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The memories never fade: Marines, Vietnam veterans pay tribute to fallen leader Sgt. Reece Lodder

Former U.S. Marine Cpl. T.J. Croft (in red), a Vietnam veteran who served with Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, views a military operations on urban terrain (MOUT) training facility during a visit to Marine Corps Training Area Bellows, Hawaii, Aug. 22, 2012. Croft, a native of Omaha, Neb., served in Vietnam as a forward observer from 1966-1967. Nearly half a century since they fought through hell in Vietnam, approximately 30 former 2/3 Marines and their families visited the base to reminisce on their service and render honor to a brother lost in combat, Sgt. Maj. Wayne Hayes. Hayes was killed in action, Feb. 28, 1967, during Operation Prairie II while serving with many of the 2/3 veterans.

MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII - Nearly half a century has passed since the Marines of 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment fought through hell in Vietnam.

The strains of combat have long imprisoned the vigor of their youth. Bodies have changed and reflexes slowed. Fresh, young faces of earlier days are ripe with weathered character. The men have lived a lifetime beyond war, but their memories remain vivid.

Approximately 30 Vietnam-era 2/3 Marines and their families visited Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Aug. 22, 2012, to reminisce on their service and render honor to a brother lost in combat, Sgt. Maj. Wayne Hayes.

“Coming together like this helps a lot of Marines,” said retired Master Sgt. Eddie Wyatt, a Vietnam-era rifleman who served with Fox Company, 2/3. “They’ve buried emotions for years. They’ve lived with nightmares. Being able to come out and talk about these has helped them heal … to release their demons.”

Following a warm welcome by 3rd Marine Regiment’s commanding officer and sergeant major — Col. Nathan Nastase and Sgt. Maj. Justin Lehew — the salty Marines stepped back into service through a brief at the chapel highlighting the current state of today’s Marine Corps.

Besides inspiring a generation of men like him to join the Marine Corps, Lehew said, the Vietnam veterans’ experiences were a catalyst for growth and development in the Corps.

“A lot of the changes and improvements in today’s Marine Corps are a reaction to the conditions the Vietnam veterans lived in,” said Lehew, a Navy Cross recipient. “They’re very proud to see that a lot of the work they did … what they fought for … paved the way for the changes made today.”

Stepping outside, the veterans were greeted by infantrymen from 3rd Marines. They gawked at modern weaponry and marveled at the advances in combat equipment.

“The new gear is pretty impressive,” said Wyatt, a native of Stanley, N.C. “We didn’t have any of this in Vietnam. We were still carrying flamethrowers from World War II and Korea!”

A short drive from base brought them to Marine Corps Training Area Bellows in Waimanalo, where they viewed professionally crafted, realistic urban villages used by Marine and Army units during pre-deployment training.

The break for lunch at the base’s Anderson Hall Dining Facility hit close to home for many of the Marines. The ‘chow hall’ is named in memory of Pfc. James Anderson, Jr., a rifleman with Fox Co., 2/3., who many of the veterans served alongside. He died Feb. 28, 1967, in Cam Lo, Vietnam, after jumping on an enemy grenade to save the men around him. They survived and Anderson was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, becoming the first African American in Vietnam to receive the nation’s highest award for valor.

Despite the solemn memory, the veterans swapped memories of combat chow (individually canned C-rations) and mess duty (formerly a 30-day duty for which low-ranking Marines were selected to help prepare and serve food). Former Sgt. Milton Hoch, a 2/3 radio operator who earned two Purple Heart Medals in Vietnam, marveled at the well-stocked salad bar and a tasty serving of deep-fried okra.

Following a brief visit to the Wounded Warrior Battalion West — Detachment Hawaii barracks, the group mustered at the Rocker Room Staff Noncommissioned Officer Club for appetizers, drinks and the main reason for attendance — to honor their fallen brother Hayes.

While serving as 2/3’s battalion sergeant major in Vietnam during Operation Prairie II, Hayes was killed in action, Feb. 28, 1967 — the same day as Anderson. The 39-year-old husband, father and highly decorated war hero left behind his wife and three young children.

The same year, a painting memorializing Hayes was commissioned and placed in ‘The Hayes Room’ of the Officers Club on Defense Depot Ogden, Utah. Thirty years later, DDO was shut down and the painting disappeared.

Hayes’ youngest and only daughter, Deborah Mongiovi, began searching for the painting shortly after. Years proved fruitless until, with help from Joe O’Connor, a Marine who served with her father, she located the painting at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, Va.

In front of a crowd of men who served alongside Hayes, his daughter and Lehew drew a red sheet off the wall to reveal a stunning reproduction of the painting. Mounted next to a letter of remembrance and a shadow box overflowing with Hayes’ medals and ribbons, the painting finally found its home … 45 years after its creation.

“This story is just one more example of ‘once a Marine, always a Marine,’” Mongiovi, from Escondido, Calif., told the veterans. “None of you have ever let go of your faith and loyalty to your own. I can’t say it will ever be closed, but my circle is a much warmer place than it was without you.”

Though only 7 years old at the time of her father’s death, Mongiovi said meeting his fellow 2/3 Marines has helped restore many memories of her father. With a pained smile on her face, she remembers the tall, handsome man who “always had a twinkle in his eye when he looked at me.”

The Vietnam veterans of 2/3 were greeted with scorn when they returned from war. Lehew hoped 3rd Marines’ reception properly acknowledged their service and sacrifice.

“The reception Marines get when they return from deployments today is over the top compared to the one these men received when they came home,” Lehew said. “But it’s never too late to make these Marines feel welcome. The veterans and their families saw the amount of love and concern we had for them today … and the looks on their faces were unforgettable.”


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This work, The memories never fade: Marines, Vietnam veterans pay tribute to fallen leader, by Sgt Reece Lodder, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.

Date Taken:08.22.2012

Date Posted:08.23.2012 21:40

Location:MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII, HI, USGlobe

Hometown:CLOVERDALE, CA, US

Hometown:ESCONDIDO, CA, US

Hometown:PALMER, AK, US

Hometown:RIDGEWOOD, NJ, US

Hometown:STANLEY, NC, US

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