Decorated WWII veterans gather for final reunion - WSMV News 4

Decorated WWII veterans gather for final reunion

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They earned six Congressional Medals of Honor and are credited with saving 2,500 Jews from a Nazi death train in World War II. More than 60 years later, the 30th "Old Hickory" Infantry Division held its final reunion in Nashville.

Their average age is 92 and there are only a few of them still alive, but these men did incredible things when the stakes were never higher.

Dwight Eisenhower's historian named them the top infantry division in the entire European theater.

The division's first reunion was in Nashville in 1947. Sixty-eight years later, they met for the last time.

Many have died or are in bad health. The youngest member is 89.

"Those farm boys who came out from these small communities when their country needed them, and they went out and saved the world is what they did," David Roberts with the Army National Guard said.

A death train from Bergen Belson with 2,500 Jews on board had orders from the Nazis to drive into the river and kill everyone. But they were intercepted by Col. Henry Kaczowka and the 30th.

"The war was hell to begin with," Kaczowka said. "We didn't know what we were going to run into. No one expected to see what we saw."

Dr. Micha Tomkiewicz was a 6-year-old boy. His mother told him about the good-looking Americans who saved him. He doesn't remember, but years later, he sought them out to thank them.

"Suddenly the good-looking soldiers became drinking buddies," Tomkiewicz said. "A little bit on the older side, but excellent drinking buddies. Every reunion, we are participating. They are part of the family."

Their stories of heroism are breathtaking. Pvt. Francis Curry defeated a German tank one-on-one and saved five trapped Americans. Cmdr. Robert Frankland from Jackson, TN, won five major heroism medals.

Many of them didn't get the credit but got the job done.

"They say don't volunteer," said Marion Sanford, with the 30th Infantry Division. "There wasn't a man in my section that didn't volunteer."

Kaczowka, 97, has German shrapnel two inches from his heart. It was his ticket home.

"I was told I was going to go back to the United States," he said. "I said, 'No way am I going back to the states.'"

He was a member of the 30th and he always finished the job.

"We never missed a mission," Kaczowka said.

There were fewer than 20 members of the 30th able to attend the final reunion.

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