Gary Oliver served just one year with the 1st Cavalry Division, but the unit will always feel like family, he said.
“It’s hard to describe,” said the 73-year-old Vietnam War veteran. “They say once in the cavalry, always in the cavalry.”
Oliver served with the 2nd Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, from 1965 to 1966 and was one of more than 500 veterans to visit Killeen and Fort Hood last week as part of the division’s annual reunion hosted by the 1st Cavalry Division Association.
The five-day event allowed veterans to reminisce about the past and get a glimpse of life in today’s cavalry.
“A successful reunion is when attendees come and get to see some of the people they served with and know from the reunions,” said retired Command Sgt. Maj. Dennis Webster, executive director of the association.
The reunion moves to different cities across the country, coming back to Killeen every other year, which allows for better interaction between past and present soldiers.
In talking to 18-year-old Pvt. Josue Camarillo during a vehicle display outside the division’s museum, Oliver learned they were both from Hemet, Calif. Camarillo graduated from the same high school Oliver’s granddaughter attends and is currently serving in the 12th Cavalry Regiment’s 1st Battalion.
“It’s a town of 60 or 70,000 people to run into a person of the same regiment, just 40 years later — it’s amazing,” Camarillo said.
The pair spoke for a while, and hugged before parting. Camarillo said meeting Oliver and the rest of the veterans had positively impacted his young military career.
“I joined the Army to give back and to see these veterans, some didn’t have a choice to join, but still had pride and served with honor. Now it’s my turn,” the cavalry scout said.
Aside from visiting Fort Hood, the reunion boasted several other events allowing veterans to visit with each other, including a banquet, luncheons and a golf tournament.
“The most important room is the reunion room,” Webster said. “It gives veterans a chance to sit around with one another and visit.”
Each reunion has one of these rooms open all afternoon and evening at the hotel, because while the events are important and enjoyed by many, it’s the people that make the reunion, Webster said.
“The reason our association formed in 1944 was because they wanted to see each other again after the war,” he said. “Each successive generation of cavalry troopers has done that.”
This was the 10th reunion Jim Burn attended and each year, he said it’s meeting these young troopers that he enjoys the most.
“They are fantastic,” said Burn, who traveled from Greenwood, Ind. “I’m overwhelmed with their ability and their dedication to what they do.”
Burn served just one year with the division, from 1966-1867, and described that time deployed to Vietnam as one the toughest and proudest times of his life. He repaired helicopters during that time and he said seeing today’s aviation mechanics is a night-to-day difference. He also said it’s nice to see women are allowed to step up and do his former job, which was all men during his time of service.
“I’ve known all along they could do the job, but they didn’t get the opportunity,” Burn said. “Now they have the opportunity and I think it’s fantastic.”
Next year’s First Team reunion will be in Chicago, Ill., in July and the 2016 reunion was approved to be in Las Vegas, Nev., Webster said.
He’s coordinated the reunions since 2002 and said something that really stood out to him this year was the support the surrounding community showed the veterans while they were around town in their Stetsons and T-shirts.
“There were lots of welcomes and thanks for your service,” he said. “I’m used to seeing that reaction toward active-duty soldiers. It expanded to the veterans in for the reunion.”
Contact Rose L. Thayer at email@example.com or (254) 501-7463. Follow her on Twitter at KDHmilitary.