you, the men in this room, along with your comrades-in-arms who cannot be here tonight, created with your blood, your sweat, and your tears.

“As today’s keeper of the 99th colors, I consider it one of my most important duties to keep that legacy alive, and to carry on the spirit of the 99th Infantry Division. So it is not only a privilege, but an obligation, for me to attend these wonderful reunions and to get my “annual refresher” of the rich history that the Checkerboard patch that I proudly wear on my shoulder represents so that I can tell your story to my soldiers.

“Every time I am with you – and tonight marks the fourth such visit – it ever ceases to humble me to think that nearly seven decades ago, you men sitting before me were fighting your way across Germany – fighting for your very lives and, ultimately, for your way of life. You helped stop a force of evil that was poised to spread across the Atlantic and, indeed, around the world if left unchecked. For that, our nation will remain forever indebted to your bravery and self-sacrifice. This weekend is no different.

“The message then, is simple – you need to know that the significance of what you accomplished is not lost on me, or anyone who wears the 99th patch today. Although we are no longer an infantry division, and are fewer in numbers, the pride and spirit that you created burns brightly in our hearts – and always will.

“You should know that my words are not just some hollow statement. Those of you who attended this morning’s business meeting heard from my historian, Steve Harlan, of the work that is currently underway to expand the Fort Dix museum, to provide state-of-the-art storage and preservation of your valuable 99th artifacts and, just as importantly, to proudly display them so that your story is not forgotten. This project is visible recognition of our enduring commitment to honor you all. It is due to be completed in summer 2011, and I invite all of you to visit Fort Dix to see your story, and to spend some time with today’s 99th soldiers.

“To all the family members here tonight, I also bring you a heartfelt thanks for the support you continue to give to your 99th veteran some 65 years after the last of them returned from Europe to restart their lives. As soldiers, we all realize the importance of our families – it is for them, as much as for ourselves, that we serve. You are an integral part of the 99th Infantry Division’s history, and I have no doubt that your contributions are appreciated every day by the veterans sitting by your side.

“My second message is also simple, and important – your Army, and your 99th colors, are in good hands. While you have rightfully earned the title, “The Greatest Generation,” you need to know that today’s soldiers – and indeed all those who wear a military uniform of our great country – are writing their own proud chapter of America’s history as they continue to serve selflessly and bravely in what is now our nation’s longest war.

“These 1.1 million men and women are carrying the torch of liberty that was first lit more than two and a quarter centuries ago when our fledgling nation fought for freedom from rule without representation; the same torch that you kept burning despite a fascist regime’s best effort to extinguish its flame. Indeed, Liberty’s torch still burns bright in the hands of the young men and women in uniform who carry it around the world today, many in harm’s way, to light the way to freedom.

“As you well know, freedom is not free. Many of your fellow soldiers never got to taste the fruits of freedom they fought so hard to defend. Their sacrifice – which is the ultimate sacrifice any soldier can make – will never be forgotten and it is events such as this that keep their memory alive.

And you also know that those soldiers who survive and return are not untouched; they bear the wounds and scars – some visible, some not – that affect them, sometimes long after they come home.

“The 99th Regional Support Command – today’s formation that wears the Checkerboard patch – plays an integral role in taking care of these soldiers. We are tasked to support the 50,000 Army Reserve soldiers who live in the 13 northeast states from Maine to Virginia, and in so doing manage many programs that assist our soldiers before, during and after their deployments: we are building 25 brand-new, state-of-the-art pre-deployment training centers across the region, memorializing them to honor those who have fallen in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. We’ve launched a comprehensive family reintegration program called “Operation Yellow Ribbon” with multiple events to better prepare families for deployments, support them during their separations, and then bring them back together upon their soldier’s return. And we manage several soldier care programs to screen and care for those needing medical and post-traumatic stress treatment, and to increase soldier and family resiliency.

“Through all they are asked to do, you need to know that these young Americans, are just as patriotic as you were in their shoes. All volunteers, they are totally professional, superbly trained and exceptionally well-led – and completely ready to succeed in any mission their country asks them to accomplish. I have been wearing a uniform for 34 years, and quite simply I’ve never seen a finer force – you should be immensely proud of them, and totally confident in their capabilities to defend the same freedoms you all fought so hard to protect. Indeed, your Army and your Checkerboard patch – are in good shape.

“In closing, I must tell you that tonight is particularly poignant for me personally, since it marks the fourth and last time I will be with you while wearing the 99th colors. I will be relinquishing command of the 99th Regional Support Command this coming September and moving o to another assignment. So, I am especially happy to have been able to be with you tonight. Commanding soldiers is the absolute highest honor an officer can be given. I am proud to have been given the opportunity to do so, and to do so while wearing the Checkerboard patch. I, like you, will always treasure my time in the 99th – and I wil always remember you – those who started it all.

“Thank you for giving me the privilege of being in your company.”

Following MG Monk’s remarks and the conclusion of the program, the colors were retired.

The Patt Holt Singers, to the delight of the audience, performed a USO-type show complete with popular tunes of the 40s and 50s.

Last modified Oct. 22, 2010

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