Van Dorn soldiers reunite to help museum

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 21, 2003

CENTREVILLE &045; Fifty-nine years ago, they were young soldiers, assigned to F Company in the 253rd Regiment of the 63rd Infantry &uot;Blood and Fire&uot; Division at Camp Van Dorn. F Company would later distinguish itself on the battlefields of Europe, sent to replenish American forces in the months following D-Day.

At a reunion on Wednesday, surviving members of that heroic group gathered to share their stories and lend their support to the Centreville Museum, which will focus on the history of Camp Van Dorn, where 40,000 soldiers trained during World War II.

Delivering wrenching accounts of their experiences, veterans and their relatives donated uniforms, medals and other items to be archived and placed in the museum, which is under construction and due to open this year.

Email newsletter signup

Dr. Mack Castleberry, who led an F Company platoon, tearfully recalled finding a fallen friend on the battlefield and taking time to place the soldier’s helmet in traditional battlefield style atop his rifle, speared into the ground with a bayonet.

&uot;It was the only time I ever stopped to do that,&uot; Castleberry said.

During a visit to Germany last year, a fellow veteran was given a helmet that belonged to another soldier from the 63rd who was killed in action &045; Sgt. Willie F. Overfelt. That helmet, bearing Overfelt’s name inside, was forwarded to Castleberry.

Unable to find any relatives of Overfelt, Castleberry asked that it be displayed in the museum &045; atop a rifle and bayonet.

Leonard Sokolove and Jerry Gilden enlisted in the Army Specialized Training Program, which was intended to provide the military with a pool of college-trained engineers, doctors and foreign language experts.

But in the spring of 1944, the ASTP was closed, and the two were assigned to

the infantry.

&uot;We became scholars in foxholes,&uot; Sokolove said. A Philadelphia native, Sokolove later became a lawyer and state court judge. Gilden went on to enjoy a long career as an orthopedic surgeon in St. Louis.

Centreville natives recalled how the presence of Camp Van Dorn affected the area.

&uot;It was an epic time in our lives here in Centreville. It’s hard to believe that our streets were six soldiers deep on Saturday afternoons,&uot; said Dr. R.J. &uot;Dick&uot; Field Jr., who helped host the event at Thomson Memorial Presbyterian Church.