|Amazing April sunrise in Northwestern Wisconsin|
Just returned from a road trip that logged in at around 2800 miles. From home to Chicago, then Memphis, and continuing on to Atlanta. The drive itself was comfortable. I used Goldie, our little 40 mpg Ford Focus. I had to out of self defense with gas prices upwards of $4.25 a gallon in the Chicago area. Weather cooperated and it was down right Summer all across the South from Memphis to Atlanta. I did experience one stormy morning, but the day improved quickly as we traveled East.
|Crossing the Mississippi River, arriving in Memphis, TN|
In Atlanta, we spent a few days at the Embassy Suites Hotel. This was the site of the annual reunion for the 22nd Infantry Regiment Society and the group within the group that I belong to, Vietnam Triple Deuce. I called it annual, but the event actually takes place every 18 months. The next one will be in Colorado Springs, CO in September of 2012.
|Spring flowers and greenery in Atlanta with Goldie parked in the background|
I attended my first reunion in 2009 in Seattle, WA. Up until that time, I didn’t have the desire to go. I had my reasons, or excuses if you will, but I had returned from the battlefields of Vietnam in February of 1970 and always felt that any type of participation would perpetuate and bring to the forefront the horrors of war and in essence say I supported it. I didn’t want to be approving of it, and that was something I realized I was deathly afraid of.
|L to R: Spadoman, Bayou Bob, Savage Grace and Larry N.|
Even when I attended the 2009 reunion I came away from the event laced with extreme fear. I attended there and was home for weeks before I realized what good my own soul had gleaned from going. There was actually much healing that took place.
|My good friend Larry N. from Memphis, TN|
This is where I want to make a very big apology. I’m doubtful the people who need to hear it will know I am sorry, but I am. I went back and read what I wrote about the first reunion I attended. I didn’t know what to expect and how the experience would affect me. I didn’t speak very highly of the 22nd Infantry Regiment Society. I let personal opinions get in the way of what I was there for and was quite judgemental and unforgiving.
I did change my mind, over time, and even had a sort of epiphany about the people who fight wars. You see, I am one of them. It skewed my thinking from that point on and I hated what I didn’t understand. I apologize to my brothers in arms. I didn’t “get it”. I rebelled and fell back on old defenses.
I came away from this reunion with a whole new attitude. I think some of the Bravo Company guys I was with in Seattle could see the change in me in Atlanta and I appreciate their patience with me as I mentally grew. The changes can be seen by going back to what I wrote when I recapped the Seattle reunion in THIS POST from October, 2009.
This concept is very hard to explain. I’ll let it rest there and ask you to take my word for it. I felt better about my whole experience of being a boy soldier. I developed a sense of pride for belonging to the 22nd Infantry Regiment and I realized that my past is part of me and has made me who I am today. In a very strange way, it has nothing whatsoever to do with war in a sense, and has everything to do with being human.
|Insignia Coat of Arms for the 22nd Infantry regiment Society|
At a reunion of this kind, there are people of all walks of life attending. The regiment has a storied history dating back to the war of 1812. US Army units attached to this regiment were part of the 25th and 4th Infantry Divisions in Vietnam. These days, the bulk of the attendees are Vietnam Veterans. But there were WWII, Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans there as well, just in smaller numbers.
At the gala dinner on Saturday night, I arrived a tad late as I was out in the lounge talking with a brother that served in Vietnam. He didn’t buy a ticket for the over-priced fish or chicken dinner or I would have just continued the conversation at the dinner table. When I got into the banquet room, I found that the small group of friends I served with had saved me a seat. We were just four people and shared a large table with another small group of Veterans and their families. These Veterans were older than us and had served in World War Two.
Across the table was John. John hailed from the Chicago suburb of Evanston. Next to me was Herb Fowle of Hillsdale, Michigan. These men were in the 22nd Infantry Regiment and went to Omaha Beach in the invasion of Europe on D-Day, June 6, 1944. These men never mentioned the war. They didn’t have to, none of us did. Herb wrote a book after the war. “It took eleven years”, he told me. I told him I’d be in touch and buy a copy. The name of the book is, "Against All Odds" If you care to, write to Herb and purchase a copy of this exceptional book. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. I sat next to Herb during dinner and found him to be a great man and was honored to share a table with Herb and John.
|The cover of Fowle's book from the Amazon site|
My emotions ebbed and flowed during this entire experience over the three days I was there. At one point, I left the hospitality room and sequestered myself in my room for a spell. Just getting away to sort things out.
This was and still is a hard animal to understand, even for us that were there. I could see the ones that lubricated their brains with alcohol and how they have surrendered, not only their time at the reunion, but their lives, to the bottle. One way or another, the Warrior deals with what he has lost of himself.
Memories can be a double edged sword. But I can honestly tell you that the three of us that served together in Vietnam in 1969 concentrated on our lives as we live them today and mention the other guys we remember and where they might be. Most of our stories revolve around our relationships with other brothers and the recall of deep seated memories of names, places and what we ate and drank. We talked about the unsavory conditions of being infantry soldiers and the lack of luxurious conveniences that we take for granted today.
The reason I stayed away from such gatherings in the past was my misunderstanding of why we did it. I had this vision of honoring and supporting war, something I don’t and won’t do. But walking my own walk, or practicing what I preach, I realize that no one really had a choice in the matter. Our legacies were pre determined, for the most part, and we are the survivors in that master plan. Life itself remains a great mystery.
That said, it’s common knowledge that any history of events cannot be changed. Time passes, each moment clicks by and what is done is done. We become who we are from all events in our past. Some events have greater bearing than others, and probably none more than war. Enough said.
|My Red Ant award from 2009|
As I did in 2009 when I attended my first reunion, Larry N. and Bayou Bob received an award called The Order of the Red Ant. In Vietnam, it was inevitable that we'd run into nests of these large bothersome biting red ants. Seems like everyone had a story about their run-in with them. These photos are from my cell phone camera and I apologize for their inferior quality, but the occasion of Larry and Bob receiving their Red Ant Medallion had to be chronicled.
|Larry receiving his Red Ant award.|
I’m home. It was a safe trip. I got closer to people I spent time with for only a short time a long long time ago. I always called them my friends, but now we are true friends. We’ll carry on our relationships as brothers, and although we have that common thread of serving together on a battlefield, we are together now because we want to be.
|Bob and his spouse and soul mate, a gal who we were introduced to as "Tiny"|
Lastly, the men and women who do this bidding for society, be it a “good” war like WWII or the conflicts we are involved with today as Americans, have their own opinions, reasons and justifications for doing what they did, (or didn’t do). But a common thread still binds in spite of any disagreement.
Most mantra about war and Veterans claims a fight for freedom. This point of view can certainly be argued, but in the mind of a Warrior, for a fleeting moment or carried throughout their lives, we fought for someone’s freedom. That freedom is our own freedom as well. Freedom to sort it out, assess the value and the damage and come away with a value. Mine is that war doesn’t reap dividends, except for the friendships.
Honor the Dead
Heal the Wounded
End the Wars
I’ll continue to Honor the Warrior and not the war