World War II vets gather for final reunion

September 4, 2010 9:37:42 AM PDT
Members of the 104th Infantry Division are reuniting this week in Chicago.

The U.S. Army Timberwolf Division served proudly together in World War II but say this will be their last official reunion.

It was 66 years ago this month that the 104th Infantry Division landed in France. They would sweep through Belgium, Holland, and Germany, solidifying their place in World War II history.

It was called a reunion but the men of the 104th will tell you they have never felt apart.

"If I think about it, it brings tears to my eyes. It's very meaningful," said Bob Huber, 104th Infantry Division.

Every year since 1945, these men and their loved ones have gathered somewhere in the U.S. For some, it's a window to who they are.

"There was a young lady looking for somebody that knew what happened to her father, and I happened to be with her father when he got killed. And it was a sad moment when I had to tell her what happened to him," said Frank Strebel, 104th Infantry Division.

This reunion - their 65th - is the Timberwolves' last. The division of 34,000 men is now down to a few hundred.

"People say, oh we can't stop, but then we're just getting so frail," said Huber. "I keep getting tears in my eyes."

Joe Schallmoser, 87, of Chicago earned a distinguished service cross.

"Believe in yourself. The one thing, you have to believe in yourself," said Schallmoser. He moves a little slower now but still drinks a toast to his friends every day.

"I drink a lot of beers!" said Schallmoser when asked what his secret is. "And I smile. I smile. I'm so grateful."

All the men are grateful. And so is Esther Eenhuizen who came all the way from the Netherlands to bring thanks from her hometown, Standdaarbuiten, which the Timberwolves helped free.

"Without these wonderful men, maybe we would be speaking German right now," said Eenhuizen. The 104th was led by General Terry De La Mesa Allen. He died in 1969 but his pride in this division lives on. What did these men mean to him?

"Pretty much everything?He really felt that in order for the men to fight well, they had to have an allegiance to themselves, their country, and their division," said Mary Frances Pedraza, Gen. Allen's granddaughter.

Their motto is "nothing in hell can stop the Timberwolves."

Nothing, it seems, but time.

"It's the only thing. Time is the only thing that's going to stop us," said Bacon.

The men and their loved ones will be in Chicago through the weekend. They have had a full schedule this week of city tours, boat rides and dinner events. They have also held a Catholic Mass every day to honor their friends who have died.

This may be the last official reunion but many plan to gather with others on their own.


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