Commissioner prepares for reunion Richard T. Yates joining comrades this weekend from the 314th Regiment

July 26, 1996|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

County Commissioner Richard T. Yates has been dusting off old war stories and leafing through his regimental yearbook this week in preparation for the 50th reunion of his combat infantry unit.

The reunion of the 314th Infantry Regiment of the 79th Division is scheduled in Cleveland this weekend.

About 100 veterans are expected to attend the event with their spouses.

Yates has attended about 35 of the reunions and played host to one in Carroll County in 1991.

"The wives go shopping or on a bus trip while we talk," Yates said. "You hear the same stories -- some true, some bull -- over and over and over every year.

"Guys protected your butts and you projected theirs. It's a camaraderie that just won't go away."

Yates joined the 314th in London in April 1945 at age 19. He was sent to France 11 days after the Normandy invasion and entered combat shortly afterward in Cherbourg.

He saw action next in La Haye du Puys, where the 79th -- called "the best attack unit in the American Army by the German high command," Yates says -- lost almost 3,000 men.

Yates was wounded in that battle -- punctured nine times by shrapnel, including a piece of one of his own grenades.

A fragment from that grenade is framed on the wall in Yates' office along with a display of Army memorabilia that includes his Bronze Star and Purple Heart medals and his Combat Infantryman's badge.

The Cleveland festivities begin tonight with a buffet dinner and dance and continue tomorrow with a formal dinner and dance.

"In the early years, we used to throw money on the stage to keep the band playing," Yates said.

"But now, when it's 11 p.m., the dancing's over and everybody goes back to their rooms.

"Time takes its toll in many ways."

Yates, 70, describes himself as "one of the babies of the outfit." Most of the veterans are in their mid- to late 70s, 80s or early 90s, he said.

Attrition by death has been occurring at a rate of about 15 soldiers a year, he estimates.

"We lost our colonel [the regimental commander] this year. He was 95. We still have a lot of junior officers -- although they're not junior any more."

Sunday, the unit plans to remember veterans killed in Europe, and those who have died since.

A candle will be lighted for each veteran who died in the past year. A eulogy will be read, and then the candle will be snuffed out, Yates said.

Yates expects survivors of other units in the 79th Division to get together eventually for one annual reunion.

"We thought about combining because of attrition," he said, "Some people just don't want it yet."

A few veterans of the 314th are only now finding out about the unit's annual reunion, even after 50 years, Yates said.

"We have one or two new people show up every year," he said.

Pub Date: 7/26/96

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