By CATRINA FRANCIS
Gold Standard Senior Staff Writer
Rain, sleet and snow didn’t deter the almost-standing-room only crowd Friday as Fort Knox and the local communities paid homage to what many have called the “greatest generation” during the World War II barracks ribbon cutting at the General George Patton Museum of Leadership.
Of the more than 1,000 barracks built on Fort Knox from 1941 to 1945 only one stood after 70 years—Bldg. 7050, which was moved to its current location in the spring of 2011.
“We shape our buildings; thereafter, they shape us,” said Winston Churchill, the prime minister of England during World War II. This statement became the epitome of how the buildings shaped future Soldiers who would go on to fight not only World War II, but the Korean and Vietnam wars.
The buildings would also house a future Medal of Honor recipient—the late Master Sgt. Ernest Kouma, who also fought in World War II. Kouma earned the medal while serving as a tank commander in the 72nd Tank Battalion in Pusan, Korea. It’s estimated he killed 250 enemy soldiers.
The late retired Sgt. 1st Class Charlie Mitchell—a prisoner of war from June 1950 to August 1953— also lived in one of the barracks. Mitchell was one of 212 survivors of the infamous Tiger Death March where more than 75 percent of the captured were brutally murdered, died of dysentery, starvation or froze to death.
During the invocation Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Timothy Walls, the deputy garrison chaplain, said the barracks, “Will be a way to remember men and women of its greatest generation … those who enter its doors will be reminded of its good ole days. Let it be a reminder the cost of freedom is not free.”
The decades of those who lived in the barracks was illustrated through Fort Knox Soldiers dressed in period uniforms. The noncommissioned officers wore uniforms from World War II, the Korean and Vietnam wars, the Cold War and Desert Storm. The NCOs also escorted former Soldiers of those eras to the podium.
Maj. Gen. Jeff Smith, the Cadet Command and Fort Knox commanding general, said it was an honor to reflect on what the day meant. He said the barracks is a symbol of how connected Fort Knox is to its history.
“If we don’t see the depth of what the nation has gone through … I don’t think we will get it right for the future,” said Smith. “(It’s) ideal (that we) take the museum and all it represents and make it a keepsake.”
Smith also thanked Mike Weaver for his contributions during the barracks renovation.
“(Weaver) made what we are (doing) today a reality,” explained Smith. “The Army didn’t put one penny into the renovation of this barracks. This would not be possible without the contributions of the community.”
The special guest at the ceremony was former Miss America 2000 Heather French- Henry, the daughter of a disabled Vietnam War veteran, who has championed veteran rights by lobbying Congress and Senate on veteran issues and legislation. She said that the museum is something future generations should know about.
She also asked the audience, “Why do things like this? Why take money? Energy?” she asked. “When we do this it creates conversation. If we cannot teach them, the kindergarteners through fifth graders, how will they know?
“Through projects like this families will come and create that conversation. Because of the conversation … we are choosing to remember that piece of history.”
French-Henry also urged folks to remember what the country went through on Dec. 7, 1941—a day of infamy when Pearl Harbor was bombed by the Japanese.
“I think Dec. 7 taught us we have to be vigilant—ready,” she said, “and our military is ready. I think about the Korean War, my grandfather served in the Korean War. You are not forgotten. We learned sacrifice and humility. Because of what you went through (during the Vietnam War) we are providing a better platform for transition (for current Soldiers).”
French-Henry concluded by explaining how the military cares for its own by quoting a line spoken by President Abraham Lincoln at his second inauguration, and is now the Department of Veteran Affairs motto, “To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan,” which established the obligation the government has to care for those injured during the war and to provide for the Families of those who were killed on the battlefield.
“Those who are willing to sacrifice … for those of you who served you make me proud to be an American,” French-Henry said.