PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. -- More than 70 years ago, WW II veterans Jim Cullen, Marty Rosenbaum, Al Sussarman, Dick Moran, John Marshall, and Ken Schuetz fought in one of the most famous battles on the European front: the Battle of the Bulge.

Fast-forward to July 8, 2015. This small group of warriors were joined by family members and guests to a luncheon and tour of Picatinny Arsenal.

Picatinny Arsenal is where most munitions that were used against our enemy 70 years ago were designed and refined.

Those artillery rounds, grenades and mines were state-of-the-art at the time. They spawned a continuous process of improvement that provide many advancements for our fighting forces today. The weapons used to defeat our enemies, and bring our boys home, have come a long way since the Battle of the Bulge.

That battle, from Dec. 16, 1944 to Jan. 25 1945, was a surprise attack that caught the Allied forces completely off guard. The battle was a major German offensive, launched toward the end of World War II, through the densely forested Ardennes region of Wallonia in Belgium, France, and Luxembourg. 

Several stops on the tour of Picatinny for the Bulge veterans and others took them to hear and view special presentations. Keith Gooding, Program Manager for Towed Artillery Systems, and Ron Mills, Systems Engineer Fire Control (Abrams), spoke to the visitors. 

During their tour, the veterans expressed excitement and curiosity in viewing and hearing about the changes in military equipment that have occurred since their era in combat.

“If we would have had these kinds of advancements we would have killed a lot more enemy and brought home more of our boys alive,” said Cullen, who fought from Normandy, to France, Germany, then was drawn into the Bulge of the Bulge.

Cullen and his battle buddies said they were impressed with the tour and the presenters. For their part, Mills and Gooding also expressed admiration for the veterans.

“These men are living history, the last of the greatest generation,” said Mills.

Although most wars will eventually come to an end, Mills said the wartime experiences of veterans are invaluable in providing insights into how best to equip and support our warfighters in future conflicts. 

“Everything those men did 70-plus years ago to preserve our freedoms remains relevant today,” Mills said. “If I had the opportunity to sit down with each and every one of them and ask them one thing today, I’d ask what really saved their bacon out there.

“We sit around as engineers looking at things from a technical-problem-solving point of view, but until you’ve been down range and actually had to depend on that vehicle or that weapons system, or that piece of kit to complete your mission, you don’t know how much they are capable of. I want to know what they did to push that Sherman tank to its limits when the manual said it was dead in the water.

“I want to know what piece of kit they used countless times to get you out of a jam, and I want to know what they couldn’t have survived the war without. I want to know what malfunctioned when it shouldn’t have that put them and their battle buddies in jeopardy,” Mills added.

“All of these stories help to shape the designs for the next generation, and sometimes they apply to fielded weapons today. Take the M2 50-caliber machine gun. Brought into service in 1933, this John Moses Browning design has gone virtually unchanged onto every vehicle in the U.S. Army inventory, and been used in every conflict from WW II to Operation Enduring Freedom.

“Hearing their stories about the M2 in WW II is as relevant as asking the same question about the same weapon from a Soldier who returned from Afghanistan yesterday,” Mills continued.

“With all the advancements in weapons technology, I always find myself looking to the past, to the real innovators, like Browning. And I’m not the only one.

“The U.S. Marines recently brought back into service the M1911 (.45 caliber pistol).

“Why did we bring the 1911 back? Why does my Abrams carry the same M2 that the Sherman tank did? Ask these vets, the men who paved the way for us all who served.

“They know better than I do the abuse these weapons take, and how you can depend on them to bring you home.” 

Gooding also expressed gratitude and tribute to the veterans on the tour, adding that their knowledge and experiences serve to advance research and development today.

 “It’s an honor for me to be able to share what we do here and to shake their hands, and thank them for what they did for our country,” Gooding said.

 “These veterans’ experiences enrich what we do as civilians here on Picatinny. The civilian workforce does not always have military experience, and the veterans’ combat history is a vital contribution to what we do here.”

After the first presentation on the tour, the veterans boarded the bus for more sights and sounds of the installation.

They also met some civilians and military members who support today’s war-fighters, as their Picatinny predecessors have done in the past, during times of both war and peace.

Note* Reggie Mays is a volunteer writer for the Voice.