Fort Riley, Kansas



‘BRO’ vets gather for reunion in California

By J. Parker Roberts | 1ST INF. DIV. PUBLIC AFFAIRS | July 24, 2014

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 morning.

“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.

The division’s 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 tradition alive.”

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.”
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