History Of Veterans Of The First Engineer Battalion
Initially, the Veterans of the First Engineer Battalion organization was composed of members who had served with it during World Wars I and II (see History of the First Engineer Battalion). Lt Colonel William B. Gara, who commanded the battalion from the 1944 Normandy Landings through May 1945, was instrumental in getting the group organized. They had their first reunion in 1983 in Norfolk, Virginia.
Oscar Feldman, a company cook in the battalion during World War II, did much of the organizing along with help from Lt Colonel Gara and his executive officer, Major Carroll F. Stowell. Then, as now, families were always welcome at the reunions. Each annual gathering featured a speaker, usually a high-ranking Army officer who would bring an Honor Guard.
After a few reunions, William Gara asked Bob Ayrton to help get more people to join because World War II veterans were passing away. Bob had served in the battalion in Germany during the Army of Occupation (1945-49). He became the organization secretary and reached out to people who served in the battalion during the Vietnam War. Membership quickly regrew and now includes people who have been in the battalion as recently as 2018. Bob served as secretary until his death in 2003. Larry Blair, one of our many Vietnam era veterans, attended his first reunion in 2003 and became the next secretary. He then served as president. Vietnam veteran Chuck Humphrey became secretary in 2008 and has served for 11 years.
A special thank you to Bob Ayrton’s widow, Esther, and to Larry Blair for providing background information for this article.