By Emily Baker
Killeen Daily Herald
FORT HOOD – Wally Wilken can remember looking down Battalion Avenue and seeing nothing but barracks lining the street.
He remembers walking back and forth between training and those barracks without having to watch out for cars.
Back then, what has grown into the Army's largest post was known as Camp Hood, and Wilken was learning to be a mechanic.
He'd soon deploy to Europe with Alpha Company, 818th Tank Destroyer Battalion and land on Utah Beach near Normandy, France, in July 1944. Then, he'd move across Europe to one of the most bitter fights of World War II, the Battle of the Bulge, which began in December 1944.
He found many benefits in the Army then, and Wilken and his wife still enjoy memories of that period of their lives. Nearly every year for the past 35 years, the Wilkens have attended the battalion's reunion.
They've watched families grow and more generations attend the reunions. On Thursday, the group gathered again, this time at Fort Hood, to see their old training area and tank destroyers similar to the ones they used during World War II.
At least four generations were represented in the group of about 50 people. They first had a memorial service at the Old Post Chapel, recalling and honoring in prayers each of the battalion's soldiers who died during the worldwide conflict, and the veterans and their wives who died in the past year.
Then, the group ate lunch at a post dining facility and toured the 4th Infantry Division's museum, where they saw exhibits from the division's beginnings through World War II and the current war in Iraq.
"There is a lot of reminiscing," Wilken said about seeing the old tank destroyers.
Wilken volunteered for the Army when he was in high school.
He was 18 years old and had high grades, so he qualified to leave school to join the military and got his diploma through the Army.
Army memories that stick out in Wilken's mind include using his helmet as a sink while he washed up, not taking his shoes and socks off for more than two weeks at a time, digging foxholes and the lack of flavor in rations, according to his written memoir on the battalion reunion group's Web site.
He also remembers some of the unpleasantries. He wrote about Adolf Hitler's concentration camps under a section titled, "Something from the war that is difficult to talk about, but I'd like future Americans to know."
"In Germany, we drove by one of Hitler's Death Camps, where there were still people there because they had no place to go," Wilken wrote. "I saw starved people and an open, common grave. It was something I never want to see again and hope no one ever will."
Sharing more pleasant memories makes the reunions
fun, said Wilken's wife, Beverly. The Wilkens, who live in Harbor City, Calif., are set to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary this December.
Beverly Wilken said she enjoys seeing her friends' families. The Wilkens' two daughters and sons-in-law often attend the reunions, which are held in different locations each year.
The Wilkens said they enjoyed seeing young soldiers at Fort Hood and hope other people consider joining the Army because Wilken liked serving so much.
"I have no regrets," said Wilken, who served for three years and one week. "I was happy with my service. I think every young kid out of high school should join the service, regardless of what he wants to do. He should spend two years in the service and then decide what to do."
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