At 90, Quentin Barrington of Houston couldn’t be blamed if he wanted to stay at home instead of trekking to Waco for an old soldiers’ reunion.
But the frail senior, survivor of a stroke eight years ago and member of the Greatest Generation, wouldn’t miss it for all the world, according to his daughter Viki. She brought him to a summer gathering of the 143rd Infantry at the Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Hewitt.
Viki has brought her father to visit with his war buddies for more than 20 years, she said. He was among a handful of World War II vets attending this summer’s reunion of the 143rd Infantry, the men who wore the T-Patch of the U.S. Army’s 36th Division.
The unit was known as the “T-Patchers” because of the large “T” in the middle of the blue arrowhead on the insignia. The “T” represents Texans, who comprised a majority of the National Guard division; the arrowhead is for the Oklahomans who also served in the division.
Viki noted that her father was one of only four members of Company M’s original cohort of 244 still around to reminisce about the war.
Before a stroke took his speech, she said, he told stories about being sent by the Army to Cape Cod, Mass., to train for German winters, only to find himself on a boat bound for North Africa in April 1943. He was part of the original “invasion of Fortress Europe,” the Italian campaign of autumn 1943, the disastrous crossing of the Rapiddo River in January 1944 and the triumphant taking of Rome in June 1944.
Barrington, a sergeant, was wounded during the Battle of the Bulge while defending his position against the Germans. During the 36th’s drive into Bavaria, his division overran some of the subcamps of the Dachau concentration camp and liberated them on April 30, 1945.
He saw Marlene Dietrich, the German-born actress and singer who became an American in 1939. She paid back her adopted country by entertaining the frontline troops. Viki said her dad was quite taken by the glamorous entertainer.
Now a high school teacher in Houston, Viki said she has heard the soldiers’ stories for so long, “they’ve become my family.”
With the Greatest Generation passing away at the rate of about 1,500 per day, World War II reunions are quickly becoming gatherings for their children and grandchildren.
Mary Duty, president of the Heart of Texas Chapter Blue Star Mothers, lauded the vets in her midst as “the original citizen soldiers, the pride of the republic.”
The GIs who did battle with the mules, mud and mountains of Southern Italy “were the first Allied boots on the ground,” Duty said. “Not to put down the folks at D-Day, but these fellas did it almost a whole year earlier.”
Duty said the reunion becomes more poignant each year, as the torch is passed to subsequent generations to honor the sacrifices of these veterans.
“The children and the grandchildren take up the banner now,” she said.
The 143rd was comprised largely of farmers’ sons, the young men who joined the Texas National Guard in the late 1930s or early ’40s for $1 per drill, two drills a month, the basic pay. Company K was made up mostly of Waco residents, Duty added.
The Blue Star Mothers and members of Boy Scout Troop 308 were joined by fourth-graders from Provident Heights Elementary in packing boxes for the current members of the 143rd, who serve in Afghanistan. Besides non-perishable goodies for the troops, supporters packed water guns, beach balls and Independence Day party favors for the soldiers to observe the holiday.
The Texas Ranger Hall of Fame in Waco is the site of a memorial to the 143rd Infantry, 36th Division. It bears the inscription: “Dedicated in reverent memory of and to proudly honor all those who served — June 3, 1989.”
The museum is located on the site of old Fort Fisher, the Texas Rangers outpost built in 1837 on the banks of the Brazos River. The Waco frontier militia men who later morphed into the 143rd Infantry, Texas National Guard, were organized on Feb. 21, 1879, as the 3d Regiment of Infantry, Texas Volunteer Guard.
This troop later served during the Spanish-American War as occupation forces in Cuba; during unrest on the Mexican border (1916-1917), and in World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam before the current global war on terror.
During the memorial service at the conclusion of the reunion, soldiers who have died in the past year were acknowledged by 143rd Infantry Association organizer Robert Hawkins. Two soldiers who were killed in Afghanistan last fall were recognized, as well as the World War II veterans.