I have no idea where Larry is. This is not a huge hotel and he's aware I'm headed his way, so I'm assuming he'll be mingling with the crowd, watching for me. It's fun poking my head into this room, then that one, hoping to catch him chatting with friends.
The crowd is typical for these events...
Gray headed old men everywhere, some walking with the help of canes since the late '60's- early '70's. Like me, almost all are wearing some item of clothing indicating service in Viet Nam. My "Go to Hell" hat with Aviator's wings and Americal Division patch is goofy looking to those in the hotel not attending this reunion, but fits right in with attendees. More than half these guys have their Wives alongside. These gals are extraordinary... all proudly wear necklaces with badges identifying them as reunion attendees, and most also wear reunion patches, pins, or other related paraphenalia. These Wives suffered while their warriors were away from home and at risk. This is not their first reunion so they have heard many, many stories of heroism and selflessness. DO NOT "poke the bear"... get into a discussion about what it takes to preserve freedom with these gals... they will disembowel you before you know you've even been wounded!
I've stuck my head into a couple meeting rooms and wandered around the lobby for 10 minutes or so, and I'm just about to pull out my cell phone and dial him when Larry shouts from the entrance to one of the restaurants. Together we order appetizers and share news.
On the main reunion floor there is a large dining room that is also being used as the principle meeting room. Several hundred attendees are scattered about, chatting in groups of five or six each. Logos and banners outside smaller conference rooms designate meeting places for individual units. Other rooms are reserved for vendors, selling unit patches, pins, books, posters and other memorabilia. We wander into one of these rooms and I immediately notice a familiar unit crest...
The 71st Assault Helicopter Company was located South of where I lived at Chu Lai, and we Warlords frequently flew missions alongside the Rattlers and Firebirds. I shake hands with Paul Bartlett and find we have friends in common. When I mention Captain Herb Crosby,
I notice Paul involuntarily catch a breath.
I've hit a nerve.
When Paul found out there would be a memorial service at Arlington when Captain Crosby's remains were returned, he wanted to do something special for Herb's family. You can see the plaque he made to present to Herb's Mom here.
The story about the POW/MIA bracelet you see on that plaque is touching-
Paul wanted a POW/MIA bracelet with Capt. Crosby's name on it to install on the plaque. He "googled" POW/MIA bracelets and
Liz Flick's website was the first to come up. Paul called the number there and when Liz answered, he said he had a special request...
"I need a bracelet with a specific name... Capt. Herb Crosby."
Liz was taken aback...
"I've been wearing Herb's bracelet on my arm for over 30 years!" When Paul explained what he wanted to do, Liz insisted he take her bracelet for the memorial plaque.
And one more irony... Liz had shown the bracelet on her arm to Herb's Mother when they both had attended a memorial some years earlier!
Needless to say, before Paul had finished the story of making the plaque, I was in tears and he was fighting them back.
Larry and I visited as we walked around, and I found a pin with four Hueys in formation that had my name on it. I bought it, then it was time for dinner... back to the big meeting room.
Gunner Steve and his wife appeared and sat with us. Steve has had health problems over the last few years, but I was heartened to see him smiling and in apparent good health. We caught up on the latest news, then the three of us started challenging one another to see who could come up with the most innocuous memory.
I think Steve won with the "Cobra incident"... the time one of our pilots snagged the left skid of a Cobra on an immovable object, ripping the skid off so we had to build a temporary "kickstand" for the Snake to land on for repairs to be made.
(No, it wasn't me that did it!)
I was disappointed to find no other familiar faces in the crowd, but we are all brothers and I left the reunion having made new friends, with a few business cards in my pocket.
Tears, smiles, and memories made new...
I left the Hotel looking forward to the next reunion.