Back in 1992, I stopped in Grand Island, Nebraska for a “Nebraska Vietnam Veteran’s Family Reunion”. I was traveling through the area and stopped to see what it was about. I saw a lot of guys in their long beards, jungle shirts, ribbons, boonie hats, etc. It appeared to me that they were still living the experience – in any event, this wasn’t me.
This Spring I started making contact with members of the 199th LIB. Finding my slides from Vietnam, scanning them and building my web site pages brought back lots of memories, a little stress and the need to reconnect.
After posting on the Redcatcher.org web site, I received a message from Mike, another Chaplain Assistant there at the same time as me. We started corresponding and he told me about Delta Company 2/3rd weekly chats. The Delta guys were all talking about their reunion – which I couldn’t make due to prior commitments. The strongly recommended I attend the Echo Company reunion in June.
I guess it was more appropriate for me to attend the Echo reunion. While I was actually Brigade HHC cadre, my Chaplain and I were assigned to the Old Guard (2nd/3rd). And I bunked with Echo Company.
Anyway, due to some e-mails flying around before the reunion, I started second guessing my decision to drive to Columbus, GA to spend a week with a bunch of guys and their wives that I had never met. Can be a frightening thought. I kept watching the list of those attending – watching for any of my 1970 friends. Hoping I would have someone I knew when I got there.
I decided to make the trip – stopping near St. Louis to visit Mike - after all, he got me into this. We had a nice visit, and with a little more confidence I headed on towards Columbus.
Arriving in Columbus, I decided to get the worst part over with – I headed right to the host hotel and hospitality room to introduce myself. I was greeted with a hug and “Welcome Home, Brother.” Thanks Don, you helped get things off to a good start.
Getting out, doing “tourist” things the next couple days really helped. Low pressure activities gave me a chance to get to know those that had arrived early in the week. By the time that “crowd” arrive for the weekend, I had a group I was comfortable with.
I was happy I came in early. Had I attended just for the weekend, I think I would have been overwhelmed with meeting new people. This tends to make me withdraw. But I had a comfort level from the week. Everyone tried to make me feel welcome – a member of the family.
A big part was meeting Anna and “Top” Ray Wood. Ray was 1st Sgt when I was living with Echo. And, they know a good friend of mine in North Carolina. AHA – I found a connection.
There were a few other “first timers” at the reunion. One – Perry Dotson – was in Echo (Recon Platoon) at the same time I was living with the Rat Patrol. We spent a lot of time visiting about the people we both knew and the stand down of the unit.
The visit to the 199th Memorial at Ft. Benning was a very emotional time for me. I only wish one of my old buddies was there – I would have felt better. Didn’t feel comfortable enough with anyone to hug and cry with. Hopefully that will come another time.
On the way home – traveling thru the Louisville area – I remembered that I had last visited my friend Ron Moeller in New Albany, IN – checked the Internet when I got home and was able to add his address to the Echo roster.
All in all, it was worth making the trip. Much of the stress I was feeling this spring has been relieved. I know that my feelings are pretty “normal”, its OK to cry a little at the sound of Taps or while visiting a memorial, and hugs are allowed. I also found that I’m not alone in taking 30+ years before being ready to “come home”.
Looking forward to next year’s reunion a little closer to home in Branson, MO.
Copyright(c) 2004 Tom Winfield. All rights reserved.