Desert Storm comabt veterans reunited

Capt. Keith Fitzgerald (Ret.) (right) shakes hands with the general who led him into battle during Operation Desert Storm, Maj. Gen. Thomas Rhame (Ret).

The Officers of the First Division dinner takes place Junction City Saturday night — the first time in its 98-year history that it’s been held here, near the home of the 1st Infantry Division, instead of Washington, D.C or New York.

Thursday night, however, veterans of Operation Desert Storm held their own, special dinner at Munson’s Prime to celebrate the bonds they formed in combat over the course of that 100-hour war.

The bond formed with people one has served in combat with is different than the bond formed with almost anyone else according to men and women who went to war in Desert Storm.

Col. Gregory Fontenot (Ret.) describes it as “a lifelong bond.”

He feels a quote from a young private of his acquaintance sums up the feelings he — and many others — had during their service.

“She said ‘mission first, soldier second, self last,’” Fontenot said. “That embodied the essence of what it was like ... these young kids that went to war and these soldiers that are old soldiers now that led them really, really believed in the motto ‘no mission too difficult, no sacrifice too great. Duty first.’”

“These are special people who endured a great deal of hardship,” Maj. Gen. Thomas Rhame, who led 1st Infantry Division soldiers in Desert Storm, said.

This includes the spouses who only two years ago were allowed to attend the Officers of the First Division dinner after attendance began to flag.

Many spouses came to the dinner at Munson’s Prime Thursday.

“The war embodied soldiers, spouses, families, parents — it really was different then,” Fontenot said.

Families were as much a part of the war as their sons and daughters who fought.

Fontenot recalls the local community, including merchants in Junction City, pitching in to help soldiers deployed in Iraq during Desert Storm.

Mayor Phyllis Fitzgerald, a former intelligence officer, fought in Operation Desert Storm and found herself excited and a bit nervous to spend time with people she once fought beside — many of whom she hasn’t seen in years.

She’s looking forward to “seeing my comrades that I haven’t seen in 26 or more years,” she said.

Saturday will be her first time attending the Officers of the First Division dinner.

“I went back on post today and my heart hurt,” Rhame said. “I just want to be 50 again and do it all over again.”

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