September 22, 2011

World War II Vet Makes New Memories at Soldiers' Reunion

Don "Buck" Tague has attended many military reunions and made many connections - but none quite like the connection he made this time. At the 65th Division Reunion in Branson September 12-16, Buck was told by two of his children that he knew the woman checking off names as attendees got on the tour bus.

"Yeah, I know her," he said. "Why I went to school with her!"

Don Tague and Norma Wright Hustead pose for a photo in front of the tour bus.

In front of the grinning Buck stood Norma Wright Hustead, an alumnus of Gorin R-III High School. Norma's daughter, Pam Brown, owns the business Gatherings "Plus," specializing in military reunions in Branson. Pam planned the area activities including the reception buffet, a tour of downtown Branson, a dinner show at the Showboat Branson Belle (Ask Buck about the talented female fiddle player, singer, piano player and aerial artist), the Clay Cooper Show and the final banquet. More about John Brown, Pam's husband, later.

While attending the Veterans Memorial Museum, Buck pointed out an object in a display case and said he had carried the same first aid kit until he used the kit on a German soldier with a bullet wound in his ankle. The kit, he said, contained sulfur and bandages. He thought he did a good job putting it on and he always wonders what happened to that man. The display case had the kit labeled as a WWI first aid kit.

Another WWI object was of interest to the daughter-in-law of 92-year-old Fielder Phillips. Kathy Phillips said that the nurse's uniform identified as WWI was exactly like the uniform she wore when she first became an Air Force nurse, except for some slight modifications of the cuffs of the sleeves.

Perhaps the most compelling objects in the museum to Buck were the real Browning Automatic Rifles on display and the several depictions of BARs in brass sculpture. Buck, a 'BAR man,' connected with Martin Vaughn, the son-in-law of Arthur Newell. Martin said he once paid $20 to fire a clip through a BAR.

David Tague, Buck's son, said to Martin that Buck had fired his BAR at a Messerschmidt.

"How did you do that?" Martin asked.

Buck proceeded to tell the story of daily strafing by a group of 18 Messerschmidts as he and Patton's Third Army proceeded to march to the front. Finally, one day, Buck said, the soldiers were issued ammunition! Now with ammo, the next time the planes approached, Buck put his clips in a line in front of him, he knelt, and he held up the BAR readying it to shoot upward. Buck said he could see his bullets strike a plane and he said as the Messerschmidts flew away, "Every one of those 18 was a smokin'." After that day Buck said there was no more strafing.

Buck Tague admires a statue at the Veterans Memorial Museum in Branson. The image was created by Fred Hoppe and it depicts 50 soldiers storming a beach. Each soldier was modeled after an actual soldier - one from each state. The sculpture is billed as "the world's largest bronze memorial statue."

At each of these reunions the soldiers meet in executive session and general session to discuss business. Part of the business of the organization includes the diminishing numbers of WWII soldiers. This reunion had 22 soldiers present and 48 guests. Joe Gonzalez, a soldier from Florida, said that every day 1200 soldiers of WWII die. Several children of the soldiers have been offering to aid in the planning of the next reunions. Unlike votes in the past, at this meeting the soldiers voted to allow children to become members and plan activities with the final approval of the soldiers. So a group of soldiers' children met, elected officers and established a committee to plan future reunions. The goal of the group will be to allow reunions until the last old soldier is gone.

At the final banquet, John Brown (husband of Pam with Gatherings "Plus") handed out refund tickets for participants due to some bus tardiness issues. John said to the group that he had a connection with Sandra Tague Kalman (Buck's other child attending the reunion). In 1969 John coached Sandra in basketball at Gorin R-III.

Sandra treasured other connections. Emil Beck from Odessa, Texas, gave her photos showing him going down a huge slide at the age of 85, the oldest man to descend. David Loughlin of Long Island, New York, gave her photos of his paintings. Joseph Rodino of New York City promised to send her his recipe for wine. Edmund Lewis talked about the story for THE HALBERT he did NOT publish. Sandra also treasured her conversation with Reagan Beck, Emil's son. Reagan, David and Sandra talked about Germany and Austria and how folks in Germany (observed by Reagan and Sandra) could not possibly profess innocence about what was going on. Why did they not do anything? The proximity of the camps to the cities of Munich and Enns were observed first hand (plus the smell as described by these old soldiers), so 'not knowing' was considered impossible. Reagan said he was worried that the United States would be set up to allow a demagogue to take control of our freedom. When Sandra told Buck about Reagan's comment, Buck said, "But we already have allowed them to take our freedom!"

Sandra said to Buck at a meal in the Grand Plaza Hotel (Ask Buck about his roast beef sandwich served by the former major league pitcher Jack Harrison) that Buck should get a woman half his age to take care of him and take him to all of these reunions. Buck said, "Hell no! I will take THEM."

Perhaps, with ammo, Patton's Third Army can still do anything.

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