Last week the girls and I were up in Toccoa, Georgia, for Currahee Military Weekend. 

In my experience, Toccoa is one of America's most delightful hidden gems. It's one of the only places I can think of in our country where you can literally walk in the footsteps of the WWII Paratroopers and (for a brief time), re-live how it was during the war.

Local veteran, Dewitt Loudermilk holding a newspaper clipping about his service as an Engineer in WWII.

Local veteran, Dewitt Loudermilk holding a newspaper clipping about his service as an Engineer in WWII.

If you are up for it, you can run the mountain where our boys trained; visit the original barracks (currently being rebuilt), the depot where the fresh young men arrived, the museum with remarkable and historical artifacts; and talk to the wonderful folks who were kids at the time and grew up watching the paratroopers make their arrival, train, and depart for overseas... for some of them, never to return.


The hospitality and genuineness of the people and the wonderful celebration they host each year remembering the paratroopers who trained at Camp Toccoa comes together to make it one of the happiest weekends of the year for me.

Faith and 101st Airborne Veteran, Vince Speranza.

Faith and 101st Airborne Veteran, Vince Speranza.

Thank you to all our Toccoa friends who work so hard to put on such a splendid event!

Recap in Photos

How to Connect with WWII Veterans in YOUR Area

We've had a lot of folks ask over the years what we have found to be the best ways to connect with local WWII veterans. When we first started Operation Meatball in 2014, this was one of the biggest hurdles we had to overcome. The few WWII vets we knew were several States away, so for all practical purposes we had to start from scratch. In fact, for the first WWII Dinner we put on, we really had to comb the newspapers and local care homes for vets. The good news is, once we started to figure it out, it turned into a fire hydrant.

Below I have outlined a few tips which we have found helpful, and I hope you will too.

Honor Flight

Honor Flight Network is a non-profit organization created solely to honor America’s veterans for all their sacrifices. We transport our heroes to Washington, D.C. to visit and reflect at their memorials. Top priority is given to the senior veterans – World War II survivors, along with those other veterans who may be terminally ill.

There are several way to volunteer. 

  1.  Sign up to be a Guardian on an Honor Flight. This is trickier because most of the hubs only have 1 or 2 scheduled flights per year and already have a long guardian waiting list (unless of course you are related to the veteran, or he has requested you). Also, though the trip is 100% free for the veteran, guardians are requested to make a $500 donation to cover their flight, hotel room, and food during the trip (note: the cost varies according to the location. West coast guardian fees are around $900-1000). That said, If  you were able to be a guardian for a WW2 or Korean War vet on an HF, it would be one of the best experiences you will ever have in your life. Truly. As much as the trip impacts the veteran, I can tell you first hand that it will change your life as well. CLICK HERE TO FIND YOU LOCAL HUB
  2. Volunteering Locally with Honor Flight. You may not be able to go on an HF, but there are PLENTY of activities and events locally which your HF hub will host during the year. Fundraising events, HF Welcome Homes (a great opportunity to make a super flashy red, white, and blue, patriotic welcome home sign), letter collections, and anything else they do. This is a great opportunity to meet your local WW2, Korea, and Vietnam veterans, as well as work with some terrific people with a similar passion.
  3. Mail Call. Each HF that goes to DC has a surprise for the vets (If you are a WW2 or Korean War vet who hasn't gone on HF, - don't read the next sentence. Hehe). In the weeks before the flight, they collect special letters of gratitude from the veteran's family members, friends, and anyone who wishes to send in. Then on the return trip home, they have "Mail Call" just like in their service days. This is one of the most emotional and meaningful parts of the trip for the vets. If you can't make it to any of the HF programs, I highly recommend that you send in letters to your local hub for Mail Call. They are ALWAYS in need of more letters. They can be simple cards which just say Thank you Veteran, or you can be creative and decorate it fancy. Just make sure to check the specific requirements for your hub. 

Visit Your Local Nursing Homes & Assisted Living

Many of your local Care Homes will have a sprinkling of these American National Treasures. If you can sing, play an instrument, or have something similar to offer, contact the activity director for your local care home. The residents and veterans are always happy to have folks come in and entertain them. I know most of y'all already do this over the holidays... but there are still plenty of other opportunities to stop by and visit throughout the year. Think about bringing cards over on Valentine's Day, Memorial Day, the 4th of July, or Veterans Day. Or just because. 

