(above picture)907th GFAB
101st Airborne WW II
of Honor Recipients
Robert G Cole
Joe E. Mann
The 907th Glider Field Artillery Battalion
Saturday, March 14, 2009, 3:00 AM
Barton travelers touch history
'Band of Brothers' tour group makes local connection
By Janelle Clevinger | Daily Times Staff Writer
Local attorney Perry Morrison Jr. had already taken three trips abroad with Barton College's "Travel to Learn. Learn to Travel" program but was still searching for "the" trip that would really pique his interest.
Joe Frank Jones III, professor of philosophy and religion and director of international study at Barton and organizer of the trips, challenged Morrison to come up with a travel itinerary that he thought would be ideal. Two weeks later, Morrison submitted the itinerary that would ultimately become the Barton-sponsored "Band of Brothers" trip to England, Germany and France in January.
"Band of Brothers" is a book written by Stephen E. Ambrose that was later made into a television mini-series by HBO. The book and movie chronicled the missions of Easy Company, 506th Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, U.S. Army, during World War II.
From Jan. 3 to 13, a group of 45 students, professors and interested individuals toured sites that took center stage in the final battles of WWII, including Omaha Beach, site of the D-Day invasion by Allied forces, and areas in Luxembourg associated with the Battle of the Bulge, the last major Nazi offensive against the Allies.
"It was a wonderful experience, and I had a fabulous time," said Morrison, who had helped teach a military geography course also based on the "Band of Brothers" story at Barton last fall with Jean Palmer Maloney. "It was such a good trip that now people are even more energized to take more trips with Barton."
Class credit was given to the 11 Barton students who went on the tour, three of wh om were students in Morrison's class.
"One student told me that she didn't really appreciate the class until she got over there to Europe," Morrison said.
A moving moment early in the trip occurred when the group was moving among the graves at the Normandy American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer, France, where more than 9,000 Americans who died in the Normandy campaign are buried. Among the soldiers buried there is Jack Riley, who lived in Wilson and was the uncle of Sara Lynn Riley Kennedy. She and her husband, K.D. Kennedy Jr., are both formerly of Wilson and were among the tour participants.
The Kennedys found the grave of Jack Riley, and K.D. told the group's tour guide that he had a copy of a letter dated Monday, Aug. 7, 1944, from Doug Hackney of Wilson to his future wife, Louise Wiggins. Hackney had visited his friend Jack Riley's grave that day and wrote Louise to tell her about the cemetery and the horrors of war.
"He (Jack) was killed the 10th of June and was buried on the 11th, his grave is well marked and is in an American cemetery on a high hill overlooking a valley, as yet I cannot disclose the location, but if later I find it is permissable I'll let you know," Hackney wrote.
"You can walk down the rows and see the graves of men from almost every State in the Union, none of them wanted to die honey -- just as Jack, they all had everything to live for and now they're all lying dead in a foreign country thousands of miles from home so that all of you wouldn't have to go through what the people of these countries were subjected to," he wrote.
"It seems strange to be standing by his grave when only a few months ago we were at a show together," he wrote towards the end of the letter.
"Our tour guide recognized the importance of the note and gathered the entire group around and asked K.D. to read it," Jones said. "K.D. came through for us in a wonderful, wonderful way. It really affected the people on the trip. That's something that you just can't buy."
"It was an incredibly moving moment that I don't think I will ever forget," said Morrison, who noted that Jack Riley had lived in a house that stood where the Barton campus is now located. "It was so cold that we were the only ones there, but it was a beautiful day. The crosses are made out of a particular type of marble and the ice crystals had formed on them, and they kind of sparkled. It was a spiritual experience."
Wilson businessman John Hackney III, who was also a member of the tour, said that the moment was solidifying for the group.
"There was complete silence so we could focus on the letter," said John Hackney, who's a distant relative of the letter-writer, the late Doug Hackney said. "The letter really brought it all together for everyone. And even though it was one page, it covered so many different topics."
The tour guide was fascinated with the letter and asked Sara Lynn Kennedy for copies of it and everything else she had related to it to use for future tours, he said.
Morrison's father, B. Perry Morrison, fought in the Battle of the Bulge and also landed at Omaha Beach at six the morning after the initial invasion. Morrison has collected nearly 500 letters that his father wrote to his parents during the war.
"During our visit to Omaha Beach, I was able to pinpoint where my father left the beach because of what he'd written in the letters," Morrison said. "I felt like I was living in 1944 for a moment."
Another highlight of the tour for Jones was a visit to Southwick House in Hampshire, England. In 1943, the mansion served as the location of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force. It is located on a British military base and special permission was granted for a private tour by the Barton group.
"This was the house where Eisenhower and his British and French counterparts planned the D-Day invasion," Jones said. "The map they used is still hanging on the wall."
"The Band of Brothers" tour also visited Dachau, the former concentration camp in Landsberg, Germany.
"A couple of the students on the trip could not cope with the sites at Dachau," Jones said, "but they've loaded it into their memory and will deal with it when they get older. Some students immediately shared the emotional impact, while other said, 'This was just too much' and couldn't get any further than that."
"Barton's Band of Brothers" group started their tour with two days in London, then traveled to Portsmouth, onto Normandy and Reims, France; Luxembourg; and Munich, Germany. The tour was arranged by Britain-located Casterbridge Tours, the same company that organizes all of the "Travel to Learn" tours for Barton.
"These are educational tours that really teach you something about where you're going," Jones said. "We've been doing these trips for 11 or 12 years now, and we work really hard to keep the cost down. It has worked even be tter than expected.
"If you can't be rich, live rich," Jones said.
A January trip is planned next year for Italy. A kind of sequel trip to the "Band of Brothers" tour is planned for June 2010 and will be based on the book "Citizen Soldier" and will also focus on WWII soldiers from Wilson.
"We already know about 15 soldiers from Wilson who met in a bar during WWII in London's Piccadilly Circus," Jones said. "And Jack Riley was one of them."
For information about upcoming Barton "Travel to Learn. Learn to Travel" trips, call Joe Jones at 399-6448.
Janelle Clevinger | 265-7811
JACK RILEY, WILSON SOLDIER
Jack Riley grew up in Wilson, living in a home located where Barton College now sits. That home was moved behind the Whitehead Inn and now serves as guest quarters at the inn. He was an Atlantic Christian College graduate and brother of Bruce Riley.
According to K.D. Kennedy, husband of Jack Riley’s niece, Riley was not supposed to be involved in the D-Day landing, but volunteered for duty when another officer became ill.
The Dead Man’s Museum, located in St. Come-du-Mont, France, sent Kennedy the following information about Riley’s death:
“June 10, 6:00 in the morning, Lt. Riley, was met by Sgt. Colley, Cpl. Placidi, and Pvt. Wentworth on the outskirts of St Come-du-Mont. (This is at Dead Man’s Corner, the location where the museum is today.) They had been assigned to work with the 502nd and at 9:00, and were advancing along the main road to Carentan (Purple Heart Lane) when German mortar fire forced them to take cover. The 907th team quickly dove into a tank emplacement built by the Germans. Lt. Riley was sitting with his back towards Carentan, and Cpl. Placidi was sitting directly across him when an incoming mortar shell landed in the hedgerow right above. The exploding fragments killed lieutenant Riley instantly and seriously wounded Cpl. Placidi.”
©The Wilson Times, Wilson, North Carolina.
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