by Sandra Kalman
Don “Buck” Tague of Gorin attended a World War II 65th Infantry Division Association reunion.
Buck flew with his daughter, Jane Klopfer (of Des Moines, Iowa), to New Orleans, Louisiana, that famous Mississippi River city, for a reunion September 17 to 20, 2015.
I joined Dad and Jane and we celebrated the presence of 13 of Patton’s Third Army 65th Division hero veterans and another World War II hero who came as a guest. Regretfully, two of our originally registered veterans sustained falls and could not come. In all, 73 people participated.
On Friday September 18th buses took us 109 miles to Camp Shelby Military Base near Hattiesburg, Mississippi, site of the birth of the 65th Infantry Division in 1943.
Today, everybody said, Camp Shelby is nothing like it was during World War II when the entire DeSoto National Forest was full to the brim with buildings and Army soldiers. Most of the old buildings are gone and besides the Staff Sergeant who welcomed us formally, not many soldiers were around. Known as a Joint Forces Training Center, soldiers of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and National Guard now come onto this 134,000-acre site for training.
A soldier reenactor greeted us at the door of the All Ranks Club in his wool uniform. As we filed in to eat a buffet-style meal, several soldiers posed for pictures. The staff of Camp Shelby had prepared roasted chicken, fried fish, gumbo, vegetables and salad. The bread pudding was a special treat.
Another welcome came from a woman who said she was a former school teacher. Her name was Dr. Janie Peddicord and she gave me a card that read:
“DAR Daughters of the American Revolution. Dear Military Veteran and families, Thank you for your service, sacrifice, and commitment to the preservation of our freedom. –Grateful Americans Novell Robertson Chapter, Hattiesburg, MS, Jackson Military Road Chapter, Purvis, MS.”
Buck proudly told Dr. Peddicord his sister, Grace Brown of Memphis, Missouri, also belongs to the DAR.
Even before the meal was done, my attention focused on display items on one side of the mess hall. Chad Daniels, Director of the Mississippi Armed Forces Museum in Camp Shelby (which was closed for construction) said the four posters were made especially for our visit. Showing the history of the 65th Infantry Division, the posters were brilliant, informative pieces of historical art.
The first poster: “Activation at Camp Shelby,” showed an image of a life-sized (or larger) front page of THE REVEILLE, published in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, August 18, 1943. An article by John G. Fay: “Simple Ceremony Marks Infantry Outfit’s Birth,” told of a hot day, guests on bleachers of a baseball diamond, some soldiers lined up in formation, a chaplain’s prayer, and then comments from two Generals to formally give birth to the new 65th Infantry Division. Commanding General C. N. White of the Ninth Corps (Ninth Corps will be important later) presented Brigadier General S. E. Reinhart a Legion of Merit medal on the same day Reinhart took over as the Commanding General of the new 65th Infantry Division.
A few months later, upstream on the Mississippi River along a tributary called the North Fabius River (in Memphis, Missouri), another newspaper also named THE REVEILLE (today known of as MEMPHIS DEMOCRAT) published a photo of Don Tague among other photos of soldiers going off to war.
Buck was the fourth son of the Charley Tague family of Gorin to join the military, as his older brothers Evert, Jean and Weldon were already serving. Gladly the four brothers served without casualty, but sadly their mother, Elsie, died while they were gone.
The second poster in our mess hall, “Campaign in Europe,” showed a map of the route of the 65th Division through Europe showing where Buck went after he embarked from Camp Shanks on the USS Lejeune, a trip he affectionately refers to as his all-expenses-paid tour of Europe. An image of the Lejeune prominently occupied another part of the second poster.
After our noon meal at Camp Shelby, we went to Hattiesburg to the African American Military History Museum. Buck said, “I sure was glad to see that museum.” A former USO club for black soldiers in a segregated war, volunteers built the building in 1942 and now it houses a museum and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The next day of the reunion, Saturday, September 19th, our events were at the National WWII Museum in New Orleans. As the soldiers entered a small theater for a formal welcome, applause, shouts, screams and pompoms greeted them.
First we saw Girl Scouts USA Louisiana East 40678 holding up a big sign almost as tall as they were saying: “Welcome to New Orleans 65th Infantry WWII Vets.”
Further screams, yells, and cheers continued beyond the Girl Scouts, down the hall, around the corner and along each wall of a large meeting room. Students of Belle Chasse High School were welcoming our veterans in style, organized by their teacher, Mrs. Gagnon. Members of Belle Chasse Interact Club, members of Belle Chasse Cheerleader Team, and members of Belle Chasse Dance Team stood against all of the walls cheering. What an unexpected tribute! Thank you so much!
After our formal welcome, we walked through the museum complex across the street and into another of the several museum buildings where we saw the Tom Hanks’ 4D film, Beyond All Boundaries. The film is famously noted for seats rattling and rumbling and for real falling snow – or what looks like real snow, anyway.
Buck said after seeing the part of the movie where fuses were being loaded in a factory, he was reminded of his job in Fort Madison, Iowa, before he enlisted. He said he worked at the W.A. Schaeffer Pen Company where they were turning out ogive munitions for the war effort. His job was to pull carts of product.
After Buck ate an alligator gumbo soup in the museum restaurant for his noon meal, there was a special showing of yet another movie, a documentary film about a fellow 65th Infantry Division solider called The Greatest Honor. The maker of the film, Kane Farabaugh, said he makes documentary films as a hobby at home.
The film was a tear-jerker about John Amm of the 260th Infantry Regiment, Company “C,” a platoon sergeant who left the military to return to farming after the war. Amm, in an interview late in life with Farabaugh, said his main goal was to keep his men alive. Before the documentary was complete, Amm died. The documentary has been shown, altered due to additional information, and then shown again.
The film tells the story about Amm’s family and presents interviews of both the Amm family and the family of the fallen soldier. Amm always carried four photographs, gruesome photos, in his wallet and he never spoke about the war to his family. The wallet with photos must have fallen out of Amm’s pocket as he plowed on his tractor one day. Many questions remain unanswered about several circumstances, but the lesson to learn is that we should get oral histories from our veterans. The 65th Infantry Division Association is proud to have been of assistance in a small way in the making of this documentary film.
There was another point driven home by the documentary. Farabaugh said that little visual imagery is available for the 65th Infantry since they were so far out in front. The 65th Infantry Division was on the tip of the spearhead, leaving cameramen and reporters behind as they made their way “the furthest fastest.”
The 65th Infantry Division was deactivated after VE Day (Victory in Europe Day). Most if not all of these soldiers remained in Europe until at least VJ Day (Victory in Japan Day) and came home as members of the Ninth Corp wearing a different patch than the one they wore when they first went to Europe.
One other event, although unplanned, must be mentioned about Buck’s New Orleans experience, an item connected more to Buck’s garden in Gorin that to the 65th Infantry Division. As five of us ate supper at a New Orleans restaurant called ‘Root,’ we were served turnip – with desert. You read it right; I could not believe it. ‘Root,’ is a highly touted place to eat in New Orleans, and they served a turnip puree under our desert, a squiggly white frothy line looking like a meandering river (kind of like the Mississippi River on a map). The turnip was an amazing taste surprise, shockingly powerful but sweet, and full of optimism.
Buck plants turnips in his garden at season’s end and he wants you to know he plants turnips with purple tops.
Like a reveille waking a soldier, that turnip had slap-your-face attitude. I like to think the turnip is similar to the pride of the 65th Infantry, something we can never forget. By the way, next year there will be another reunion.