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Remembering military milestones

Fort McClellan, Alabama has many memories for those of us who joined the Guard at age seventeen or so as we’d line up jeeps, ¾ ton trucks and deuce and halves, and head out for summer camp. Thirty miles per hour all the way on those two lane roads, and slowing or speeding up a bit to be sure we hit every check point right on time.

I was saddened when Ft. McClellan closed in 1999, seven years after I retired, and hung up my boots.  It had been established in 1898 as Camp Shipp, and then became McClellan. Trained over half a million troops during World War II, and in 1952 The Woman’s Army Corps was founded at McClellan. Sure were a bunch of WACs on post when my first convoy passed through those gates.

First class accommodations for troops training there in those days. Rows of wooden floored tents that were dusty when dry, and muddy when raining, and who can forget the dust and mud out on the training areas of Pelham Range out in the Choccolocco Foothills surrounding the Fort?

Another interesting fact is that there were over 2,500 German and Italian Prisoners of War interned at the Fort during World War II, and to this day there is still a little cemetery on post with markers for 26 Germans and 3 Italians who died in captivity.

Hey, I mentioned boots ‘while ago. Another memory was when the order came down changing the brown boots to black. In order to save money, the ones of us who had already been issued the old army brown boots were directed to dye them black. Looked pretty good until we bloused Khaki pants on those boots, and ended up with black marked bottoms on those starched Khaki pants.

What a memory of my first formal military parade on a hot, humid day. My feet hurt from wrong sized boots, and sweat was pouring in my eyes from under that helmet liner, but then the command was given to face right, shoulder that Ml Garand Rifle, and forward march behind the band that had just struck up a military march. When we passed before that reviewing stand I remember thinking that all eyes were on Private Boggs, United States Army.

There are hundreds of other memories that flood my mind of those 35 years I spent on active duty and in the Guard wearing the uniform of my country, including making a parachute jump with my older son at Ft. Benning, Georgia where I had earned my wings, and later pinning Lieutenant bars on him at Infantry OCS at Benning where I had gotten my commission many years before, but I am going to cut this off right now, and give you folks a chance to pause and reflect on your own military memories or that of a loved one or friend.

I will finish the few words left to me this week by wishing the American Legion a happy 100th birthday, celebrated last month. The late Emmett Hildreth, Circuit Judge of this circuit until his death in 1973. remained in France after The First World War to help found what is the oldest military organization in America, which has left an awesome, inspiring and successful legacy including authoring the GI Bill, creating what is today’s Department of Veterans Affairs, ushering in the U.S. Flag Code, and mentoring millions of young Americans through various programs such as Boy’s State coming up in May around the nation.

Hey, how many of you recollect when there were only forty eight stars on our flag? Didn’t stay that way long before the 50th came along. Long may that red, white and blue wave freely over a free and God fearing country. Amen.

— Tom Boggs is a columnist for the Demopolis Times and a native of Marengo County. His column,“Days Gone Bye,”

appears weekly.