Veteran spends week with his old battalion as they prepare to ship out
Frank DeRosa of Arlington Heights spent Veterans Day quietly. He put out the flag and spent much of the day reflecting on those he served with during World War II who made the ultimate sacrifice.
But he also thought about the current military troops, and the same military police battalion that he served with that arrived in Afghanistan last week.
DeRosa was an original member of the 793rd Military Police Battalion when it was activated in 1942. He eventually served in the European theater with Gen. Patton, providing security in France, Belgium and finally in Germany.
The 793rd has remained active for 70 years and celebrated its milestone anniversary earlier this year.
Last month, De Rosa was invited by Lt. Col. Stephen Gabavics, commander of the 793rd, to address his battalion during its deployment ceremony at Fort Richardson, in Anchorage, Alaska.
"Oh, my goodness," says DeRosa, a former salesman with NBC and father of former Elk Grove High School principal Frank DeRosa, "it was the experience of a lifetime; the highlight of our lives."
DeRosa and his wife, Dolores, and their daughter, Diane, spent an entire week with the battalion. As an honored guest, De Rosa had a five-day itinerary that opened with a filmed interview in which he provided a living history account of the battalion during World War II.
"We ate breakfast every morning in the mess hall and dined at night with the officers and the noncommissioned officers," DeRosa says. "And we stayed in the distinguished visitors' quarters. We had excellent accommodations."
DeRosa was even promoted to the rank of staff sergeant and given a lifetime membership in the battalion.
All the meetings, gifts and interviews led up to the highlight of the week, the deployment ceremony, where DeRosa addressed the troops before they shipped out. In all, 62 members were being deployed, including Gabavics.
"It was very difficult," DeRosa said. "What can you say to young men and women being deployed to a war zone?"
In the end, he read from a letter sent to each member of the 793rd MP Battalion just prior to boarding the Queen Elizabeth in early February 1944. It was written by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
"You are a soldier of the United States Army. You have embarked for distant places where the war is being fought," it opened. "Upon the outcome depends the freedom of your lives, freedom of the lives of those you love — your fellow citizens — your people."
DeRosa, now with his new officer's rank, left the 50 men and 12 women with an order: "Cover your back, cover each other's backs and come home safely."
He then shook hands with every soldier and wished them well in an emotional tribute.
"I can tell you that the young people in our military are wonderful, they are truly an inspiration," DeRosa said. "We're in good hands."
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