Originally created 03/18/03

Ceremony honors regiment



They were there for D-Day, the Battle of the Bulge and Operation Market Garden.

Today, members of headquarters company, 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division will gather at Fort Gordon as part of their 15th annual reunion. A ceremony honoring the veterans is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. at Freedom Park.

Almost 50 of the Red Devils spent part of the weekend in Augusta, reminiscing and getting reacquainted.

"It's been great," said 80-year-old Kenneth J. "Rock" Merritt, a retired command sergeant major in the 508th. "Most of them are the same group that come every year, with the exception now they are starting to bring their grandkids and great-grandkids."

Throughout World War II, the 508th participated in some of the most famous battles. At the end of the war, they spent time in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, as the honor guard for Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower's headquarters.

"We were the sharpest unit there on the post," Mr. Merritt said. "We wore Eisenhower jackets, jump boots, white scarves and white gloves. We controlled Frankfurt.... It was quite an honor."

This year's reunion marks the second time the group has met in Augusta. Mr. Merritt said there's a good reason for the return - the family of 508th member Larry Palmer. Although Mr. Palmer died in 1998, his family offered to organize the 2003 reunion.

"We jumped at the chance," Mr. Merritt said.

Mr. Palmer's son, Troy, said he's enjoyed talking with his father's old military mates.

"I'm finding out things about my dad that I never knew," he said.

Reach Jason B. Smith at (706) 868-1222, ext. 115, or jbsmith@augustachronicle.com.