A handful of veterans that served in a special operations unit in World War II traveled to Vermont’s Camp Ethan Allen Training Site Friday, to meet modern-day soldiers whose skills include some techniques pioneered in combat more than 70 years ago.
“It’s wonderful as one generation of soldier to honor previous generations of soldiers,” said Maj. Steve Gagner of the Vermont National Guard.
The visit was part of a reunion for members of the MARS Task Force.
The MARS Task Force, sometimes known as “the mule-packers,” was an Army special ops unit that faced dangerous conditions in southeast Asia as part of the offensive against Japanese forces.
Even today, the Army Mountain Warfare School discusses the unit’s ingenuity in transporting artillery and supplies through harsh terrain—using mules and intelligent packing methods.
The unit also is held in high regard today for its contributions to a decentralized command style, skills in using artillery in mountain areas, and approaches to long-range penetration of territory, Gagner said.
Vet Art Naff of Pennsylvania told necn there were two things driving the men during their service in WWII: “Duty and loyalty to the country,” Neff said, adding that he still feels those today.
Earl Mahl made the trip from Ohio, with a bonus of getting to visit his grandson, who’s based in Vermont as part of a regiment specializing in mountain operations.
“A lot of the things are still the basics,” Mahl said of the fundamentals of military field operations.
Sgt. 1st Class Matt Kehaya of the 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team loved hearing the stories from his granddad and Mahl’s buddies.
“The experiences these guys have gone through is pretty relevant, still today—of some of the things you’re going to encounter in the mountains of Afghanistan,” Kehaya said, offering an example of how contemporary soldiers are regularly asked to operate in harsh conditions and terrain.
With the nation so quickly losing its World War II vets, the sense at the tour of the Ethan Allen Training Site was that get-togethers like this will produce treasured memories.
When asked what he was looking forward to about the visit, veteran Charles McGaw of Maine laughed, saying, “Sitting down and having a couple beers!”