One of the best things that has occurred as I promote this book is connecting with people. One of the most recent and significant connections was with Mr. Howard Gorrell. Howard is the son of 337th Infantrymen Captain Paul E. Gorrell. He created a Facebook page to not only honor the men who served in that Regiment but to unite those soldiers’ sons, daughters, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
My grandfather, Donald Byers, was among the original men who began the reunions with Bob & Marjorie Mitchell and other comrades in the 1950s. Their goal was to bring together Regiment members to celebrate and remember those who served. World War II was such a significant period in their lives and they wanted to make more memories together even after the battles were over.
The last Regiment reunion was over 10 years ago. Many of these brave men have passed, the remaining few are unable to meet but Howard has taken the lead to continue the tradition of reuniting amongst the descendants of 337th Infantrymen.
Howard has been so supportive of my book My American Odyssey by posting excerpts on Facebook so I added a link to it. But I wanted to do more to thank him, so I asked Howard to take a moment and introduce himself and discuss his experiences as he manages the Facebook page.
Below is Howard’s story in his own words:
“Inspired by Don Jones’ website 337thinfantry.net, I ventured on a solo backpack trip to Italy in 2001. My mission was to retrace the 337th’s combat route from Minturno to Belluno by rail – without my father’s knowledge. On each stop, I mailed a postcard to him in order to surprise him. After my Italian trip, my father “bragged” to his surviving war buddies about my trip.
In 2004, I finally met Don during the 337th Infantry Regiment’s 50th and final reunion in Arlington, Virginia. Years later, in 2013, Don accepted my request to speak at my father’s memorial service.
Unfortunately, Don’s father passed away too (in 2004) so we were never able to share all of the history we’ve gathered with our fathers. Don has felt that “It was their lives and they, like most veterans who did the real fighting, were not particularly interested in re-living that history.”
In 2014, I created a Facebook page called “337th Infantry Regiment Return to Italy, 2015” for any descendants who might be interested in touring the 337th route through Italy. Unfortunately, the tour got cancelled, but I went to Italy for a second solo trip. While I was there I made friendships with local Italian WWII historians.
The “Footsteps of Our Fathers – Italy 2016” tour finally turned my 15-year dream into a reality. A group of relatives of 337th Infantrymen gathered to visit the places their fathers and grandfathers came upon during their service.
I eventually changed the name of that Facebook page to “Wolverine Regiment – 337th Infantry Regiment“. In the spring of 2017, I added Don Jones as co-administrator.
Currently, we are in the process of arranging a similar tour for the year of 2019. And there is the joy we have experienced in our encounters with the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the men who lived through the drama of the Fourth Battle of Cassino, Rome-Arno Campaign, North Apennines Campaign, and Po Valley Campaign.”