Photo | Some Operation Power Pack veterans in May 2014 at the 82nd Airborne Museum, in front of a C123 Aircraft
From left to right: Gary Niethammer, Gib Lovell, Walt Rauscher, Jim Drainer, Bruce Harrell, John Urbach, Bob Hawkins, Fred Bolland, Ed Szalno and Ken Densmore
The 50th anniversary ceremonies for 82nd Airborne veterans who served in Operation Power Pack will be in May 2015 during All-American Week at Ft. Bragg in Fayetteville, N.C.
Operation Power Pack was a Marine and Airborne combat and stability mission, which lasted more than a year, in the Dominican Republic.
"It was the first combat mission for the Airborne after May 1945," retired Sgt. John Urbach said.
Urbach said they were alerted to unrest in April 1965, but didn't receive the full mission until they were in the air. They had been prepared to jump, but while in flight were given orders to de-rig. They got out of their chutes, and the planes landed at an airport outside Santo Domingo. They slowed down almost to a stop, lowered the tailgates and the men from the 82nd hopped out the back, he said.
"The planes weren't on the ground for more than a minute," he said.
Once a bridge was secured, Urbach said, they entered the city.
"After that it was just a mission of going to Santo Domingo, house-to-house searches, taking out the bad guys," Urbach said. By June, more than a dozen men from his company had died, he said.
In July, other members of the 82nd relieved Urbach's company. Urbach was discharged in December 1965. The operation continued.
Soon, the 82nd would send men to Vietnam and Operation Power Pack was lost to history.
"I'll be honest with you, we feel we’ve been forgotten," Urbach said. "A lot of the guys felt that we were kind of the forgotten mission that the 82nd had. So we're trying to rekindle that somewhat: to let people know what we did for the 82nd, for the country."
After his military service, he didn't reunite with his buddies from the 82nd who served in Power Pack until 48 years later at All-American Week. He said it so great, they invited a few more comrades for 2014.
Some men wore fatigues, one brought his old jumpboots and other memorabilia. They all shared stories.
"We brought old pictures, it's amazing what you look like after 49 years," he laughed.
"It’s been the highlight of this year," Urbach said of the reunion. "We shared some good moments and bad moments over the years being in the service, but when we all came together it was like we'd seen each other the day before. ... The camaraderie was just wonderful.
They wanted to share that camaraderie with all the veterans who served in the 82nd in Operation Power Pack. They began planning for a 50th anniversary.
"We’re hoping for hundreds," Urbach said. "I would be disappointed if we didn't have a couple of hundred guys show up down there for this reunion."
The planning for the ceremonies is in the early stages and includes potential for the usual events, such as a luncheon and division review.
But, Urbach said, the unique event they hope to get approval for is for all the Power Pack guys to jump the 34-foot tower.
"The 34-foot tower teaches you what you feel like when the parachute opens. You're on cables, almost like a jump line," Urbach said. "You'd be surprised at the number of guys who flunk out of jump school because they won't jump the 34-foot tower harnessed up."
He hopes division will work with them to make it happen.
"We definitely want to jump out of the 34-foot tower after 50 years."
If you are an 82nd Airborne Power Pack veteran or know one, contact Urbach to learn more about the reunion. His e-mail address is email@example.com.