Once upon a time, anyone saying "Fort Oglethorpe" was not talking about one of Chattanooga's bedroom communities.
Before the days of strip malls, big box stores and residential subdivisions they would have meant a U.S. Army base located in Northwest Georgia.
Part of that storied past will be recalled when the U.S. 6th Cavalry Association holds its 112th annual reunion in the town that took its name from the Army outpost. This weekend the association will celebrate the 6th Cavalry's founding 151 years ago, during the Civil War, and return to what was once its home.
"One of our biggest problems is that so many who live in the immediate area of Fort Oglethorpe have no knowledge of the Sixth and its history," said Robert Fisak, commander of the association. "But without the Post, there nothing of significance, no center to the city."
Before invading Cuba and charging San Juan Hill during the Spanish-American War, about 80,000 soldiers trained at Camp Thomas and the adjacent Chickamauga National Military Park. Expanded and renamed Fort Oglethorpe in 1904, the post was considered the nation's "largest and finest" cavalry outpost and was visited by presidents and generals.
The first tanks and every ambulance unit that served in World War I passed through Fort Oglethorpe before sailing for France, and during World War II the post trained the Women's Army Corps and military police.
The largest prisoner of war camps on American soil during two World Wars were located at Fort Oglethorpe.
But nothing is more noteworthy than its association with the "Fighting 6th Cavalry" from 1919 until 1942. It was after the "Fighting Sixth" returned from World War I that its troops transitioned from being horse soldiers to the armored cavalry that served with Gen. George Patton during World War II.
Fort Oglethorpe was closed in 1947, but the Sixth continues to this day. Today's troopers ride in helicopters, not saddles, but their mission is unchanged. The 6th Cavalry's four squadrons - one each based at Fort Drum, N.Y., Fort Riley, Kan., Scholfield Barracks, Hawaii and Fort Lewis, Wash. - continue to be the eyes and ears of the Army.
The unit's reunions have evolved too. What was once a get-together for veterans is now open to anyone interested in the 6th Cavalry and its museum.
Fisak, who served as commander of 1st Squadron/6th Cavalry at Fort Meade in the 1970s and now lives in Atlanta, recalled never visiting the 6th Cavalry Museum during his time of active duty.
"When I was younger I didn't think too much about the museum," he said of its days in Maryland. "The museum was there, at Fort Meade, but its only significance was that that was where the cavalry squadron was based. Here [Fort Oglethorpe] is something that is unique."
Membership in the association is not limited to veterans of the 6th Cavalry and is open to any relative or descendant of someone who served with the unit, Fisak said. Honorary memberships are open to anyone interested in the 6th Cavalry's past, present or future, he added.
Members and non-members alike can attend an informal barbecue dinner at Park Place Restaurant on Friday evening or the Saturday night banquet being held at Constitution Hall. Speaking at the banquet will be Lt. Col. Brian Serota, who prior to retiring in 2010 was a regimental commander during the Sixth's deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan as part of the 10th Mountain Division.
An 11 a.m. church service at Calvary Memorial Baptist on Sunday will be followed by a memorial service at the World War II monument in front of Performance Learning Center.
Association members and veterans who have died since the last reunion, including four killed when their helicopters crashed in Kansas this winter, will be honored.
A luncheon will be served inside the museum following the memorial service.
For information about the reunion call the museum at 706-861-2860 or visit http://6thcavalrymuseum.com.