I’ve interviewed veterans from privates to generals, but that wasn’t my task on June 16. I just happened to be in the parking lot at Cole Land Transportation Museum when retired Col. George C. Benjamin arrived there on his way to the final banquet of the 5th Armored Division Association at Bangor Auditorium.
We don’t know how many of the 5th Armored’s 12,000 members from the 1940s are still living, but it seems clear that Benjamin is the senior ranking officer of the association, which closed down at the end of its 66th reunion.
I shadowed the colonel, 96, as he made a visit to the museum’s 5th Armored Room, which contains not only World War II mementoes but a wall map showing the Victory Division’s path during World War II.
Benjamin was the executive officer of the 47th Armored Infantry Battalion before becoming commanding officer of the 85th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron.
He grew up in the Berkshires in Massachusetts, but has lived in Auburn with wife Ruth for more than 40 years.
Other members of the 5th Armored attending the last reunion were: Harland Dunham, Ellsworth, 34th Tank Battalion; Galen Cole, Bangor, 46th Armored Artillery Battalion; Albert Thomas, 10th Tank Battalion; Amos Cambron, 47th Armored Field Artillery Battalion; Chester Hocker, 387th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion; Patrick Phelps, 81st Tank Battalion; Paul Marshall, 387th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion; Carmen Cambarare, 387th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion; Victor Musial, 387th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion; Robert Steckler, 707th Tank Battalion; and Richard Brown, 85th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron.
Accompanying these members to the July 14-17 reunion were more than 70 relatives, friends and associate members. Four generations of the family of Maj. Gen. Lunsford Oliver attended, including son Dr. Thomas Oliver, himself a World War II pilot who was shot down over Yugoslavia and missing in action for three months.
One of the highlights of the group reunion was a candlelight ceremony led by Victor Musial, reading the history of the division. Each of the division’s 25 units was represented by an empty vase, a flower and a lit candle. As each unit was named, a representative stepped forward to blow out the candle and place the flower in the vase.
There weren’t enough 5th Armored members to represent all 25 units, so they were joined by relatives attending and several volunteers from the Cole Museum who are veterans of World War II and Korea: Harold Beal, Austin Carter, Ralph Goss, Lee Higgins, George Lindeman, Ray Parsons, Norman Rossignol, Henry Stupakewicz, Paul Wilbur and Al Gibson.
Hermon Junior ROTC provided the color guard for the ceremony: Cadet Lt. Col. Chris Arnold, Cadet Command Sgt. Maj. Kasey Holland, Cadet Pfc Bradley Robinson and their instructor, retired Maj. Marcel Fortier. Also participating in the banquet was the Marine Corps League.
One of the many achievements of the 5th Armored Division during World War II was liberating the tiny nation of Luxembourg — twice. Luxembourg citizen Constant Goergen, co-founder and honorary president of the U.S. Veterans-Friends Luxembourg, has guided hundreds of Americans through the American Military Cemetery in Hamm, where more than 5,000 American servicemen are buried. Members of his group also see to it that each of the graves is marked with a flower on Memorial Day.
Goergen, who was a youngster during World War II, living under the rules of the German occupiers, attended the final reunion of the 5th Armored Division to thank the veterans, the 5th Armored and America for restoring freedom to Luxembourg.
The Bangor Children’s Choir, originally founded to participate in the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II, sang “White Cliffs of Dover” and “Do You Remember?” the latter arranged by Luxembourg citizen Gilbert Kohn.
The evening concluded with the 300 people attending singing “God Bless America,” accompanied by Hal Wheeler on trumpet. But the last words of the 5th Armored Division were given by Colonel Benjamin, who paid tribute to the 12,000 people who served in the Victory Division and challenged young people to keep America free.
Reunions celebrate the bonds shared by families, schools, military units and organizations. The people who attend may be many or few, gathering for an afternoon or several days. A newsletter printed after the reunion can be part of the group’s records, and can help those not able to attend to feel a part of the event.
It was a privilege to be one of the 300 people who attended the last gathering of the 5th Armored Division of World War II.
One of the few days when Maine Maritime Academy’s Schooner Bowdoin is at her home berth this summer has been set aside for a special open house, or “open boat.” On Friday, July 27, the Castine Historical Society will extend its seasonal exhibit, “Schooner Bowdoin on the Greenland Patrol,” to the Maine Maritime Academy waterfront. The Bowdoin will be open to the public for tours from 9:30 a.m. until 12:30 p.m.
The schooner’s captain and crew, MMA faculty and others involved in developing the joint CHS-MMA exhibit about the vessel’s extraordinary World War II service will be on hand to answer questions.
The Castine Historical Society is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 1-4 p.m. Sunday through Labor Day. The society offers a permanent exhibit on the Penobscot Expedition of 1779 and a gift shop at its location in the Abbott School on the town common in Castine. For more information, visit CHS at www.castinehistoricalsociety.org, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 326-4118.
The Maine Old Cemetery Association will hold its summer meeting on Saturday, July 28, at the Milo Town Hall, 6 Pleasant St., Milo. Registration will be held 8:30-9:15 a.m., and the fee is $3. If you haven’t made a reservation for lunch, take along a bag lunch.
For information on researching family history in Maine, see Genealogy Resources under Family Ties at bangordailynews.com/browse/family-ties. Send genealogy queries to Family Ties, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402, or email email@example.com.