By John Surratt
The Meridian Star
In 1945, the 150th Engineer (Combat) Battalion installed a pontoon bridge across the Rhine River south of the Ludendorff Bridge, enabling Gen. George S. Patton's Third Army to be the first American soldiers to set foot in Germany.
After the war, the unit disbanded and the men went about their separate ways meeting once a year in Cape Cod: Mass., as the 150th Engineer (Combat) Battalion Association.
Sunday afternoon, about 12 association members were in Meridian for a resurrection. The 150th returned to life as a unit of the Mississippi National Guard during activation ceremonies at the G.V. "Sonny" Montgomery Reserve Complex at Key Field.
About 100 people attended the ceremony, including Montgomery, Meridian Mayor John Robert Smith and the state's adjutant general, Maj. Gen. James H. Garner.
"It was a great thrill to see this," association spokesman Bob Pearl said after the ceremony. "It's good to see the younger men take over. I'm glad the guys were here to lend a historical background."I learned that they were going to activate the unit two years ago when I was passing through Meridian and read about it in The Meridian Star. When I told the fellas about it, they thought I was kidding. We've been working on this (attending the ceremony) for a while."
At the order "Retire the Colors," the Army National Guard unit that for 15 years occupied a portion of the Montgomery Complex as the 150th Quartermaster Battalion ceased to exist and the 150th Combat Engineers received life.
Meridian is the headquarters of the 464-member battalion, which includes seven units and is attached to the 155th Separate Armored Brigade, which is stationed in Tupelo.
"We were notified in 1993 that our mission was going to change," unit commander Lt. Col. Michael D. Gilpin said. 'We immediately underwent an extensive program of training. The soldiers have paid a deep price and a lot of hours."
Gilpin said the unit's mission involves removing obstacles, such as land mines, making lanes for the armored units and preparing firing points for tanks.
Preparation for the mission change took two years of training, he said It was a task some said couldn't be accomplished.
"This was something that a lot of people said we couldn't do," Gilpin said. "They said there was no way that we could complete the change and get the training in two years. We did it in the two-year time frame and we did it by July."
The unit's performance, he said, was a tribute to the unit's officers, non-commissioned officers and soldiers.
Smith said the unit's ability to successfully change missions "is a tribute to the creativity and flexibility of the men and women of the 150th."
Montgomery, who commanded the 150th when it was a transportation unit, watched the changing of colors with mixed emotions.
"You're happy to see the unit continuing," he said after the ceremonies, "but you're retiring a unit. I don't think thier will ever-be another (quartermaster) unit with that number. It's like when we retired the 31st Dixie Division colors (after the Korean War)."
Montgomery credited Garner with making the mission change. Without that decision, he said, the National Guard might have closed the 150th down.
"Gen. Garner did a very good job to keep this unit here," Montgomery said. "The Army and the National guard have been going through force reductions and I don't think the unit would have survived if it hadn't been for him. He did a lot of work to put this together."
Gilpin said the reorganization means that Meridian will have a Guard unit here through the year 2000 and that will help the area's income.
But with the benefits comes a downside. As a combat engineer battalion, the 150th has a higher priority within the military, meaning it could be called to active duty whenever American forces are sent into military action.
And wherever it goes, Pearl is confident that the new 150th will maintain the standards set by its predecessor during World War II.
"I think they'll do fine," he said. "It's going to be great to see the unit's numbers painted on the vehicles' bumpers again."
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