My family and I recently visited several airborne museums near Fort Bragg, NC…the Airborne and Special Operations Museum, William C. Lee Museum and the 82ndAirborne Memorial and Museum on Fort Bragg. All were great museums with very interesting memorabilia of the airborne; however, they were a sobering reminder of the importance of understanding the circumstances of the 551stPIB. There were a couple of placards, one with the armband of Urban Post of the 551st for the Southern France jump, and one of the insignia at the Lee Museum. There was nothing that covered the story of the 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion, they were an independent battalion and there are no existing Divisional or Regimental museums to archive and share their history. Also many of their records were lost or destroyed in their rush to the Bulge. The museum visits were a stark reminder of the importance on us of keeping their story and legacy alive. One way to do that is through ‘To the memory of the men of the 551stPIB’ and now the ‘551st Parachute Infantry Association’ facebook pages. In order to honor them it is a primary goal of those pages to make information and stories about them more available, or accessible. “You can wipe out a generation of people, you can burn their homes to the ground, but somehow they will come back. But if you destroy their achievements, and their history, then it’s like they never existed. That’s what Hitler wants…and it’s the one thing we simply can’t allow.” – a quote by Frank Stokes made popular in the film ‘The Monuments Men’.
The 551st, being an independent battalion that disbanded about three years after its inception, is both a blessing and somewhat a curse in regard to having an attachment to it. It is a blessing in that if you have a family member that served in the 551st then you have quit a bit in common with everyone else that had a family member in the unit. All of our heroes served during the same time and shared the same experiences. What I mean is that there is a good chance that my grandfather knew your father, grandfather, etc. This is a unique bond that is difficult to articulate. It is somewhat of a curse in that we are essentially it when it comes to remembering this incredible unit of heroes that sacrificed so much, and few people know much about or have even heard of them. The more stories and pictures we share the better. Please feel free to share stories of your heroes on those pages, because if we don’t tell their stories, then the stories fade away…their stories. Those pages are meant to honor their memory, so please like and share the page, as well as our heroes’ stories. Perhaps we should start archiving and create an album of 551stPIB artifacts…a virtual museum of our own.