FORT BRAGG, NC – Nearly 69 years after they penetrated deep into the Burmese mountains, 13 MARS Task Force veterans participated in the dedication of a MARS Task Force memorial stone at the U.S. Army Special Operations Command headquarters, Sept. 14.
The task force, in which the 5332d Brigade (PROV) consisted of the 124th Calvary Regiment, 475th Infantry Regiment and the 612th and 613th Field Artillery Battalions (PK), played a crucial role in capturing the Burma Road from the Japanese during World War II.
“The history of these great men was written in the stone a long time ago, in a land far away, in a theater in which some have said is forgotten,” said event host Maj. Gen. Paul LaCamera, deputy commanding general of USAOSC and former commander of the 75th Ranger Regiment. “They wrote it with their own blood, sweat and tears.”
Though the men themselves often carried in excess of 60 pounds of gear as they traversed the harsh terrain, they are referred to as “mulepackers” for the animals they used to carry their 75mm pack howitzers. Due to the weight, it took six animals to carry one weapon.
His mule, “Mo,” was never far away, said Kenneth Laabs, a corporal at the time with the 612th FA Bn. and a howitzer operator.
“We spent every day together except when we were on the guns.,” said Laabs. “They would drop us off and the mule handlers would take them away. They would come back a week or so later and pick us up.”
Laabs, who traveled from Washington state with his wife, joined Maj. Gen. LaCamera and W. B. “Woody” Woodruff, also a MTF veteran, to unveil the memorial stone.
“I think (the memorial) is a high honor, far more than we deserve,” said Woodruff modestly.
“It’s wonderful,” said Laabs, motioning over his shoulder toward the granite stone. He paused as emotion made his voice crack. “It’s just wonderful.”
The ceremony, which took place at the USASOC Memorial Plaza, was also attended by dozens of men wearing tan berets, the symbol of an Army Ranger.
“(Soldiers) have served in many units that proudly trace their lineage to these great men,” said LaCamera. “And proudly wear their distinctive unit insignia that was once their shoulder patch.”
Today, the MTF is credited as part of the lineage of the 75th Ranger Regiment and after the ceremony, many of the younger generation took the opportunity to take photos and swap stories with the older.
“Your warrior spirit lives on in the Soldiers of the Army’s Special Operations community” said LaCamera. “We hope you are as proud of us and we are of you.”