... an unusual sequence of events
I am a World War II veteran of the Fourth US Army Infantry Division. The division has an association and, as a member, I am kept informed of the activities of the active duty personnel of the division.
A number of years ago the Fourth Infantry and Second Armored Divisions were combined into a new style division which became the most lethal fighting unit in the US Army. This was not the first time those two storied divisions had worked in tandem. Operation Cobra, more commonly known as the St. Lo Breakout, was launched on July 25, 1944. That attack resulted in the liberation of Paris and ultimately all of France, Belgium and Luxembourg. The operation was spearheaded by the Fourth and exploited and enlarged when the Infantrymen of the Fourth boarded the backs of the tanks of the Second Armored. Of course there were a number of other divisions involved but the Fourth Infantry and Second Armored Divisions were probably the key role players in the success of that attack.
In January of this year (2003) with war in Iraq impending, the division was alerted for transfer to Turkey, from which country they were supposed to invade Iraq when final orders came to do so. Shortly after the division was alerted all of the tanks, artillery, and fighting and reconnaissance vehicles were loaded on to 30 ships in two Gulf of Mexico ports to begin their voyage to the Mediterranean Sea. The troops themselves remained behind in Fort Hood, Texas to be sent to Turkey by commercial airplanes once their equipment had been unloaded.
The US Defense Department was so sure that Turkey, one of its NATO allies, would allow the use of its bases to launch the planned attack that they did not get prior approval from the Turkish government. Surprisingly, the request for the use of the bases was rebuffed and the ships carrying the equipment were forced to remain off shore while negotiations were ongoing. The request for landing rights was again submitted to the Turkish Parliament and was again rejected.
In late March the attempt to use Turkey as a launching site for the attack was abandoned and the ships were then ordered to proceed through the Suez Canal to Kuwait. So, for the better part of two months the ships were afloat in the Mediterranean. Those ships did not simply ride at anchor. They sailed around and anchored in harbors at Cyprus and Crete. (Above photo of Crete Mountains taken from cargo ship.)
The Fourth Infantry Division, as the combined division is still designated, has its home post at Fort Hood. The division has a museum on the post. I have a next door neighbor whose brother Patrick serves in the US Merchant Marine. He was a seaman on one of the transport ships. On each of the ships was a contingent of 15 soldiers from National Guard units who were in charge of security and maintenance of the vehicles and equipment. On board the ship on which Patrick served was a sergeant with a digital camera who took a large number of pictures of the voyage. He then burned the pictures on to two CDs and made copies which he gave to Patrick.
When Patrick, my neighbor's brother, learned that I was a veteran of the Fourth, he made copies of the CDs and gave them to me. I, in turn, contacted Celia Stratton, the curator of our museum and asked her if she would want copies. She jumped at the chance to get them because she said that the entire period that the equipment was afloat had been a complete mystery to her and the division headquarters personnel remaining on the post. When she received and viewed the CDs she sent me an E-mail expressing her gratitude for supplying the pictures that chronicled the two month odyssey that comprised such a very important event in the history of the division.
Since I sent the CDs to the museum I have pondered the extraordinary circumstances by which the pictures finally found a rightful home. What are the odds that a member of a shipboard contingent would take the pictures, burn them on to CDs and give copies to a seaman whose sister lived next door to a veteran of the Fourth Division who knew and was friendly with the curator of the Fourth Division Museum? To me the odds of all those circumstances falling into place seem astronomical.
The only way I could explain what had transpired was that it was meant to be.
Photos courtesy, 4th Infantry Division Museum, Ft. Hood, TX.
The Iraq War - a personal perspective - 6/6/03
Inside view: one soldier's journey - - 11/7/03
September 5, 2003