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Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2011

Brigade dedicates headquarters, conference room

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ORT BENNING, Ga. — The 199th Infantry Brigade has dedicated its headquarters and conference room to two generals who commanded the unit during the Vietnam War.

The building is now known as Davison Hall in honor of retired Maj. Gen. Frederic E. Davison, while the brigade meeting room was designated the Bond Conference Room after Brig. Gen. William R. Bond. The two men led the 199th Light Infantry Brigade in separate stints between 1968 and 1970.

Unit leaders joined the 199th Brigade Association, veterans and Family members at a memorialization and ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday.

“There can be no greater tribute for a commander than to be lifted up by the Soldiers he led in combat,” said Col. Lance Davis, the brigade commander. “Fort Benning has always been a talent magnet. … That continues today as we add two more great leaders to that legacy.”

Davison, who also fought in World War II, became the 199th LIB commander during the Tet Offensive in September 1968 when the brigade commander was evacuated after being wounded. He became only the third African-American in U.S. history to earn a general’s star in the active force, and the first in an Army combat command.

Later, the general was the first African-American to lead an Army division — the 8th Infantry Division in Germany — and the first to command the Military District of Washington. He retired from active duty in December 1974.

“He was an exceptional leader. Nothing escaped his gaze,” said Ted Lackland, who served under Davison in the 199th LIB. “He always made sure his Soldiers had everything they needed. His men loved and respected him.

“He had another family outside his own who loved him just as much — the Soldiers. He was a leader among men. … We fought as one, and some of us died as one.”

Andrea Davison-Roberts, the second of the general’s four daughters, traveled from Chicago with other relatives for the ceremony. She was 14 when he went to Vietnam but said she didn’t realize until later that he came home alive because of the “dedication and courage” of the 199th LIB Soldiers.

“He knew his successes were not his and his alone. It was due to his efforts and the efforts of every Soldier who worked with him and for him,” she said. “If he were here today, Dad would be overwhelmed, although he might not necessarily show it.”

Bond, meanwhile, took over as commander of the 199th LIB in November 1969. He was killed in action during ground combat on April 1, 1970.

Retired Col. Albert Watson was a lieutenant when he served as the aide de camp to Bond in Vietnam.

“I called him ‘The Boss,’” Watson told the audience. “We developed a special bond between us — that of a father and son.

“‘The Boss’ was a Soldier’s general. He wanted to be around his men. … We always went into the jungles to see his warriors.”

Bond was commissioned through Officer Candidate School in 1942. His first assignment was with the 1st Ranger Battalion as a reconnaissance platoon leader in Germany during World War II. After many successful missions, Bond got captured by the Germans in Africa and spent 11 months as a prisoner of war in a Polish camp before orchestrating an escape.

He almost didn’t get a chance to command the 199th LIB in Vietnam after suffering a heart attack in 1964, Watson said. The general was deemed unfit for combat but wound up proving his doctors wrong.

Bond became one of 10 general officers killed in Vietnam. After taking a round in the chest, his Soldiers picked him up off the ground — but he died in Watson’s arms on the way to link up with the medevac, his former aide said.

“Many will enter this building, headquarters and conference room for years to come. They will wonder why it’s named after these two generals,” Watson said. “I want to let them know the plaques and words stand as a permanent tribute and reminder of two distinguished officers and their contributions to the United States and the men they loved so much.”

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