Story and Photos By Bernard Edelman
They came from Texas and New Mexico, from Wisconsin and Kentucky, Illinois, Alabama, West Virginia, Nevada. They came to Quantico—actually, to a Comfort Inn in nearby Stafford, Virginia—to attend the fourth reunion of the 3rd Platoon, Hotel Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines.
Forty years ago, these men had humped the boonies for all but a few weeks of their thirteen months in Vietnam, a place that took their youth and too many of their buddies. They were together again now, many accompanied by wives or girlfriends, nephews and sisters, for an extended weekend in early May, to reminisce, to laugh, to shed a tear or two, and to reflect on the most intense experience of their lives, the war that changed them forever.
“Been a while,” says Bobby Griffin—Little Tex—after a hug of greeting from Tex—Ben Williams. “Yeah, been quite a few pounds ago, too,” Tex replies, slapping him on the back.
“Is Rod here yet?” someone asks. “How ’bout Gooze? And Billy Martin?”
As they arrive in ones and twos in the hospitality room, they are checked in by Chuck Gaede, their lieutenant in Vietnam, the glue of these gatherings. Abe Piedra, who left the Army a command sergeant major, still addresses him as “Sir.”
“If somebody didn’t organize this, we’d never get together,” says Little Tex, as Bill Esper nods in agreement.
“Attending these reunions,” Patrick Hodgkins—Bootcamp—says, “has lifted a lot off my shoulders because these guys know what went on.” And much of the conversation over their three days together revolves around what went on—what they did, the carnage they’d seen, and their buddies: those still alive, such as Big Man, Dominique Stance; those too ill to travel, such as Danny Crumpler; and those who never made it home.
In their visit to The Wall, they look up the locations of these men—boys, really: Kevin Forbes and Carl Murdock and Harold Lee Walton (who had been Tex’s best friend) and many others. All are somber here, as they search for the names incised in granite.Bootcamp, though, holds back, more than a bit teary.
Bootcamp is shaken again during the trip to the Marine Corps Museum. Exiting a CH-46 chopper into a burst of hot air is all too real for him. Chuck Gaede and Doc—Roy Moon—walk him through again, and he is calmed.
Doc, the corpsman, is held in the highest regard by these men. He may be the shortest, but to them, he stands the tallest. “There’s no one better,” says Alabama—Joe Whittington. “Other docs, they were good, but Doc…” he trails off, not having to put into words what all of them feel.
In their last meal together, a feast at the Globe & Laurel, along with the conversations and the banter, there are toasts. Joe Richardson raises his glass to Doc: “If it weren’t for you, a lot of us wouldn’t be here.” There is a chorus of “We love you, Doc,” to which Doc replies, “I love you guys. I can never tell you what you mean to me.”
Bootcamp proposes a toast “to Hotel 2/3. We’re all still livin’, we’re all still survivin’, and we’re havin’ a good time.” Steve White—Whitey, or as he has come to be called, Mighty Whitey—toasts “the brothers who aren’t with us.”
These men exude a pride in having served, in having done their jobs well. For them, the ultimate truism of war is, as Alabama puts it, “We fought for each other.” Between them, there is love. This reunion, like scores of others across the country, is about love, about a brotherhood forged in the carnage of war.