A small mixed crowd of veterans and their families fill the bleachers on Fryar drop zone on Ft. Benning in Georgia. The drone of C-130 engines grows louder, and the crowd begins to murmur excitedly for the event to begin.
Without warning, the sky begins to fill with paratroopers from the 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment. As the sky fills with chutes, the crowd claps and snaps photos.
The dramatic jump kicked off the 509th Association’s annual reunion, bringing together today’s Soldiers and veterans of WWII, the Korean War, Vietnam and even recent conflicts.  The two-day event started with the jump and ended with a formal banquet.
“I was thrilled and honored to jump for the vets,” said Private First Class Michael Deeds, a Soldier in D troop 1st Bn, 509th. “It was a great jump!”
After the jump the vets and Soldiers headed back to the hotel for a meet-and-greet – and to get to know each other.
“It was awesome to learn how different it was when they were in,” said Deeds. “Talking with the veterans provided insight on the Army of yesterday and the changes we’ve made today.”
On the following evening the Association hosted a banquet where gifts, stories and special thanks were exchanged.
“As you gather in Columbus to renew old friendships and remember those absent and fallen comrades, please know that we serve in your shadow,” wrote Gen. George Casey, chief of staff of the Army in a letter to the troopers and veterans of the 509th. Casey’s first unit in the Army was the 2nd Battalion, 509th Airborne/Mechanized Infantry Regiment.
Gen. David H. Petraeus, Multi-National Forces - Iraq commander, echoed Casey’s sentiment, and in a video added the 509th is always pressing on and we remember and celebrate their victories and our fallen comrades.  Although the two generals were unable to attend the ceremony in person, their words were welcomed and appreciated.
“It was great to hear from the generals and to know they still have the 509th pride,” said Nick Degaeta, a WWII veteran.
Other veterans were excited to meet today’s 509th Soldiers.
“All of the Soldiers I’ve talked with have been motivated, well spoken and well educated,” said David Bush, a veteran of the 509th who served with Company B, 1st Battalion, 509th PIR from 1975 - 1979. “I was very thankful and gratified to meet today’s Soldiers.”
The current and veteran Soldiers exchanged gifts, from large carvings of master jump wings to coins to honor their brothers and demonstrate respect. As the night winded down, current Soldiers and veterans exchanged stories about their experiences serving in the 509th.
World War II veteran Joshua Devanie attended the ceremony in his historic uniform, maintaining a crowd of young troopers around him who wanted a photo or to listen to him talk about his experiences.  His wife Jean commented he is always popular with young Soldiers who enjoy his war stories.
“It was great to meet the vets and listen to differences between when they served and what we do today,” said Spc. Brandon Krystofiak, a Soldier in the 509th’s reconnaissance platoon, Headquarters and Headquarters Company. Krystofiak received a cigar and a book written by 509th vets who served in the Korean War. Their message to current Solders was to keep driving on and to go beyond what they had done.
The night closed with Degaeta and his old captain and close friend Bud Seigal, singing the 509th song and telling some poems about their time spent during WWII.
“This was an experience you can’t buy,” Bush said. “An event like this is priceless.”