Final Reunion Recap

“We came in with a blaze of glory, and we will go out with a blaze of glory!”  

-Don Behm (B41CAV)

August 8, 2009

As the final strains of “Auld Land Syne’ echoed softly into the warm Louisville night on August 7, 2010 sounding the reunion’s end, Don Behm’s words were proven prophetic, as the over 400 members of the extended Thunderbolt family can readily attest. Included in that group were 81 veterans (thanks to Jim Mockford for the group photo on a following page) of the 11th Armored Division, along with the family members of 30 veterans who are either deceased or whose health did not permit them to attend the festivities. In all, 33 of the 50 states were represented. Large family groups were everywhere to be seen, led by Roy Duncan’s (HQ21AIB) remarkable group of 36. Other groups of ten or more accompanied John Fague (B21AIB), Clarence Eckstein (A63AIB), Ted DeBonis (C55AIB), Larry Falls (B491AFA), Bob Babcock (B22TK), Clifton Matthews (HQ133ORD) and Don Behm (B41CAV). The oldest Thunderbolt present was Sheldon Stamper (B133ORD), the youngest were Bill Phelps (D42TK) and Don Behm (B41CAV) at 84, and the youngest person present was Alyssa Goyer, 4 month old daughter of author, and longtime friend of all in the 11th Armored Division, Tricia Goyer. By any measurement, it was an astounding turnout, and a reunion that will long be fondly remembered.

The reunion events turned out wonderfully well. Friday’s flag retirement ceremony at the Patton Museum was moving and conducted with military professionalism and precision by both the old soldiers of the 11th Armored Division and the young, Ft. Knox soldiers who were present to thank their predecessors and to perform ceremonial duties. Not to be outdone by their younger, camouflage wearing, brother-in-arms, the men of the 11th Armored Division, too, donned uniforms one last time. The uniform consisted of black hats depicting the 11th Armored Division’s shoulder patch and battle stars and proudly proclaiming, “Patton’s Third Army -- World War II -- Thunderbolt” President Dan O’Brien solemnly cased the Thunderbolt colors and presented them to the Patton Museum, officially signaling the end of the Division which had begun 68 years ago at Camp Polk, Louisiana.

Saturday bore witness to a moving Memorial service in remembrance of the more than 7,000 Thunderbolts who have passed away since 1942. As always, the service was conducted in a most capable manner by Chaplain Gordon Blasius (B63AIB), ably assisted by his son, Lee, Mally Baum  and Greg Urda. Later on Saturday, our final Dinner-Dance took place. While definitely bittersweet, the Dinner Dance was at the same time joyous as aches and pains were forgotten and the dance floor was electric with the sounds of the Big Band era, complete with dancing to rival anything seen 65 years ago. For as a Spanish poet wrote long ago, “It is to live twice when we can enjoy the recollections of our former life.” The final Thunderbolt reunion certainly embodied both the spirit and the truth of those abstract, philosophical words.

For all the great events in Louisville, however, the real meaning and purpose of this and all the previous reunions is For Auld Lang Syne, which, according to the dictionary, loosely translates into English as, “For the sake of old times.” Or as the song’s last stanza and chorus phrases  it:

            “And here’s a hand my trusty friend.

            And give me a hand of thine.

            And we’ll take a good-will draught.

            For auld land syne.

                        For auld land syne, my dear

                        For auld land syne.

                        We’ll take a cup of kindness yet,

                        For auld lang syne.”

Thus be it then, now, and forever for the soldiers of the Thunderbolt Division.