900th members reunite after 50 years

Published 7:59 am Tuesday, September 13, 2011

What a difference 50 years make.

The men of the 900th Maintenance Company who were activated for duty during the Berlin Crisis in 1961 gathered for a milestone reunion at Lake Simmie on Saturday. Most of them had a little more around the middle and a little less on the top and nametags were worn for a reason.

“When we left Fort Polk, Louisiana in August 1961, I never thought I would say what I’m about to say to you right now,” said Col. (retired) Lawrence Bowden, laughing. “But I’m glad to see each and every one of you.

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“If we didn’t do anything today except see each other and shake hands, if we did nothing more than that and then went home, it would be a great day.”

Bowden was the commander of the 900th Maintenance Company that was made up of 144 men from Brundidge and Troy.

The unit was organized in 1953 as the 780th Truck Transportation Company.

“Around that time, National Guard units were coming roaring back and our state representative, Clark Belcher, realized that we needed a unit in Brundidge,” Bowden said. “Twelve of us met at the old city hall in Brundidge and established the 780th. About six years later, the 780th became the 900th Maintenance Company.

“It’s hard to learn to be mechanics but the 900th developed into one of the bet units in the Alabama National Guard.”

Bowden said the guardsmen served with pride and spirit and a “can do” attitude.

“When we received our activation orders, the men were more than willing to do what was asked of them,” he said. “We didn’t know what our mission would be but, whatever it was, we were dedicated to it.”

At Fort Polk, the 900th earned the title Rueben’s Raiders, in reference to its commander, Reuben L. Bowden and because known and respected for it dedication to duty.

The 900th Maintenance Company under Bowden’s command was the first to be activated. Since then, the company has been activated for service in Desert Storm, Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The 900th has always served with distinction,” Bowden said. The 900th can be depended upon to do what is asked of it and to do the job right. The 900th has had more members to work fulltime with the National Guard and more members to complete OCS than any company size unit. Its record is unblemished.”

Reuben’s Raiders spent nearly four hours sharing stories of the good times and the not so good times at Fort Polk. They renewed friendships and promised to “not wait so long to get back together.”

Jimmy Phillips of Troy was the one who suggested the reunion and he said it was one of the best ideas that he’s had in many years.

“We’re going to do this again in five years,” Phillips said. “It’s been a great day.”

The reunion at Lake Simmie closed with the awarding of special prizes. Harvey Lott and his wife, Carolyn, won the prize for the longest drive to the reunion, 435 miles. James O. Johnson got the “sympathy basket” for having been married the longest – actually the basket was for his wife Agnes.

The day’s event closed with the reading of the names of the members of the Reuben’s Raiders who are deceased. There are 62 of them.

“Sixty-two of the 144 men who went to Fort Polk, from Sept. 1960 to August 1961, are no longer with us,” Bowden said. “We miss them all but we are proud to have this day together. It means a lot to all of us.”