A much larger version of the above plaque sits on the wall in the meeting roomof the Engineer Museum in Fort leonard Missori. The accomplishments shown on this plaque are not the result of the old line infantry divisions dating back to the revolutionary War. No, this unit is a single battalion which was only activated sixty years ago in 1943. This plaque displays similar units that were activated at that time but very few are still active. This plaque displays the activities of the 299th Engineer Combat Battalion starting in World War II and on through the Gulf War in 1991.
The 299th worked with and was attached to many of the Old line divisions, engineer groups, and corps. The battle history of the 299th starts with D-Day, June 6, 1944 and continues on to post war Germany, the cold war, Vietnam, the gulf war, and the current affair in Iraq. The 299th recently returned from Iraq with the fourth infantry division to fort hood Texas. The battalion flag is decorated with over 19 battle ribbons out lining its successful campaigns.
The plaque contains army patches for WWII and Vietnam positioned on either side of the battalion coat of arms which was designed by Col (ret) Fred E. Kohler, the last commander of the 299th in WWII. The linage and a brief history of the unit follows for the years 1943 to 1995. This is all that was available at the time the plaque was dedicated in 1999.
Around the border of the plaque are the names of a series of important locations of WWII starting with the Normandy beaches and continuing to Nuremburg, Germany. This consumes about two thirds of the border with Hoest, Beirut, An Ke, Que Non, Dak To, Ben Het, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait filling the remaining spaces.
The Vietnam portion of this plaque is slighted due to the lack of information and space allotted by the WWII designers. This phase of the 299th battalion history involved the years 1965 to 1971 when the unit was returned to Fort Lewis Washington and again deactivated. There was sufficient battle field activity in Vietnam to warrant its own plaque for that period. Places like Ky Son, Bin Dinh, Cheo Reo, Pleiku, Duc Co, Kontum, Tan Jhan, Phu Tal, Ben Me Thout, and Phan Thiet are all worthy of mention either as areas of operation or battle sites where the 299th met Vietnam foes. These places should all bring back memories to veterans of the 299th that participated in Vietnam.
The longest period of overseas duty was during the "cold war" when the 299th was reactivated in Hoest, Germany in 1954. In 1958 the 299th was assigned support of task force 201, the Marine Corps show of support for Lebanon. When the marines made their famous landing, the 299th was already working at the Beirut airport repairing runways which had been bombed so severely that it could not support landings by large airplanes. These would be required to bring in supplies necessary to support the marines after their well publicized invasion.
After a few months in Lebanon, the unit returned to Germany and participated in all exercises and alerts of the "cold war." In 1963 they were returned to the United States where they engaged in improvements to Fort Gordon, Georgia. This was apparently an assignment to prepare the battalion for posting to Vietnam which finally occurred in 1965. As mentioned previously, six years of battlefield operations finally ended in 1971 at which time the unit was again deactivated and assigned to reserve status.
In 1976 the 299th was once again reactivated and assigned to the third corps at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. They spent several years in support of third corps and constantly prepared for the possibility of war should it occur. Several rotations to the national training center at Fort Irwin, California proved to be valuable when the unit was assigned to Kuwait in 1990.
They supported the 197th infantry brigade of the 4th infantry division during the build up of desert shield. For the subsequent entry into Iraq, the 299th hauled tracked vehicles for the 4th infantry division and breached the double berm along the Iraq border at H-Hour of the ground war.
After fourteen months in Iraq, the 299th returned to Fort Sill, Oklahoma and handled several engineering tasks for third corps. In 1992 the unit moved to Fort Carson, Colorado and became a support unit of the first brigade, fourth infantry division. Another move in 1995 with the same unit placed the 299th in Fort Hood, Texas where its headquarters remain today. After several more years of training and rotations to the desert training center in California it was sent as a unit of the fourth infantry division to Iraq. They were in Iraq from 2003 to 2004, only recently they returned to headquarters at Fort Hood, Texas.
Like many WWII units the 299th held reunions over a period of about forty five years. The initial reunions consisted of back slapping memories of friendships that had evolved over the thirty three month period that the unit was active during WWII. At first sad memories of those friends lost in battle were hard to forget but gradually a camaraderie forged to the forefront and new friendships developed among those regulars at the annual reunions. Whichever weekend in June was closest to June 6th in memory of D-Day in 1944 was the usual date for the reunions. It gradually became a family affair with some friendships formed that will last forever.
With the age of the WWII members causing a steady decline in attendance it was decided to end this phase of the reunions. Several younger men from post WWII membership in the 299th started to show up at reunions and along with a few of the older men are now attempting to continue the tradition of a reunion in June of each year. At first progress was slow but gradually Vietnam veterans arrived and unfortunately some of those decided to go their separate way. Even those first few reunions of mixed attendance produced unusual bonding among the various age groups.
The reunions have continued to this point under a new slate of officers and they intend to continue inviting all former members of the 299th ECB to attend. So many good things come out of reunions that it is urgent for everyone that can possibly attend to do so. There is much to be gained in the way of culture and experiences that most would never encounter without mixing with people from all over this great nation. One incident that touched this author deeply was when he learned from a Vietnam veteran that a commander of the 299th had had lost his life on duty during that war. Further investigation revealed that the man was named Domingo I. Aguilar and his home town was right in the middle of the area of New York State where so many WWII veterans had entered service with the 299th. The town was Ithaca, New York where this writer had lived for several years and the designer of our plaque currently lives.
It is our fervent hope that by publicizing our plaque in this article we will get response from many former members of the 299th who may not even be aware that reunions exist. For further information please contact:
CPL James H. Burke - "B" Company