The e-mail came as a surprise. Russ was to be in East Texas for a bowling tournament and did I want to get together with him and his wife for supper?
We had e-mailed each other jokes for some years. Russ had found me through a Vietnam veterans’ register and made the initial contact.
Although we corresponded regularly, and Russ lived in Killeen, we had not seen each other since April, 1971 when I was platoon leader and Russ was platoon sergeant of third platoon, B Troop, 1/1 Cav, Americal Division.
My wife Sharon was scheduled to be at a convention in Dallas that weekend and I quickly put other plans on the shelf, writing back suggesting a favorite restaurant in Longview.
When I arrived, Russ was waiting at the door. There was no awkward moment of trying to guess if this was the same man. At 65 his hair was mostly gray, and he wore glasses. His tall lanky frame carried extra pounds much better than mine. We knew each other, instantly.
Following a warm handshake and a hug, Russ introduced me his wife and I introduced them to fried shrimp and gumbo.
There is a barrier between officers and enlisted men, even non-commissioned officers, but I thought Russ and I worked well together and it was gratifying to see that he thought the same.
We visited about our families, our homes, our vacations.
We also talked about people we had known in Vietnam. Russ is the only person I have seen from B Troop and I am Russ’ only contact.
I told Russ about asking a New York City cop, if he knew Shaughnessy. Shaughnessy had been one of our tank commanders and told me one night about wanting to join NYPD after he got out.
The cop I spoke with had not heard of Shaughnessy, and truth be told, after 35 years, I’m not even sure that is his name.
We both remembered a kid named Cornell. We called him Colonel. He was on his second tour in Vietnam. He had made sergeant on the first trip but got busted when he stole a real colonel’s jeep and took it to town.
During the invasion of Laos, the main gun, or cannon, on two of my three tanks would not work. Russ and Colonel worked out a way to make them fire that was not printed in the training manual for the M551 Sheridan.
As the conversation became more centered on Vietnam, Russ reflected a particularly bad night.
Sappers had gotten inside the perimeter of second platoon with satchel charges and the same rocket propelled grenades you read about today in Iraq and Lebanon. At 3 a.m. we were ordered to ride to their rescue.
Russ remembered how thick the pre-dawn fog was as we thundered down QL 9 from Khe Sanh to Engineer Point. By the time we arrived, the bad guys had pulled out. We got busy securing the area and doing what was necessary. I can still recall the charred platoon leader’s track with the neat RPG hole in the fuel tank sitting where my personnel carrier had been parked a couple days before.
With full daylight, choppers arrived to take away the dead and wounded and to bring in the brass.
In the middle of this, the squadron sergeant major came up to Russ wanting to know if Russ had drained his fuel filters.
“And then I opened my big mouth,” Russ explained to his wife.
It was the sort of disconnect junior officers and NCO’s seemed to encounter at this stage of the war, or at least I did.
A few more war stories and dessert finished our meal. We shook hands at the door and promised to meet again, next time in Killeen.
I left feeling, however, that we didn’t need to rush. Although seeing each other had been good, it would take some time for these wounds to heal, again.
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