News: Vietnam vets reunite for one week, ‘Black Jack’ Soldiers attend reunion
Story by Sgt. Quentin Johnson
BRANSON, Mo. – The Vietnam War ended nearly 40 years ago yet the memories of the conflict are still fresh and raw to many of those who served.
“I sent a letter from the hospital in Japan to find out about the eight men in my platoon. The letter was returned to me with the notification ‘all deceased’,” said Larry Hicks, then a private first class during the Vietnam War.
These painful memories continue with Hicks today, but some closure came from a Vietnam War Reunion for veterans of Company D, 1st Battalion 5th Cavalry Regiment 1965 – 1971 in Branson, Mo., April 9 – 13.
Lou Perosi Jr., a former member of Company D., 1-5 Cav. Regt., planned the reunion in July 2011 after attending another war reunion in Washington. Perosi and his wife made contact with 88 Vietnam veterans who served in Company D, which was then an air mobility and infantry company.
Approximately 33 veterans, 17 spouses and active Army soldiers from the current 1-5 Cav. Regt. (Mechanized), attended the reunion, said retired Army Lt. Col. Jim Buckner, a former commander of Company D.
During the reunion, current Company D soldiers presented a display featuring a range of artifacts and items from World War II all the way to the war in Iraq, explained Capt. Kyle Hatzinger, the current commander of Company D. He also presented a list of soldiers killed in action during the Vietnam War allowing veterans to see names of those they served with, speak on their behalf and hold onto the bonds they formed as soldiers.
“Going through the list was the most emotional time of the reunion. It seemed to have touched many of the vets and was necessary for closure,” said Hatzinger.
Many of the vets spoke with Hatzinger and explained that closure was necessary for healing. “Seeing their raw emotion, they (veterans) told me they were glad they decided to partake in the reunion … it helped heal them,” he added.
Hicks was hesitant about attending the reunion himself. Being in Vietnam for only 45 days in 1968, he said he wasn’t sure if he would know anyone.
“I thought I lost eight people in my platoon. I was shot and flown to different hospitals, only to discover I wouldn’t be returning to my brothers-in-arms,” he explained. “I knew the reunion would be good for closure and to share the pain with others who went through what I did.”
After looking at the invite list, Hicks discovered he was not alone in his former platoon. “I saw a name on the list, Dave Machalak, the point man in my platoon,” stated Hicks. “I was shocked, became emotional, I thought he was dead.”
It’s those everlasting bonds of friendship that inspired Hatzinger most at the reunion.
“Seeing their strength now, standing tall, with hopeful friendships despite being in an unpopular, devastating war, was inspiring,” said Hatzinger.
“The friendships and bonds were definitely stronger back then,” said Sgt. 1st Class John Puddy, first sergeant for Company D. “I believe technology and lack of face to face communication leaves us taking camaraderie for granted sometimes.”
In addition to friendships, Puddy was excited to find out the veterans leadership styles and their non-commissioned officers’ number one goals – the care of Soldiers, were two things that stood the test of time.
“Leadership roles haven’t changed much in the last 45 years, and I was excited to see that taking care of soldiers was the veteran NCO’s priority,” he said.
Hicks said he was equally impressed by Puddy’s and Hatzinger’s demeanor while at the reunion. Their professionalism and knowledge of the current technology was helpful.
“First sergeant (Puddy) was very knowledgeable and shared his experiences with all of us,” added Hicks. “Their (current Company D soldiers) presence was very appreciated and a healthy component to the reunion.”
Perosi said the reunion was a success and hopes to make it an annual event utilizing different locations around the states for each one. He will continue inviting current members of Company D and service members from other branches of the military that served in the war during that time period as well.