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The Idea Phase
The 506th Airborne Infantry Regiment Association (Airmobile-Air Assault) grew from the idea of two Vietnam War veterans from the 506th - Bob Acklen (B&C, 3rd Bn-1969/70) and Gene Overton (C, 1st Bn-1967/68). They had met through their involvement with the 101st Association and shared a dream to bring together all Currahees in an organization designed to contact all who served with the 506th, to preserve the history of the regiment, and to honor those who gave much or in their service. Bob and Gene knew that the establishment of a veterans' organization dedicated to those who served with the 506th would be the most effective way to realize their dream. They initially focused their efforts on gathering the names and addresses of former Currahees during the fall of 1995 in the hopes of generating interest and support for their dream.
They mailed the first newsletter in December, 1995 to about 450 Currahees. This mailing combined with the outreach efforts by Bob and Gene and aided by the contacts and efforts of Brise Bickerton (HHC/B/C/E, 1st Bn-1967/69) and Terry Van Meter (HHC/B/C 2nd Bn-1966/68) expanded the mailing list to 800 Currahees by May of 1996. They used the feedback and contacts they had developed to plan and promote a gathering of Vietnam-era Currahees near Fort Campbell, Kentucky during the 101st Airborne Division's Week of the Eagle Celebration (July 11-13, 1996) in conjunction with the Division's dedication ceremony of “The Screaming Eagle Vietnam Veterans Monument”. The purpose of the meeting was to present the idea of forming an 506th veterans association to those attending to determine interest and generate support for the effort that would be required to make their dream a reality.
Start-up - Pre-organization Phase
The first organizational meeting of 53 of the 88 Currahees attending the 101st Week of the Eagle occurred at the Wilson Theater at Fort Campbell on July 13, 1996. This reunion was the first significant event to involve all generations of Currahees from their earliest days at Camp Toccoa. Previous events had been largely directed at the veterans of the World War II period. It was immediately apparent that the regimental identity had persisted as a strong and a constant bond. The history of accomplishments the decades had been a source of pride to those in attendance despite the many reorganizations in the Army through the years.
The meeting allowed Bob, Gene, Brise and Terry to share their vision of a tax-exempt veterans' association dedicated to preserving and celebrating the history and legacy of the Currahees by bringing together veterans of all eras with active duty soldiers. The vision and concept was received enthusiastically by the assembled veterans who welcomed the opportunity of reconnecting and building on the bonds of service.
The presentation caused Mike Metzger (HHC/B/C/D, 1st Bn-1966/68) to make suggestions and to volunteer to serve with Bob, Gene, Terry and Brise on the initial five-man Charter Committee to develop the concept into a viable organizational plan. Mike contributed his business background and resources to the development of the contact database and the creation of the organizational structure and documents. Jay A. Schrom (A, 2nd Bn-1968) volunteered to lead the development of the first Currahee website to promote contacts and share the history and activities of the fledgling organization.
The Currahee website (www.506infantry.org) came online in November 1996 thanks to Jay’s efforts and it provided an internet platform for contacting the growing number of Currahees looking for the opportunity to connect. The website grew in size and value as it evolved from a communication vehicle into an extensive website of historic and contemporary memorabilia. It was to become a welcome and prominent feature of the Association.
The Charter Committee determined that it was of critical importance to obtain feedback and support for the proposed association from the World War II era veterans as most of those in attendance at Wilson Theater were from the Airborne Battle Group era or Vietnam era. Gene, Bob and Brise therefore attended the 101st Airborne Division Association's 1996 Reunion in St. Louis, Missouri on August 8 - 10, 1996. They presented the concept to the forty to fifty WW II era Currahee veterans attending the 506th Unit Meeting on Saturday, August 10th. The proposed association broad objective of being open to all Currahees, from the Regiment's beginning in 1942 to the present was presented and discussed. After much discussion of the benefits of preserving the legacy of the Regiment, the overwhelming majority of the World War II Currahees agreed that they would support and participate in the proposed association.
In addition, contact was re-established with the active duty Currahees through LTC Mark A. Milley (1st Bn CO-1996/98), Commander of the 1st Battalion, 506th Infantry (Air Assault), 2nd Infantry Division, then at Camp Greaves, South Korea. This provided for the early opportunity to include and obtain the support of the active duty troops in the formation of the association.
The Charter Committee continued to develop contacts, develop support and organizational mission concepts and gather financial donations for support of the process. The next major opportunity to meet was at the 1997 Currahee Veterans Reunion in Knoxville, Tennessee, which was again held in conjunction with the 101st Airborne Division Association's reunion. The veterans attending included 68 Currahees whose service spanned the entire period of existence of the regiment. The largest group of troopers was 39 from the WWII era, followed by 25 troopers from the Vietnam era.
Interim Start-up and Management Phase
The reunion held at the Silver Legacy Hotel/Casino in Reno, NV from July 16-19, 1998 was an inspirational and critical event that solidified the commitment to the creation of the 506th Association. Inspirational moments included the unexpected reunion of a couple vacationing at the hotel with a high school friend who they had not seen since they enlisted in WWII and were sent to separate theaters of operation. Another inspirational moment was the meeting of the parents of a 506th trooper killed in action in Vietnam with the commander of his unit who had served with their son.
