I try to keep this blog as light-hearted as possible, but I also want to write about the things happening around me, so today I will take a moment and tell you about the 216th Chemical Company and their proud and loyal service in the 1950s.
The 216th consisted of some men from many parts, mostly the Midwest, who were brought together and stationed primarily near Denver, Colorado. While in Denver they conducted routine Army business, but it was when they narrowly missed active duty in the Korean corridor that their true service to their country may have begun.
My father was among those in the 216th who were sent to the deserts of Nevada, far from the fighting in Korea, to fight another kind of battle. These men were among those units who were present for atomic bombs tests in the 1950s. The stories these men can tell are truly hair-raising.
They were the witnesses on the front line of those bomb explosions, witnessing the terrible mushroom clouds, feeling the backlash from the explosion and assessing the damage when it was over. They, hardly daring to wonder about the backlash to themselves, witnessed the most awesome and terrible of all weapons of the time.
What do men do after they have endured experiences like these? Well, they go home, marry their sweethearts, raise families and carry on with their lives. Some became farmers, some government workers, some firefighters, some mailmen and so on. A few even became career Army men.
But above everything else, they remember. They remember the experiences they shared and the comradery those adventures invoked.
For the last 65 years, these men have been meeting in Denver, Minneapolis, Las Vegas and Lincoln, Neb. to maintain the connection that was forged all those years ago during their time in the 216th.
Age, illness and death have pared down their numbers from around 200, to their reunion this year bringing together some of the final few. I have been privileged to be a part of a few of these reunions, accompanying my father as he travels to join his comrades in arms for another review of the “good old days” and all the days since.
It isn’t only the members of the 216th who attend. Wives, many now widows, continue to honor their husbands’ memories with another jaunt down this memory lane. Even children, such as me, have become known to each other as we try (and generally fail) to understand just what our fathers experienced in the deserts of Nevada all those years ago.
Styling themselves the “Forgotten 216th”, these elderly veterans have gathered for another reunion in Lincoln and it is sad to see their diminished numbers, but it is wonderful to see that the sands of time have not reduced their pride in their accomplishments or their pleasure in each others’ company.
So, I say to these proud veterans thank you for your time serving your country; your legacy can never be forgotten by those who love you!
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