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After 68 years, ‘Battling Buzzards’ reunite for last time at Fort Benning

COLUMBUS, Ga. -- Members of a World War II combat unit known as the “Battling Buzzards” returned to Fort Benning’s Eubanks Field for the last time Friday during a reunion at the jump school.

“This is the end of the line,” Marvin Moles said as 435 Airborne graduates were presented jump wings during a 9 a.m. ceremony. “We are back where we started in 1943.”

Moles of Dublin, Va., was one of 30 members of the 517th Parachute Regimental Combat Team who came to Fort Benning to watch an Airborne graduation ceremony similar to the one that turned them into elite paratroopers 68 years ago. It was the last reunion for the soldiers, many in their late 80s and early 90s. The soldiers saw heavy action in Italy, southern France and the Battle of the Bulge during World War II but couldn’t have been successful on the battlefield without training at Fort Benning and at Camp Toccoa in north Georgia.

Moles recalled how soldiers were ordered to run 1,500 yards to determine the best soldiers to fight. At Fort Benning, Moles said none of the soldiers in training failed to get through jump school.

“That’s a pretty good record,” he said.

After jump school and another six months of advance training, Moles fought two battles in Italy before his unit jumped into the dark during the invasion of southern France on Aug. 15, 1944. Landing some 35 to 40 miles off their course, Moles said he watched one of his fellow soldiers drop through a tiled roof.

“You just went out the plane,” he said. “My plane was slow and my chute was open when I hit the ground. I was relieved to get on ground.”

And so was Joe Calder of Raleigh, N.C. For Calder, the invasion of France brought back memories of jump training at Fort Benning.

Calder, 89, said he could have been lost if he had parachuted into one of the large wells in France.

“In France, they had great big wells,” he said using his hands to describe the opening. “If I had been about a foot farther that way, I would have went down that damn well.”

The 517th were scattered and that forced some of the combat team to join lost British paratroopers.

“It was a band of about 100 of us,” Calder said.

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