Rememberance, Reflections, Resolve
Unless you served in the military in Europe between 1953 and 1992, or unless you were in, or associated with, an intelligence unit, you've probably never heard of the 497th. Yet for 40 years this unit, located in a suburb of Wiesbaden, Germany, provided the majority of imagery (photographic-based) intelligence to all of Europe, and intelligence reports to most of the US military around the globe.
The unit never exceeded about 800 members. During my three tours in, or associated with, the 497th, the average was around 350. The 497th had its own small compound on Rheingaustrasse in downtown Schierstein, about three miles from any other US military establishment. Being a separate unit in its own compound, working with highly-sensitive information in a way different from everyone else in the area, bound the unit even closer together. We worked together, we ate together, and we played together. We went on to work in other places, but our closest friendships were usually with other 497th alumni.
The imagery intelligence field is small - about 1650 Air Force members. Schierstein also hosted a modest Army contingent (45-60), and a handful of Marines (usually seven or eight). Most of us - even the Army people - went to the same half-dozen posts, over and over. We grew to know all the senior NCOs and most of the officers. Most of us that made the military our career spent more than one tour at the 497th. Returning for the second or third time was almost like coming home, the people we'd worked with time and time again became a surogate family. Losing one of ours was like losing a cousin, or a favorite uncle or aunt.
We, the former members of this unit, have lost a couple of family members. Like family members everywhere who lose a loved one, we reach out to one another for comfort and support. We remember the good times we had together, and the fun we experienced in the company of those no longer with us. We long to be together, physically, one more time, before death overcomes another of our family. We vow the dead will not be forgotten as long as any one of us can still remember.
It's a comfort to know you're a part of such a caring, loving family.