Denver, Colorado –
In September 1945 Brig. Gen. Felix Sparks and his men from 1st Battalion, 157th Infantry, Colorado Army National Guard, returned from World War II. They had seen 511 days of continuous combat including four amphibious landings in Sicily, Salerno, Anzio and Southern France. After experiencing the human cost of war for nearly two years, they then witnessed the human cost of racial and ideological hatred at Dachau.
This is just part of the legacy of Colorado's infantry. Dating back to before Colorado's statehood, members of the Colorado National Guard infantry have been defending the state and the nation. Colorado's infantry faced down Confederate forces from Texas, Spanish occupiers of Manila, insurgents in the Philippines, the Triple Alliance, and the Axis Powers.
To ensure the close bonds forged in combat were never lost the 157th Infantry Regimental Association was formed in 1947 to keep the members connected to each other and connected to their past.
In May of 1949 the 157th Infantry Regiment was re-designated the 157th Regimental Combat team and nearly a decade later, on February 1, 1959, was re-organized into 1st Battalion 157th Field Artillery. This Field Artillery unit is still a part of the COARNG, it is now 3rd Battalion 157th Field Artillery and still holds the official linage and honors of the historic Colorado infantry.
For 51 years, seven months and 24 days the COARNG was without and infantry unity. September 25, 2010 the 1-157th Infantry officially returned to the COARNG. The new infantry unit is determined not only to carry on the unit designation of Colorado infantrymen who came before them, but also uphold the long and proud traditions of the infantry in Colorado.
The legacy of the infantry is on display in all five of the Infantry's new readiness centers located throughout the state of Colorado in Fort Lupton, Windsor, Grand Junction, Alamosa and Northern Colorado Springs.
"This is all part of building a legacy; it is all part of building a culture that will outlast any single person," said Lt. Col. Brey Hopkins, 1-157th Infantry Battalion commander. "What we are attempting to do is shape the future of the Colorado Army National Guard, we are spending a significant amount of time and resources to ensure we connect with our history."
In order to further connect with their history, the 1-157th Infantry contacted the 157th Regimental Association. Over the past year they worked together to plan the final reunion for the Regimental Association which was held in Denver, Colorado, May 30-31.
Nearly 70 years after they returned home, Rex Raney, 93, and Karl Mann, 90, both members of the 157th Infantry Regiment in WWII attended the festivities of the reunion. Several family members of other WWII veterans were also in attendance including the family of Brig. Gen. Felix Sparks.
Rex Raney, from Montrose, Colorado, mustered into service with the 157th in 1940 and served the entire 511 days with the regiment. Karl Mann was among the replacements who joined the unit in February 1943. Familiar with the German language, he served as Felix Sparks' driver and interpreter.
During the reunion members of the Regimental Association were given a tour of the newest COARNG Readiness Center in North Colorado Springs, which is home to Headquarters and Headquarters Company and A Company of the 1-157th. This nearly $20 million facility was filled with historic reminders of the legacy the Veterans helped build.
The honored guests were also treated to a showcase of weapons used by the infantry today. Including an up-close look at tube-launched, optically-tracked, wireless-guided (TOW) missile system mounted on a HUMVEE, mortar tube fire simulation, sniper rifle display and a demonstration in the firearms training simulator.
"I had the amazing opportunity to spend a couple of days with the Veterans and their families," said Maj. Russell McKelvey, 1st Battalion, 157th Infantry, executive officer. "I really enjoyed getting to meet and interact with all of them. I learned so much from this experience that I will carry with me and formed friendships that will last way beyond the weekend."
The formal proceeding of the weekend took place at the Infantry Ball. Infantrymen from each unit in the battalion from Grand Junction, Fort Lupton, Windsor, Alamosa, and Colorado Springs, all had the opportunity to meet with the Veterans and the families.
The keynote speaker was Alex Kershaw, award winning writer and author of The Liberator, which details the 511 day of combat of the 157th Regiment in WWII. Kershaw concluded his remarks with a thank you to the WWII Veterans. He joked that, even though he has lived in America for 20 years, his wife is American and his son is American, he is still European. Alex then thanked the Veterans on behalf of his "fortunate generation," who grew up in a united and prosperous Europe, a Europe that the WWII Veterans helped create.
The embodiment of the torch passing from one generation of infantry Soldiers to another occurred when Karl Mann administered to oath of extension to 11 current members of the 1st Battalion 157th Infantry.
"The weekend was full of highlights, but administering the oath to those young men was an honor and it was amazing to be a part of this terrific occasion," said Karl Mann.
The following day there was a memorial ceremony, held at Brig. Gen. Felix Sparks' grave at Crow Hill Cemetery in Wheat Ridge, Colorado. The names of members of the 157th Regiment who had passed since the previous reunion were read and rose for each one was placed on Sparks' grave.
The formal ceremony concluded with a 21 gun salute and the playing of Taps to honor all of those who have been lost.
"I came to attend the last reunion of my Regiment the 157th from WWII," said Karl Mann. "It was a great weekend. I appreciated the hospitality and kindness of all the people and especially the Soldiers of the unit. It was a terrific experience and I will remember it always."
The 1-157th Infantry demonstrated it is ready and able to carry on the proud history of Colorado infantry by connecting with their past while focusing on their future.
"These young Soldiers that are in the battalion, the 19, 20 and 21 year-olds, are the new keepers of the banner," said Hopkins. "They are the ones who are picking up and taking the legacy that Mr. Mann and (the other Colorado infantry Veterans) made. They are the future of not only the Infantry, but the Colorado National Guard, the state and nation."