News: Fort Sam Houston Caisson Section created to serve, revere, comfort
Story by L.A. Shively
SAN ANTONIO - The Fort Sam Houston Caisson Section was forged in the wake of terrorism.
When the Pentagon was struck Sept. 11, 2001, a San Antonio native lost her life.
Lt. Col. Karen Wagner, a medical department staff officer, was serving – in the Pentagon – on that day.
She was brought home and interred at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery.
Wagner was carried to her final resting place with a caisson from the Fort Sill Field Artillery Half Section from Oklahoma, 400 miles away.
As a result, leadership decided a caisson section from Fort Sam Houston should give tribute to fallen heroes at the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery.
Caissons and horses were an important part of the Army and Fort Sam Houston history until the 1930s.
The caisson we see today is actually a caisson and limber. The caisson carried ammunition. The limber towed the cannon.
Everything from artillery to infantry to logistics was done with horse power and a large part of the post was built around training and housing horses.
On the battlefields, horse-drawn caissons carried ammunition and cannon to the front lines.
Soldiers fought the enemy on horseback.
Injured and dead Soldiers were carried back to the field hospitals on caissons.
Lt. Col. Greg Vrentas, commander of the Special Troops Battalion and the Military Honors Platoon at that time, with Garrison Commander Col. Douglas Biggerstaff’s support, made it his mission to establish the Fort Sam Houston Caisson Section.
Vrentas found the Soldiers, the horses, and, with Col. Frank Blakely’s help, a stable master, Larry Rodriguez, to train the Soldiers and the horses.
While his teams trained, Vrentas found the equipment, a source for the ceremonial saddles and harnesses, and an expert to build a replica of an original 1918 caisson.
The Military Honors Platoon was already housed in the old veterinarian complex which included stalls and a barn, so lodging the newly-formed caisson section was easy, but a major overhaul was needed.
Just under seven months after inception, the new Caisson Section at Fort Sam Houston executed its first official caisson funeral for retired Sgt. Maj. of the Army Leon Van Autreve when he was laid to rest March 20, 2002 at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery.
Van Autreve served as the fourth sergeant major of the Army.
Today, the Fort Sam Houston Caisson Section performs several ceremonies per week honoring our fallen heroes.
Many of the soldiers serving in the section are on compassionate assignment and all perform this sacred duty with pride.