82nd Airborne Division shines in annual review at Fort Bragg
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — Paratroopers past and present were honored Thursday when the 82nd Airborne Division wrapped up its week-long celebration of the unit.
All American Week ended with a Division Review and Division Memorial service. The events are among the highlights of the annual celebration that draws veterans and families from across the country.
On Pike Field, more than 15,000 of the division's 19,000 soldiers were on display before more than 1,000 spectators.
The remaining 3,000 soldiers are deployed to Afghanistan, officials said.
"Those deployed and the paratroopers in front of you are the finest young people in America," said Maj. Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr., commanding general of the division.
The review — attended by family, friends and veterans of the 82nd Airborne Division — included a performance by the Army Golden Knights parachute team, the All-American Chorus and a parade of soldiers, their equipment and vehicles, including helicopters.
It was an impressive sight, said retired Lt. Gen. David E. Grange Jr., the review's guest speaker.
Grange, the first of three generations of paratroopers to serve in the 82nd Airborne Division, spoke of his 41-year career, which included three combat jumps, three Silver Stars, the Distinguished Flying Cross and a litany of other awards and honors.
"I got my start here," Grange told the paratroopers on Pike Field.
Grange spoke of World War II and D-Day, when "the entire world was holding their breaths to see what was happening in Normandy."
All American Week paid homage to the 70th anniversary of D-Day this year, and at least two veterans who participated in the campaign marched as part of the review.
Grange said he wanted to be a paratrooper when he joined the Army in 1943, and said paratroopers remain among the best in the military.
"You've heard of the greatest generation, well you're a great generation," he said. "Every generation that comes out of Fort Bragg is part of a great generation."
Following the review, 82nd Airborne officials recognized the 250 soldiers the unit has lost in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The annual memorial ceremony at the 82 Airborne Division War Memorial Museum pays homage to those fallen paratroopers and their Gold Star families.
The event included a moment of silence, wreath laying and other honors.
Stan and Shirley White, who drove from West Virginia for the ceremony, said the memorial was an opportunity for them to heal.
Their son, Staff Sgt. Robert White, was killed at age 34 on Sept. 26, 2005, in Afghanistan and the pair have attended every Division Memorial since.
"We'll be here until we have no breath left," Shirley White said. "He loved the 82nd. He's be glad we're here."
Stan White said the memorials, where 82nd Airborne officials read each of the names of soldiers lost in the most recent wars, haven't gotten any easier.
"You just learn how to cope," he said. "The pain's still there."
But, the two said, they feel like more than just guests as they are surrounded by other families who have lost loved ones.
"It's more like family," Shirley White said. "We always come back. We shed our tears together."