War, as Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman once said, is hell. But for Philip Moore and Ed Kedzerski, who stormed the beaches of the Philippine Islands in World War II, it was also the best years of their lives.
They didn't know each other 38 years ago when they waded ashore on Leyte Island 100 feet in front of Gen. Douglas MacArthur. But the ties that bound them as members of the U.S. Army's elite 1st Cavalry Division--"The First Team," in Army lingo--were forged in that experience.
"We slept in the same foxholes," said the 72-year-old Moore of his 1st Cavalry colleagues. "We were in the jungles together. The four years I spent there--it was the biggest part of my life."
"You have good memories and bad memories," added his friend, Kedzerski. "But the funny thing is you forget the bad and only remember the good."
Moore, a retired city messenger from Lawrence, Mass., and Kedzerski, a retired railroad worker from Parma, Ohio, were among 300 veterans who congregated in Washington this weekend for the 35th annual 1st Cavalry reunion.
It was an occasion marked by the usual pomp and ceremony--a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, a colorful retreat parade on the sun-drenched parade grounds of Fort Myer, a colonial fife and bugle corps march and a booming 19-gun cannon salute.
But most of all, it was an indispensable social event for the vets--an opportunity to renew old ties, reminisce about past heroics and celebrate the traditional virtues of patriotism, honor, duty.
Most of those at the reunion were from World War II and Korea; hardly any were from Vietnam.
"It's a chance to talk over old times," said retired Gen. James Chase, a wizened former World War II commander who, like Moore and Kedzerski, has attended virtually every one of these 1st Cavalry reunions since they began in 1947.
"You know, old soldiers never die," he said. "They just go to reunions."
Reunions of the "1st Cav"--with its roots back to Custer's last stand--have always been something special, said its veterans.
"There's a sense of history and tradition that's associated with the First Cavalry that's more than any other division," said David Ross, now a Washington lawyer. "It's a sense of eliteness."
Formed 62 years ago for horse patrol duty along the Mexican Border, the division was the product of four regiments, including Custer's famed 7th Cavalry.
Though the horses were abandoned in 1943, the sense of eliteness that accompanied the horse soldier lived on.
By the time of the Vietnam War the division had been converted into an all air-mobile unit of helicopters--the cavalry tradition adopted to guerrilla warfare.
"They used the same tactics as the old cavalry," said division association spokesman Charles McAleer. "You know, getting in there first, hitting them hard and getting out."
As the 1st Cav veterans mingled with their families at Fort Myer Friday afternoon, many of the Army's top brass, such as Chief of Staff Gen. Edward C. Meyer, who had come up through the ranks of the division, were on hand.
There were relatively few, however, from the Vietnam era and there was despair among older veterans about what they called the lapse in national vigilance that followed Vietnam.
"The younger generation is not patriotic," said Kedzerski. "The kids today want everything. But I don't think they'd fight. I don't think they want to defend their country anymore."