The formation discussion part of the reunion resulted in the replacement of the Charter Committee with an elected Interim Board of Directors with Mike Metzger as Chairman, Bob Acklen as Co-President and Newsletter Editor, and Gene Overton as Co-President and Treasurer. Other interim Board members were: Terry Van Meter, Resty Habon, Sam Knipmeyer, Doug Mullens, Jim Stinebaker, Ken Parr, Bill Rybolt, Jay Schrom, Mike Bookser, Barry Dussault, and Bruce Moore.
The Interim Board established membership dues and began the process of registering members. When Bob became terminally ill in the fall of 1998 Gene Overton assumed all of the duties of President while Hoyt “Bruce” Moore III (A, 1st Bn-1970/71) and his wife, Peggy, traveled to Bob’s home to gather the records and then took over the duties of Treasurer and Assistant Webmaster.
The Interim Board established a Bylaws Committee consisting of Mike Metzger, Gene Overton and Bruce Moore. The Committee worked through the next year and one-half in drafting proposals and gathering feedback from the Interim Board and other members to develop the basis for the Association Bylaws, which were proposed in March 2000 and adopted by written ballot as of April 30, 2000. The Articles of Incorporation were filed and accepted by the California Secretary of State as of August 31, 2000 and the dream of the Association Founders was realized.
A formal newsletter was published from the early days of the organization, with Gene Overton serving as first editor. By the end of the first decade, it had grown to include as many as two dozen pages of news for and about Currahees in each issue. More recently, the website was complemented by a Currahee blog, or web log (www.506infantry.blogspot.com), which provided another avenue of communications to and among veterans and active duty troops.
The website grew in size and value as it evolved from a communication vehicle into an extensive website of historic and contemporary memorabilia. It was to become a welcome and prominent feature of the Association, visited by millions for popular or scholarly research. Today, hosting services are provided gratis by a Currahee veteran, Jim Restucci (HHC & A, 1st Bn-1993/94), and his ISP firm, Axxess Internet Services. Another 506th Vietnam veteran, Mike Bookser (B & E, 1st Bn-1969/70), serves with Bruce Moore as Webmaster and keeper of our electronic heritage.
Bruce and Peggy Moore carried the administrative and financial operations load for the Association from Bob’s incapacity in late 1998 through mid-2013 when a professional association management company was engaged to provide operational and financial management support. The extent of the volunteer contribution by Bruce and Peggy and the essential services they provided throughout this period cannot be fully described but to say that their dedication provided the foundation for the successful development of the Association during this period.
An extensive Quartermaster function was created and operated by veteran Ron Helwig (B, 1st ABG-1960/62), selling Currahee-marked apparel and mementos to members and the public. A creative, popular and financial success, the QM store has become a strong anchor point for the association's economic health.
During this period, and in response to an extended tour of duty doing peacekeeping along the DMZ in Korea and to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Association strengthened its ties with the active duty 506th units.
Vietnam Currahee veteran Fred May(A Co, 1st Bn-1970-71) initiated a strong and continuing relationship with active duty command and troops beginning with his visit to Camp Greaves, Korea just prior to the unit’s deployment to Iraq in 2004 and continuing through subsequent rotations and deployments to Afghanistan. Fred has continued his involvement as the Association's Active Duty/Veteran Liaison with the ongoing assistance and involvement of Gene Overton.
Fred has also lead in the development and operation of the Association’s charitable and morale support programs, which were started to provide significant and tangible assistance to our soldiers:
Another significant program addition was the hospital and funeral visitations initiated by dedicated Currahee veterans and now led by Bob Seitz, COL (Ret). These programs began after the deployment of the 506th to Iraq and later to Afghanistan resulted in war casualties. This dedicated group of veterans has visited recovering wounded veterans in as many as thirteen hospitals across the country. Still others have taken on the solemn responsibility for carrying the respects and sympathies of all Currahee veterans to graveside ceremonies for Currahees killed in action.
This strong relationship between veterans and active duty troops spawned two new support initiatives: the financial backing of the Currahee Rendezvous '09 and the fundraising effort for a monument to the 1400+ soldiers of the regiment that were killed in action from Normandy in 1944 through Afghanistan in 2009.
Beyond these formal programs, the Association has also made a difference in the lives of many families in smaller ways. Rarely does a month go by without some communication from veterans, friends or family members with poignant stories of needs met with the assistance of people in this organization:
Several significant changes took place beginning in 2012. A new mentoring program developed by Bob Seitz was put into place to match up experienced veterans with transitioning active duty soldiers, and the first comprehensive strategic plan for the Association was completed in the fall of 2012. Among its conclusions was the determination that the steady growth in both rostered and dues-paying members and the increasing support programs for the deployed troops was in danger of overwhelming the volunteer capacity. With the coming of some key retirements in leadership positions, the Board undertook a competitive process to engage an administrative support services company. The Board selected Association Resources Center of Folsom, CA as its association management firm.
The Association also began in 2012 the process of integrating into its membership the World War II veterans of the “Five-0-Sink” Association, named for the regiment’s first commander, COL Robert Sink. This was successfully completed in 2013.
The vision that directed the creation of the Association remains intact - reverence for the distinguished history of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment and its successors as a regimental entity; unwavering support for the current generation of Currahees; and the continuing strengthening of the bonds among all Currahees through communication and support activities.