Since this is my last post from the 290th Reunion, I thought that I’d bore you with a little story as to ow I started coming to these things.The kids in my cohort started coming around 1964 but I actually started in 1963 . . . Sort of.
The early reunions were just the guys; Off the leash & having a real good time. After a few years, they started bringing their wives and then their kids. My father wanted these gatherings to be just the guys and nothing but the guys so he viewed the onslaught of wives & kids as nothing short of a disaster.
In the summer of 1963, the Reunion was in Greensboro, NC and Dad had planned a trip that would allow him to attend the festivities, visit Clyde’s mother in Peachland, NC for a day or two and then take us on to Wrightsville Beach, NC for about a week.
The McGovern family were on their way to NC the weekend before the event & stopped by 208 Oakwood Ave. I remember Mr. McGovern asking Dad if we were coming to the Reunion and he said no, it was just going to be him. And to a certain degree, dad was right. My brother & I had been ordered to say nothing about our plans for Greensboro.
We headed towards Greensboro a few days after that visit and Mom, Jamie & I were ensconced at the home of Hal and Ora Mae Thomas. (She was a cousin from the Cherokee line of the family. Dad left the three of us to be entertained by Hal & Ora Mae while he attended te reunion. The following evening, he took Hal to the event as a guest and left us with Ora Mae. Hal also accompanied him to the banquet.
In those days, the party went on until long after midnight. He must have had more than his share to drink because he left the car at the motel & had Hal Thomas drive him home. He recuperated the next day and around supper time, we all piled in to Hal’s car to go back to the motel to pick up the car. We were told to stay in the car & not come inside while he went to say good-bye to those who were staying over until Monday morning.
While we were sitting there, I noticed that someone had placed an empty Planter’s Peanut tin behind the right rear wheel of our family car as a prank. (There were plenty of things like that back in those days.) Afraid that Dad would run over the tin & cut a tire, I got out of the car, retrieved the tin, and took it across the street to a litter bin. On my way back, I passed by the big plate-glass windows of the motel’s restaurant. There, next to the window, enjoying dinner, was the McGovern family who had stopped by our house on their way south.
They waved at me. I waved back and Dad never heard the end of it from the other veterans. He was shamed into bringing his family along which is how I attended – for real – the 1964 Reunion in East Brunswick, NJ. Eleven years later, I exchanged vows with a girl from te Jersey Shore a few miles away in South Brunswick. Among the guests & wedding party that day were the Arons family from the 290th. I had met their girls, Paula & Cynthia, at that 1964 Reunion in East Brunswick. It is worth noting that only I attended East Brunswick with Dad. He finally relented & took all of us to Rochester & Washington, DC. Sadly, he only had a few more reunions left to attend, the last being Columbus, OH in 1969.
And that’s it from the 56th & last reunion of the Veterans of the 290th Combat Engineers. Nothing left to do but turn out the lights in the Hospitality Room.
One of the best things about the 290th reunion when I was a kid was the fact that we were able to use a real, live swimming pool. We didn’t belong to a country club or anything like that so we had to rely on Crystal Lake in Hopewell for the majority of our aquatic experiences. Throw in occasional week-ends at OceanView in Norfolk and a dip in Reedy Creek in Lunenburg County and so it went until the 1st weekend after July 4th.
I don’t know about the other kids I my cohort but my brother and I used to strategise as to how we could stay in the pool until we looked like prunes and still participate in all the other doings that the kids were up to. Needless to say, the swimming pool at the 290th Reunion was the highlight of my summer.
As this is the final get-together, I made it a point to hit the pool here in Albany one last time. It was nice to pretend – if just for a moment – that I was a kid again.
For the telling of tales.
290th Reunions were powered by . . . Well, booze and stories from their time in training & overseas and, if nothing else, what happened at the last reunion. Here is one tale that involves two of the founders of the 290th Veterans group and is suitable for readers of all ages.
My Dad was a supply sargent with the H & S Company and Clyde Kiker was his helper. When my father was drafted, he wound up in the 186th Combat Engineers at Camp Shelby, MS. When the 186th left Shelby, a select number of Non-Comms stayed behind to form the cadre for the next battalion to be formed there; The 290th. My father was one of that cadre.
Clyde Kiker served as the Executive Officer and guiding force of the 290th Veterans for many years. In 1944, Clyde was the archtypical baby-faced soldier. Very, very young and hailing from Peachland, NC.
By the time the battalion reached the European theatre and completed their training in England, the Battle of the Bulge was on and – having been given last rites - the battalion was ordered in to action to hold the line around the salient known as the Colmar Pocket in France. My father was tasked with loading food, ammunition, and other supplies on mules and leading them over the mountains to the front lines which were at the foot.
For the return trip, he and Clyde gathered the earthly remains of the less fortunate, tied them on the mules and took them back over the mountains. My father despatched a letter to his congressman complaining that a boy as young as Clyde should not have to do such grisly work. It is not known if the Congressman ever replied.
During this time-frame, it was cold as it could be and my father – on his way to the latrine one night – passed by baby-faced Clyde Kiker who was bundled up in his mummy sack with only his nose protruding. On his return from the latrine, Dad stoped, grabbed Clyde’s nasal appendage between his thumb & forefinger and said in a voice loud enough to wake the living: “Isn’t this the cutest little baby nose you’ve ever seen?”