FORT KNOX, Ky. (WHAS11) -- The sound of Taps rings out from a bugle, each note hanging in the air inside the Patton Museum's Abrams Auditorium at Fort Knox in remembrance.
"They're all heroes. I mean really," Jerry Roettgers said. "They were willing to give their lives for what they thought was a good cause."
Roettgers and others have the image of a panther and the number "66" stitched onto their hats, veterans of the 66th Infantry Division who served in Europe more than 70 years ago during World War II, lauded by many as heroes.
"Talking about, 'Oh, heroes, heroes,' but we weren't heroes," Andy Staruch, then a sergeant with the 66th, said. "We were ordinary 18- to 20-year old guys and we were sent there to do the job."
"We come out of high school, had a job - didn't know what it was all about, but we went," Roettgers said.
These men were headed out to join the Battle of the Bulge, one of the decisive battles in the European theater during World War II. Set to cross the English Channel on Christmas Eve of 1944, one of the troopships, "The Leopoldville," was attacked by a German U boat.
"The lieutenant from the Navy was there and he cut us off and said, 'That's it. You fellows get off and get on another ship,'" Staruch said. "We were complaining because we wanted to be with the company."
"It was a little different than it would have been," Roettgers said. "I wouldn't be talking to you, I don't think."
More than 700 people died in the sinking, marked as the second largest loss of life at sea during World War II.
"We see this thing go by and just alongside our ship, which is 'The Cheshire,' and all of a sudden, we heard this noise and everything erupted," Staruch said.
Since the 1970s, the men of the 66th and their families have gathered together for a yearly reunion, holding this year at Fort Knox, remembering their time together as brothers-in-arm and honoring those who never made it back.
"These people are like brothers to me," Roettgers said. "I mean we spent a lot of time together."
"We are in our generation, like they said, the greatest generation," Staruch said. "Maybe we were - I don't know. But it was a generation that we were all boys together."