A sure sign that winter is almost gone is not the chirping of hungry birds, but the occurrence of the first formal military ball of the year.

A sure sign that winter is almost gone is not the chirping of hungry birds, but the occurrence of the first formal military ball of the year. It is prophetic, perhaps, that the Army's youngest branch, Special Forces, is holding it.

Saturday at the Argosy Casino in Riverside, Mo., the special operators as they are called will gather for an evening of fun, fellowship, and getting to know one another better. It is the only ball that has attendees from more than one service. The Army SF officers from the fort will be there, as will Air Force commandos, a Navy SEAL if there is one in a class this year, and any force recon officers from the Marine Corps.

The active duty youngsters will be augmented by Army veterans from every war since WW II. But unfortunately, as Father Time marches inexorably on, the WW II veterans are leaving our midst. A ball favorite who loved going to them was the late John Ross of Kansas City, the only area resident who was a member of the WW II 1st Special Service Force, called by the Germans "The Devil's Brigade."

In fact, only two members of the veterans group in the greater Kansas City area are WW II veterans, Bill Thompson of Lansing, a member of the clandestine group known as the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the forerunner of today's CIA, and Ret. Maj. Gen. USAR Robert Shirkey, an Alamo Scout in the Pacific Theater of Operations.

Ret. Col. Roger Donlon of Leavenworth, first recipient of the Medal of Honor in Vietnam, is always there, but the several other SF veterans in Leavenworth don't do so well in attending regularly. I'm only an honorary member of Special Forces Association Chapter 29, but I've only missed one ball in the past 10 or so years, due to a schedule conflict.

To me, an especially enjoyable part of the ball is the attendance of international SF officers. Being retired, I'm not at CGSC to meet the international students and have to do so at the few balls they attend. The Mongolian Special Forces is not very large, but one year I met one of its majors. That was a fun evening.

The current president of the veterans group in Kansas City is Terry Buckler, the youngest member of the not-so-well known Son Tay Raid, the only acknowledged large scale raid by U.S. forces into North Vietnam during the war. He lives in Holt, Mo., not so far away from Leavenworth.

I should add that I'm an honorary member of the chapter not because I was a cavalry officer, but because for many years I've gladly provided a historical display of SF memorabilia that dates from the Revolutionary War. That will be my role Saturday night, although the Argosy is not a display friendly place.

I'll have to arrive quite early in case the security people decide to check inside each of the several boxes full of "old military stuff" before they are allowed inside. The SF officers enjoy looking at some of their predecessors' fighting knives, tomahawks, and other weapons from past wars, but casino rules say no weapons are allowed inside.

So I'll leave the good stuff attendees like to look at in their safe storage area and take some of the benign items that will pass any "security inspection." Due to the nature of its work, SF branch members don't use many benign items, which makes setting up a display more of a challenge.

I'm sure the evening will be a smashing success nonetheless, as it has been in past years…but past years weren't at the casino.
And for the AWOLs in the area who'll miss it again, they'll never know what they missed. Again.

John Reichley is a retired Army officer and retired Department of the Army civilian employee.