GARDEN GROVE, Calif. –
Every year they meet. Hundreds of men and women of different ages, from
different places and with different occupations join together to remember and
celebrate the one thing they all have in common – the large, crimson “1” they
wore on their shoulders while serving with the 1st Infantry Division.
The Society of the First
Infantry Division’s 96th annual reunion was June 25 to 29 in Orange County,
California. Between sightseeing trips and visiting area attractions, “Big Red
One” veterans from World War II to the Global War on Terrorism gathered to swap
stories of selfless service, memorialize those the division and the society
have lost, and honor those serving in the 1st Inf. Div. today.
“What an honor it is to be
here with you all,” said 1st Inf. Div. Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Grinston at
the reunion’s memorial ceremony on the morning of June 28. “When we see the
pictures of the Soldiers and we hear (of) the lives we’ve lost …in the last
year, I want to focus in on how the Soldiers lived.”
Grinston discussed the
bravery with which seven fallen 1st Inf. Div. Soldiers lived. These Soldiers’ names
were added to the division’s Victory Park at Fort Riley in a June 12 ceremony.
Their photos were displayed on a stage as Grinston and others spoke that
“These Soldiers lived a
great life,” Grinston said. “They were brave; they said ‘I will go and face the
enemy wherever they are and whoever they are.’ Those Soldiers lived, and they
were brave in order to do that for their country, just as you’ve done.”
More than 500 Big Red One
veterans attended the 2014 reunion.
“It was pretty good,” said
retired Command Sgt. Maj. Darrell “Buddy” Wallace, former command sergeant
major for the 1st Inf. Div. and executive director of the Society of the First
Infantry Division. “Everyone seemed pretty happy (at the reunion).”
Wallace said there were
plenty of things for attendees and their families to do in the Orange County
area, which allowed veterans to continue to bond.
“Overall, it was a
success,” he said.
Several active-duty 1st
Inf. Div. Soldiers attended the reunion, including the newly minted division
Soldier and Noncommissioned Officer of the Year.
“It’s been a good
experience, getting to know them and talking to these veterans,” said Sgt. Evan
Brady, 94th Engineer Battalion, 4th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, 1st Inf.
Div., the Big Red One Soldier of the Year. “It’s definitely been good. There
are a lot of guys here to talk to and they’ve all been really welcoming.”
After winning the title as
a specialist in May, Brady was since been promoted to the rank of sergeant.
Noncommissioned Officer of the Year, Staff Sgt. David Nakasone, 84th Explosive
Ordnance Disposal Battalion, 1st Sustainment Brigade, 1st Inf. Div., said he
had the opportunity to interact with Big Red One veterans before but not on
such a large scale.
“It just reemphasizes that
point that we have to carry our duty forward,” Nakasone said. “It’s definitely
an honor and a privilege.”
Both Soldiers agreed
attendees at the reunion enjoyed speaking with them, but they got the same
enjoyment from interacting with division veterans.
“Everything’s been great,”
Nakasone said of the reunion. “It’s nice that we can remember and keep our
Nakasone and Brady were
each honored by the society at their annual banquet the night of June 28 with a
ceremonial sword and plaques engraved with the Soldiers’ names.
“I am brave, responsible
and on point for the nation – and for you, my fellow Americans,” Maj. Gen. Paul
E. Funk II, 1st Inf. Div. and Fort Riley commanding general, said at the
reunion banquet. “Our society needs to hear our stories because behind each of
us lies a testimony to life and brotherhood born of duty.”
Funk thanked the reunion’s
attendees for their service throughout history.
“We live in a fantastic country that has been built on
the backs of uncommon heroes,” Funk said. “From the vision of our founding
fathers and the decisiveness of our military leaders since 1775, our ideals
have been preserved by faithful Soldiers.”