Though there will be less and less WW2 vets as the years roll on, there are plenty of Korean War and even a few Vietnam vets living in these homes. And they would all be happy for a visit!!

Local Events/ Everyday Life

National holiday events like Memorial Day, the 4th of July, Veterans Day, etc always bring the veterans out. There are numerous other smaller holidays as well, but those of course are the largest. Keep an eye out for what events are happening in your area. Is your local VFW or American Legion having an open house? Maybe your local history museum/holocaust museum/ or something similar is having a guest speaker. These are all easy things that give you the opportunity to meet your local veterans. 

Of course, the grocery store is another awesome place, so keep an eye out for the WWII Vet/Korean War vet caps (for my WW2 readers... PLEASE remember to wear your hats out in public! Thank you). I'll tell you this, once you start noticing caps, you'll start seeing them everywhere. Funny story... about every 2 years I run into the same veteran at Costco. Each time we're both dashing somewhere crazy, but I end up reintroducing myself only to realize we've met before. 

World War Two Events

Going to WWII events is a great way to get your feet wet and get inspired. There are SO many WWII events all over the country throughout the year, that I can only name a few here. But hopefully it'll give you a good idea what to look for.

  1. D-Day Conneaut is the largest reenactment of the Normandy Invasion. But it's more than a reenactment. Set on the shores of Lake Erie, OH, you get to spend 3 days visiting authentic American, Allied, German, and Free French camps, with educational displays and living quarters for the over 1,200 reenactors who attend. It is like stepping back in time. Additionally (and our favorite part of course) is the veterans tent. WWII Veterans have talks throughout the weekend and you get the opportunity to visit with them in a casual and comfortable setting. Generally the 3rd weekend in August. Click Here to Learn More
  2. Reading World War Two Weekend is one of the largest WW2 events/airshows in the country. Set in Reading, Pennsylvania, they have reenactors from all parts of the war (The European Theatre, the Pacific Theatre), veteran talks, singing, a hangar dance, and a great selection of WWII planes. The dates are generally the first weekend in June. Click Here to learn more
  3. Currahee Military Weekend, one of my favorite events of the year. This tight-knit community gathers each October to honor the paratroopers who trained at Camp Toccoa during WW2. Making it extra special are the "Original Toccoa Men" who make the trip out each year. Secretly, I think it's just to make sure peeps like us keep running the Currahee mountain (3 Miles Up. 3 Miles Down). Click Here to Learn More
  4. Remembering WWII is another great event for the family. Around the end of September, the entire town of Linden, Tennessee transforms into the 1940s. Over the weekend they have a movie night, a reenactment, veteran talks, and much more. Click Here to Learn More
  5. Airshows: There are dozens of airshows throughout the year. Depending which ones you are closest to, they might have a special Heroes and Legends Tent or Veterans Tent, or something similar which is specifically set up for the public to meet and talk with veterans. 

There are of course many, many WWII events and airshows throughout the year, but these are the top ones that come to mind. If you are looking for one more local, of course you can look on Facebook and Google. 

I may do a part two down the road, but I hope some of the information helps. If you have questions, feel free to ask, and I'll try to get back to you promptly.

If you are new to the WWII community, don't be overwhelmed. Yes, there is a lot to learn, baby steps will get you there just as fast. Also, the good news is, once you start spotting veteran caps and keeping an eye out for local events, the opportunities will really open up. But don't wait. Don't wait until you have a paper to write for school, or even Veterans Day... Start now. Start looking for ways to recognize and thank your local veterans before the time runs out and the opportunity is no longer there. 

Remember the days of old; consider the generations long past. Ask your father and he will tell you, your elders, and they will tell to you.
— Deuteronomy 32.7

Toccoa Currahee Military Weekend

Toccoa, Toccoa... one of the sweetest and most darling places in America.

The last several months have been pretty busy with life in general. After looking at the blog and realizing it had been nearly 2 months since the last post, we figured it was time to do some catch-up work. So, instead of going too far back, I'll just start with Currahee Military Weekend. 

