ST. PAUL, Minn. – A group of World War II heroes chose the Twin Cities as the destination of their 60th and final reunion.
The 96th Infantry Division, hailed as the "Deadeyes" for their sharpshooting abilities, is widely lauded as a premier fighting unit in World War II.
Around 20 remaining Deadeyes, all in their nineties, took part in weekend long festivities as well as a wreath laying ceremony at Fort Snelling National Cemetery to remember the 13,000 causalities in the division.
From the Leyte to Okinawa battles, the unit received the Presidential Unit Citation for extraordinary heroism, along with honors including the Congressional Medal of Honor to four of its men.
“I have joined you today to tell you how much the citizens of the Philippines appreciate what you did to save them from the Japanese invasion,” said Daisy Wallenmeyer, of Andover, to the veterans.
Bob Seifert, a Deadeye from Shakopee, carried the wreath in memory of his fallen comrades.
“When you are in a foxhole with a group of people and your life depends on them, their life depends on you, it seems to generate a close-knit comradeship that never diminishes, it’s always there,” said Seifert.
Seifert said the age and health of the remaining veterans makes it difficult to travel, which is why 2017 has become their final reunion. The group has held reunions in different locations across the United States since 1957.
“It’s hard to see somebody in a wheelchair that was so active in their younger days, but it was even worse watching somebody in combat getting carried out on a stretcher,” said Seifert. “We were fortunate to come out of it as well as we did and I’m very grateful for that.”
Senator Amy Klobuchar was in attendance to also thank the Deadeyes for their sacrifice and service.
“When you see how frail they are, now in their 90s but as sturdy as can be, the fact they come here in the hot sun just to remember those that came before them, and those that they lost, is a lesson to us all,” said Klobuchar. “At a time where tempers are frayed and our country is a bit polarized, you remember what brought us together, these men died putting their lives on the front line, for our freedom and the simple concept of America and I think it should inspire all of us to be better citizens every day.
The 96th Infantry Division has been the subject of documentaries, History Channel features, books and articles.
Governor Mark Dayton declared Saturday, July 28, 2017, as the 96th Infantry Division “Deadeyes” Day in Minnesota.