ST. CLAIRSVILLE - For the last 70 years, a group of men, most in their 80s and up, get together once a year.
These men come from all over and have followed different career paths, but they do have one thing in common - these men were all apart of the 125th AAA Battalion in World War II.
Many of these men were from Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia and Indiana. There were originally 900 in the battalion, now only 15 men were able to make it to this year's reunion, which is why the men have decided to call it quits.
T-L Photo/ KAYLA?VAN?DYNE
Pictured is James Heininger, James Paterno, Tom Sarris Bunk Pytlak, John Tuttle and Wilbur Streib. These are just a few members of the 125th AAA?Battalion that have been meeting once a year for the last 70 years. This is their last meeting.
The men held their final reunion at the Hampton Inn in St. Clairsville Monday.
"Many of us are dying off," said James Paterno, who worked with computers doing the war and made sure the bombs hit their targets.
Bunky Pytlak, a gunner in the 125th Battalion and still a barber in Bellaire, states that most of the men that were in the battalion were 18 or 19 years of age.
"Many of us had just graduated and were on our way to California," said Pytlak.
The 125th AAA Battalion defended London, Brussels and Antwerp. Years later, the unit was called back to Belgium and was honored with a monument and parade for defending Antwerp.
The 125th AAA Battalion used buzz bombs or flying bombs, and every 4 or 5 minutes, one was released while defending Antwerp.
"Antwerp was really important because supplies were brought in from Omaha Beach," said Pytlak. "The trucks kept breaking down and the Germans knew how important Antwerp was and tried to blow it up."
"As many of the men have stated, it was a bad situation but it was something we had to do," Pytlak noted.
Once the war was over, an address book was passed around. That is how these men stayed in touch once returning home.
"Everyone was a patriot then, you were a hero," said Tom Sarris, who worked in headquarters with supplies.
Sarris brother', Lou, was also in the battalion. At the time, Lou was in medical school. Many times, brothers were separated but somehow the Sarris brothers managed to stay together. Lou had promised his father that he would keep Tom safe.
Lou, who pulled 13 men out of a tank when it blew up, was not able to come for the last reunion.
Many of the men of the 125th AAA Battalion who are still alive were not able to make it do to health conditions. While this may be the last reunion, they still hope to stay in touch.
Van Dyne may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.