In the beginning of October, the town of Toccoa, Georgia hosts their annual Currahee Military Weekend in honor of the men who trained at Camp Toccoa in WWII. These men were United States Paratroopers. One paratrooper we talked to once said, "We were the baddest of the bad, and the biggest troublemakers." That is for sure. It seems that most of the stories they tell end up with fistfights or an attempt to capture a town single handedly (encouraged not a little by the belief that one paratrooper was more than equal to at least half a dozen regular Army men). But paratroopers are also known for their fierce camaraderie. You may be a stranger, but if you wear the jump wings, you are family, and they'll stick to you through thick or thin. This bond is something almost unexplainable to an outsider. 

Part of the unique history of Toccoa is Currahee Mountain. It was originally used as a significant element of the paratrooper's training (running up and down in full gear), but since then has grown in legend, especially after it was immortalized in the TV mini-series "Band of Brothers." Since we first visited Toccoa in 2014, we have tried to make it a point of running the mountain each time. Now, I've run several half-marathons over the years and found them to be in varying forms of difficulty. But nothing compares to Currahee. The famous quote, "3 miles up, 3 miles down," pretty much summarizes the intensity of the mountain. It is no cakewalk. However, putting all difficulty aside, it has to be one of the most inspiring places I've ever run. To know that every step you take is in the exact footsteps of the paratroopers. The paratroopers who dropped into Normandy in the early hours of June 6, 1944. The paratroopers who earned their name bravely defending Bastogne. And the same paratroopers who eventually stormed Hitler's elite getaway -the Eagles Nest. It is a pretty awe-inspiring thought, and definitely the only thing that gets me to make it to the top of the mountain and back. 

Singing old love songs with sweet paratroopers and listening to riotous stories of hospital escapades is pretty much the best. Besides, who doesn't love a paratrooper?!

Singing old love songs with sweet paratroopers and listening to riotous stories of hospital escapades is pretty much the best. Besides, who doesn't love a paratrooper?!

Over the course of the weekend, veterans who trained at Camp Toccoa in WWII come back (some for the first time since they trained in 1943!), and there are book signings, chatting, music, parades, and everything possible to make the time fabulous. Toccoa is a small town, but it has a heart as big as Texas. We knew after the first day there that we had quite lost our hearts to this darling place. 

One of the best parts is reconnecting with old friends. And one of the best surprises for us was in the form of these two WW2 vet cousins. We had met them the first year we attended, and had just the best time with them, chatting about Gene Autry and Tank Destroyers (a great combination, don't you think?). 

L-R: Liberty, Garnett, Jubilee, DeWitt, and Faith at Toccoa's Currahee Military Weekend

L-R: Liberty, Garnett, Jubilee, DeWitt, and Faith at Toccoa's Currahee Military Weekend

Garnett (left) was on a Tank Destroyer and had his fair share of experiences over in Europe. His descriptions of tank battles and coming upon German concentration camps ("you could smell them miles and miles away") were remarkable. Interestingly, one of the men in his crew had been born and raised in Germany before coming to America. One day they were going through a small German town and this buddy pointed out, "This is the town where I grew up. That window is where my Aunt lives."

His cousin DeWitt (right) was with the Engineers in Italy. However before going overseas, when he was 16, he had hitchhiked 300 miles from Demorest to Brunswick, Georgia to work with his uncle at the shipyard there. They are quite the pair of cousins!

On Sunday morning, a memorial service is held at the Camp Toccoa Currahee Memorial. It is a beautiful ceremony complete with honor guards and taps. Following this comes a highlight of the week, breakfast at the local diner with the veterans. One of the lovely veterans we met was paratrooper Bill Galbraith. Mr. Galbraith jumped with the 101st into Normandy on D-Day, and then again into Holland for Operation Market Garden. On September the 18th, 1944, the day after landing in Holland, he was severely wounded and shipped off for treatment. His recovery ended up being a long, tedious, and painful process. To combat the pain, he concentrated on memorizing poetry, good hearty poetry though, the likes of Robert Service and others similar. Well, as Robert Service is a favorite in our house, we talked at great length about this, Mr. Galbraith reciting numerous poems perfectly from memory. It was absolutely fabulous. There are more stories from Mr. Galbraith, but that's for another time.

Currahee Military Weekend 2016 left us with many wonderful memories. We listened to stories that made us cry, as well as stories that made us hold our sides with laughter. We sang old love songs with 90 year-old paratroopers who are still young at heart; and we talked about their war-time buddies -some who came home, and a few who didn't. Last but not least, we remembered the 6,000 soldiers who trained at Camp Toccoa and forever became "Toccoa Men."