Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to members of the modern-day 506th Infantry Regiment as "paratroopers."
Anyone who’s seen ‘Band of Brothers’ knows the infamous run up Currahee Mountain that the soldiers of E Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment had to do again and again on their way to becoming the famed “Easy Company” that fought through some of the bloodiest battles of World War Two.
The brutal ‘three miles up, three miles down’ gets steeper the farther up you go and, if the HBO show is any proof, the men of Easy had to crush it to avoid getting dropped from the airborne ranks.
These days, the 506th is based in Fort Campbell, Kentucky, but the leaders of the regiment’s 1st Battalion journeyed back to the unit birthplace in Toccoa, Georgia, last Wednesday to pay homage to their long-ago predecessors.
“We attempt to provide an opportunity for our Soldiers and leaders to come to Toccoa, Georgia, once a calendar year and learn more about our unit’s history,” said Lt. Col. Jeffrey Farmer, commander of the battalion in a press release. “We honor the Currahee troopers who have selflessly served before us by running the infamous Currahee Mountain.”
With battalion colors raised and shoelaces tied, the soldiers began their climb through the crisp October air and up the sweat-drenched mountain. And boy was it tough. The route is deceptively flat at first, but then the last mile makes you feel every inch of the 1,700-foot peak.
“I could not imagine doing this in boots,” said 1st Lt. Nikole Hairston, a distribution platoon leader with 1st Battalion’s Company J. “I can't imagine those guys doing this every day sometimes twice a day. That's incredible."
“I’m a runner, but I can't imagine our veterans running Currahee every day,” said 1st Lt. Jared Perez, Company J’s executive officer. “It shows just how tough they were and why they were able to endure so much during the war. I have a lot of pride in Red Currahee."
Even so, the 1st Battalion’s trek up Currahee differed from those of their forebears’ in one crucial way: they had a nice break at the top. The soliders paused to take pictures, chat with several 506th veterans and watch the promotion of 1st Lt. Zachary Crews, an infantry officer with 1st Battalion.
“I’m just honored to be here,” said Crews. “I’m ready to be a platoon leader.”
Fans of the HBO show might remember the scene where the hard-ass Captain Sobel interrupts Easy Company’s spaghetti dinner and forces them up Currahee. Well, about 77 years later, 506th soldiers enjoyed a Sobel-free spaghetti dinner at the Veterans of Foreign Wars after their trek, where soldiers past and present shared stories from WWII to Iraq and Syria.
“When I went to Vietnam all I knew was the 506th did some awesome things in WWII,” said Col. Joe Johnson (ret.), secretary of the 506th Airborne Infantry Regiment Association, who spoke at the event.
“These Soldiers may not realize it now, but this association will definitely mean a lot to them when they get to be my age,” he said. “They don't realize that they are truly the lifeblood of this association. I'm so proud of them."
The next day, soldiers visited the Currahee Military Museum, where they learned even more about their unit’s history going all the way back to its founding in Toccoa in July, 1942. Farmer seemed happy that the message sunk in.
“At the end of the day, our current Red Currahee Soldiers have gained a better appreciation for the sacrifices made by those who came before us,” he said. “Now they understand what it means to be associated with this proud and distinguished infantry regiment.”