FORT LEE, Va. (July 28, 2011) -- What started with a hat and grew into an anticipated occasion ended last week on strong notes of camaraderie and reflection.
Members of Officer Candidate School Class 66-16 of the Quartermaster School converged at Fort Lee July 19-20 for its first reunion, filling in the gaps of nearly 50 years since they were 20-somethings starting their careers in a very different Army.
"This is about the camaraderie that people have when they serve in the military," said Ron Demery, the reunion's organizer. "It's different than a college or high school graduation class. You can spend four years in school with someone, and on the other hand, you can spend six months in the military with someone and you're buddies with him for life. It's just a different feeling when you serve with someone in the military."
Class 66-16 had plenty to bond them. They were the first OCS class to take the oath at Fort Lee since 1946. Furthermore, they raised their hands at the height of the Vietnam War, volunteering for duty as officers in the age of the draft. Many of them wound up in the jungles of Southeast Asia.
Demery and many of his classmates were among those to serve in Vietnam. He was a member of 575th Supply Company that served there and routinely wears a hat embroidered with the unit name and its location during the war, Cam Ranh Bay. A member of his platoon, retired Sgt. Maj. Arthur W. Snyder, a Colonial Heights resident and member of the Quartermaster Foundation, wears his proudly as well. The reunion idea began with his hat.
"The son of a classmate saw the cap and said, ‘My father was there, and he was in your unit,'" said Demery. "My friend (Snyder) called me, I called my classmate, who wasn't in our unit but was in OCS with me, and that's how this all got started."
That was a year ago. Demery, who has organized several 575th reunions, located 78 of the 90 Soldiers in preparation for the first Class 66-16 Reunion.
"Twenty of them were deceased, and we've since lost two since we started locating people," said Demery.
The reunion attracted 61 people to Fort Lee to celebrate the nine weeks they spent here 45 years ago (the first 13 weeks were spent at Fort Knox, Ky.). Attending were 27 classmates, six cadre and a number of wives. They were welcomed by Brig. Gen. Gwen Bingham, the 51st QM General, visited a number of training facilities to include the sprawling new Ordnance Campus and dedicated a paver at the QM Museum. Retired Capt. Henry Ashcraft, a resident of Oklahoma City, said the occasion brought to mind the spirit of support the class exemplified when it came together 45 years ago.
"We were all young guys then," he said. "Some of us had been in the military for a while and some had just gotten in, and we helped each other to grow, to get through the journey. We all went our separate ways, but we all contributed something."
Retired Capt. Billy Tummond, who was last at Fort Lee in 1969, said he hadn't seen many of his classmates since 1966, and it was imperative to reacquaint himself with an important event in his life.
"This is the first and only reunion we've ever had," said the Lake Alford, Fla., resident. "When you get to be our age, you might not be around if they had a reunion next week. So, it was nice to give it a shot; it was nice to see all the old guys."
Retired Maj. John Cather had a similar sentiment. He said he hadn't seen many of the class members since 1966, and it brought life to a major chapter in his career as a Soldier.
"This means quite a bit," he said of the gathering, struggling to finish his thoughts.
Aside from catching up on each other's lives, the reunion attendees all expressed wonderment at how much Fort Lee has changed. Ashcraft was last at Fort Lee in 1972 and struggled with the images of the installation today.
"I didn't recognize anything here except for the exchange (now the PXtra) and the old movie theater (now the Lee Theater)," he said. "Things have changed so much."
The Army has changed as well, said Tummond, full of the images he saw of young Soldiers at the rigger training facility and Ordnance Campus he visited. He seemed to marvel at how the Army, as an institution, just keeps marching on.
"It's just amazing how much the army has changed," he said. "The Army just goes on, and it seems to just get better and better."
The Class 66-16 completed its reunion 72 miles south in Littleton, N.C., where they had a recreational outing.