(Possibly 1980 in North Carolina)
Survivors of Famed Battalion Trade War Stories at Reunion
The News and Observer (Raleigh, NC), Page 21, Saturday, 28 Jun 1980
In November 1943, during a fierce battle in the mountains of Italy, two young American soldiers named Charles Doyle and Robert Akers had a chance encounter that neither will ever forget. "I remember it like it was yesterday," Doyle says. "We were under heavy artillery fire from all sides, and Bob got hit in the eye.” "I had to get him to cover, and, since I couldn't carry him. I had to drag him down the mountain. I knew I was hurting him, but there was nothing else I could do.” "He used to call me 'kid.' As we went down the mountain, he kept crying out: “Oh, kid. Oh, kid.” I knew I was half killing him. But I got him down the hill and turned him over to a medic. Then I went back up to rejoin the company."
Thursday, in Raleigh, Doyle and Akers met under more pleasant circumstances. They laughed and hugged and posed for pictures and never once had to dodge an enemy bullet. The occasion was the annual reunion of the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion, which ends it three-day run at the Royal Villa Hotel today. About 125 alumni of the Battalion, among the most decorated of World War II, gathered at the reunion “Command Post” (actually a hospitality room) to exchange greetings, phone numbers, scrapbooks, and, most of all, stories. They filled the room like cigar smoke at an all-night poker game.
"I never did believe all the stories these guys tell," kidded Ray Cagle, who came all the way from Seattle to see his old combat buddies. 'I’m here to get the truth , once and for all." The truth, as Doyle, the unofficial battalion historian tells it, was that the 509th was the first American parachute troop ever to go into battle. The 509th made more jumps--five--than any other battalion in World War II. And, not to be forgotten, Doyle said, the 509th was the toughest battalion that ever lived.
Of the roughly 2,500 who served in the 509th during the war, about half were killed in combat. said Doyle, who has written a soon-to-be-published book about the battalion, "Stand in the Door".
Battalion members won more than 100 medals, including one Medal of Honor, 62 Silver Stars , 40 Bronze Stars, and 10 Distinguished Crosses "You'll never find a braver group of men anywhere, " said William A Pahl, Sr., a Raleigh painting contractor and 509th veteran who was instrumental in bringing the reunion to North Carolina. They came from Mississippi and Missouri, from Florida and New York, from Massachusetts and Tennessee. And they all had stories to tell. Clyde Baker, a retired plant supervisor from Arnold, Miss , told about his release from a German prison camp. "It was April 23. 1945," he recalled. "The Russians came in and liberated us. Then we had to spend the next two weeks with those SOBs. They said they couldn't let us go till they got clearance from Moscow. So one night about 10 of us slipped past a couple of drunken guards, climbed through a hole in the fence, and made it back to our troops.
The 509th was involved in some of the most famous. and deadly, battles of the war, including the Battle of the Bulge But Doyle said the worst fighting he ever saw took place during the invasion at Anzio Beach in January 1944. "Anzio was an ugly, dog-eat-dog affair," he said. "Everything I remember about it I don't want to remember. We lost a whole company there. It was a hellhole from the word go."
Things are easier now for the veterans of the 509th. Many went on successful careers in and out of the military “We have doctors, lawyers, college professors, you name it, we've got it," Doyle said. “We have the former chief of detectives in New York City, a Supreme Court justice in Oregon, and a sheriff in Georgia. And, of course, we had many who stayed, in the service and did very well."
Most of the men who showed up for the reunion were in good health, but Doyle said age was beginning to take its toll." We lost somebody just last Saturday," he said, wiping a tear from his eye.
Royal Villa Hotel, Raleigh, NC
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