Again, Red Oak says goodbye to soldiers

Author: Reid Forgrave

Des Moines Register; Des Moines, Iowa, 02 Aug 2010

 

Abstract:

They remember schoolboys going on scrap metal drives,

farm kids gathering milkweed pods to make military life jackets,

housewives collecting fats for glycerine. Soon, Morrison

and the other soldiers boarded the bus, and they were off

a 17-hour trip to Camp Shelby, MS, then more training in California,

then on the ground in a war zone, something men and women

of Montgomery County have grown used to.

 

Full text:

Iowa National Guard: Deployment To Afghanistan

 

Red Oak, IA - Lynn Adams walked into the restored

Burlington Northern train depot Sunday morning

and swung open the doors to the past.

 

It was in this depot where, nearly 70 years ago, young Iowa

National Guardsmen from Montgomery County boarded trains

and were whisked off to war. For many of them, this was the

last they'd see their hometown.

 

Two years later, in the mountains of North Africa, Red Oak's

Company M was surrounded by Nazis. Scores died or

were taken prisoner in the battle. By the end of the war,

93 men from this county of 16,000 people had been killed.

"After the war I told kids, 'You don't know how many friends

you don't have because of World War II,' " said Adams,

a retired teacher in this southwestern Iowa town of 6,000.

"All the guys who didn't come back."

 

On Sunday morning, the depot was empty. The action was at

Red Oak Community High School, near the highway named

for the 34th Infantry Division. Adams and his wife, Jacky,

were heading there to wave goodbye to another 100 soldiers.

 

This time, the Iowans were heading to Afghanistan as part of

the Iowa National Guard's largest deployment since World War II,

writing another chapter in Red Oak's long military history.

 

Adams watched a train whiz by. Trains don't stop here anymore;

they just pass through. But Adams can remember as a boy,

standing on a knoll, waving to Company M as the soldiers went to war.

The whole town was out, Adams said.

 

Adams' wife tried to connect the dots from then to now.

"It's in the water in southwest Iowa," Jacky Adams said.

"What they had here was their church, their home, their

school and their family. ... And that's what's still going on here.

They passed it on. They're willing to die patriotically for a

cause they believe in."

 

Meanwhile, soldiers gathered at the armory, packing their bags

onto buses and preparing to join a war in Afghanistan that's

nine years in the making.

At the high school gymnasium, a small number of those

in the bleachers could remember World War II in Red Oak.

They remember schoolboys going on scrap metal drives,

farm kids gathering milkweed pods to make military life jackets,

housewives collecting fats for glycerine.

 

And they remember one day in 1943 at the Western Union

office, where an anxious town gathered. Residents knew

the town's soldiers had been in a bad spot, and on that day,

100 telegrams came in, telling families who was missing,

who was dead, who was being held prisoner.

 

At the high school on Sunday, though, people worried about

the uncertain future. Their young men and women were

headed into a war where insurgent fighters can be spotted

and bombed by unmanned drone aircraft and families

can talk with soldiers nightly via the Internet.

 

The Iowa National Guard company based in Red Oak - Company F

of the 334th Brigade Support Battalion - filed into the gymnasium

for its send-off. Hundreds of family and friends applauded.

These moments could have been at the train depot during

World War II: Babies screamed, mothers dabbed little faces

with tissues, a 17-year-old newlywed patted her pregnant belly

as her husband marched in. Others were uniquely 2010,

like the group dressed as the rock group Kiss to honor a

deploying friend.

 

Joni Ernst, the Montgomery County auditor and a major in the

Iowa National Guard, read off the impressive history of the Iowa

National Guard units from Red Oak: first organized in 1879;

activated in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War;

sent to the front lines of World War I; mobilized for nearly six

years during World War II; sent to Vietnam and Iraq.

 

"It's extremely important for you, Company F, to understand

your significance to our community," Ernst said. "You are

now our latest commitment to the United States of America -

the most recent but certainly not the last of Red Oak's long

and distinguished military history. You are now our family."

 

Spc. Christine Morrison, a 34-year-old mother of three,

hugged her youngest son, 8-year-old Nolan. She said the

emotions of leaving were tempered by the pride of being

part of something larger than herself. "You really feel like

you belong to something, belong to a legacy," she said.

 

Soon, Morrison and the other soldiers boarded the bus,

and they were off - a 17-hour trip to Camp Shelby, MS,

then more training in California, then on the ground in

a war zone, something men and women of

Montgomery County have grown used to.

 

Across the highway, Elwin Diehl sat in his apartment at

an assisted-living community. At 89, Diehl is one of

only two men still alive from the 123 members of

Company M who left the train depot together in 1941.

On his wall were a Bronze Star and a prisoner- of-war medallion.

 

He was among the men in Company M captured by Nazis in 1943.

Diehl nearly starved as a prisoner before the Russians liberated

him at the end of the war, two years later.

 

Just down the street, a giant American flag flew from a fire engine

as buses carried soldiers away.

 

Diehl knows war is different today: different enemies, different tactics,

a different sacrifice asked of American communities.

But in some ways, the soldiers leaving Sunday were no

different from a then-20-year-old Diehl as he left

the train depot nearly 70 years ago.

 

"We were in a real crisis then, with Hitler taking over all those

countries, "Diehl said. "But I respect these soldiers.

They didn't treat Vietnam veterans right when they got home.

They're treating these boys right."

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