May 31, 1987
Index Terms: MILITARY, FAMILY, EVENT
AS EX-PARATROOPERS GATHER, WIVES STRIKE OUT ON THEIR OWN
Nearly 300 former paratroopers have been swapping World War II stories this week at their annual reunion at the John Marshall Hotel. And while the former members of the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion Association relive old times, their wives, like many who accompany husbands to conventions here, weren't holed up in air-conditioned hotel rooms.
Their functions at the 509th reunions include, but are not restricted to:
* "Gossip," several said.
* "Keeping the guys on the straight and narrow so they don't fall off the track," said a reunion veteran.
* "Listening to the bull" their husbands are swapping about the war and about jump school at Fort Benning, Ga.
But mostly the wives renew friendships struck up years ago at similar reunions in other parts of the country. Shopping and touring also ranked high on the list. Activities yesterday included a trip to Williamsburg, the state Capitol and other historical and cultural sites.
About 290 former members of the unit gathered at the annual reunion, which started Tuesday and will end today.
The 509th saw action during World War II in North Africa, Sicily, mainland Italy and southern France. Combat started for them in November 1942, when the troopers jumped in North Africa. The 1,700-mile flight from England to Africa and subsequent jump was the longest parachute assault in history. The 509th was also the first airborne unit to produce a Medal of Honor winner and the unit claims to have made the lowest mass jump in Airborne history, from an altitude of 140 feet at 190 mph. Altogether, 2,700 soldiers were a part of the 509th during the war. The unit was disbanded after the Battle of the Bulge and reactivated in the 1960s in West Germany. The unit now consists of only one company at Fort Rucker, Ala.
Paulette Greider of St. Petersburg, Fla., went to the top of City Hall, among other places, yesterday and enjoyed the view. Richmond, she said, "is beautiful. I really enjoy it." Like several other wives, Mrs. Greider is from France. ' ' I met my husband in Nice" in 1944, she said. "I was impressed with the capital building" and other architecture in the city, said Marge Davis of Baltimore, who was able to take a tour of Richmond. "I was impressed with the area. . . . It has a lot of history" Monument Avenue, she said, was particularly interesting.
Wayne Galicki, of New Jersey, eyed a group of women clowning around a photo prop of a U.S. paratrooper capturing an enemy soldier. "Boy," said Galicki, "there's a motley crew. And they're sober, too."
However, there's also sadness behind the reunions, as more members die. "We're losing some all the time now," one woman said. But the widows often carry on their association with the group.
Among the paraphernalia for sale at the reunion were caps that read: "My Grandad Was a Paratrooper." "I think the biggest thing," said Janie Neill, "is that we really care for one another."
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