Sunday, January 15, 2012

Andy's Visit to Currahee

Written by Andy

"Currahee!", cried the men of the 506th
PIR (parachute infantry regiment) as they charged up the steep ascent to the top of Currahee Mountain, "three miles up, three miles down!"
Currahee, is derived from the Cherokee word gurahiyi which means "stand alone, together" (the Cherokee were native in this region). This word has been forever immortalized in the 2001 HBO mini-series, Band of Brothers. It is during this mini-series that you are able to witness the men of the 506th regiment (Easy Company) go through the rigors of basic training to prepare for the invasion of Normandy, which would mark the beginning of the American offensive to end the war in Europe. These men, along with a total of around 17,000 other soldiers of the 501st, 506th, 511th, and 517th, completed training during World War II at Camp Toccoa, which is about 5 miles west of Toccoa, Georgia. In addition to the Band of Brothers, Saving Private Ryan and The Dirty Dozen can claim Camp Toccoa as their birthplace.

During my childhood years and into my adult years, I have always been a huge WWII enthusias
t (my brother Chris more so however). I could not resist the opportunity to take the trip down to Toccoa.

Sadly the camp no longer exists as it had been shut down after the war and converted to a Georgia State Prison. The property, which housed the camp, had then been converted by Milliken & Company to support their textile manufacturing. However, the Milliken plant eventually closed and just this past year in 2011, the property has been turned over to the Stephens County Historical Society. They have future plans to reconstruct the camp as well as provide other appropriate historical venues.Within the small downtown area of Toccoa, the historical society has established the Currahee Military Museum. "It is the best kept secret in the state of Georgia", stated Reed Pelfrey, Lieutenant (Lt) in the 101st Airborne 502 Regiment.

Lt. Pelfrey greeted me as I entered and as we continued to stroll through the museum, it felt so surreal that this man had been involved in the Normandy invasion on D-Day back on June 6th 1944 and 67 years later I
have the opportunity to get his first hand account of that monumental day.

Pelfrey made his drop during predawn before the army would arrive on the beaches of Normandy. The 502nd had the mission of securing the two northern causeways leading inland from Utah Beach and to destroy a German 122mm Howitzer near Ste Martin-de-Varreville.
As I knew from studying my history books and watching documentaries, many of the regiments were scattered in their drops due to the heavy flak from the German anti-aircraft artillery. I asked Lt. Pelfrey if he had a clean jump, for which he responded, "I had about a clean a jump as possible while being shot at!" He landed safely outside of Ste. Mere Eglise and followed through with his intended mission. Once their objectives were secured they would push on to Carentan to secure the crossroads to link up Utah and Omaha beaches. You can see Lt. Pelfrey in the picture to the right, as well as an example of what an American Paratrooper looked like during combat.

Located in the museum is a stable, built in Aldbourne, England in 1922, that housed both Able and Easy (Band of Brothers) Companies of the 506h prior to and after D-Day. Many of the veterans who lived in the stable returned to visit the site after war. Noting a great interest in the stable, especially after the release of Band of Brothers, the owner donated it to the museum. It was re-assembled in Toccoa and dedicated October 7, 2005. You can see the pictures
below of the stable in Aldbourne, then being transported, and then finally in the museum.

Each of the stable stalls included displays of the soldiers who trained at Camp Toccoa as well as examples of the enemies they fought. One in particular you should take note of happened to be a German soldier with the mark of "SS" on his lapel. This soldier definitely shouldn't be taken lightly as it marked that he was part of the
Schutzstaffel, which happened to be the elite fighters/guards assigned by Adolf Hitler himself and led by Heinrich Himmler.
The remainder of the museum had various medals, photos, maps, books, weapons, and other priceless items that help tell the story of the brave men who fought during WWII. It was definitely a different time in history where great men and women served on foil soil in the defense of the United States and the rest of the world.
I finished my trip by making the run up Currahee Mountain with my trusty steed (Camaro)! As stated, it is a three mile climb up the mountain, the first two miles are not all that bad, simple rolling hills but the last mile seemed to assent at least 1,000 feet and included sharp switchbacks. You can see my great adventure below. The first image is from a gas station on the corner viewing Currahee Mountain and you can see in one of the last shots that same gas station afar, at the intersection, viewed from atop Currahee.

After going through the Currahee Military Museum, I am sure Nikki, Brady, and I should be ready to invade Europe ourselves on January 19th!

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