Big John’s Reunion Speech June 19-22, 2010
Radisson Hotel, Branson, Missouri
In March of 2003 I started to have what I call a “Vietnam Awakening”. I was having trouble concentrating at work and my mood became increasingly agitated and sad. For some reason I was thinking of the guys I served with in Vietnam. The only two guys I had contact with since returning from Vietnam were Russ Burns, Ray Bourgeois and Charlie Van Ark who always remembered me at Christmas time… I should mention that Ray is my oldest son Tim’s Godfather. Remarkably, we had managed to talk to each other only twice in 36 yrs. I always thought it was odd, that for someone I thought of almost daily, it would be so hard to keep in touch with. It seemed like I was thinking about all the guys more this March. My unexplained sadness quickly turned into full blown depression. I was constantly wondering what happened to all the guys I’d served with. Were they alright? Did they make it home? I was unable to sleep and my wife was getting worried when I stopped going to work. I couldn’t seem to pull myself together. My boyhood chum Fred Pease was fighting the war in Desert Storm and I was constantly worried he would get shot down in his F-15.
I decided to pull the box of “Vietnam Stuff” I’d brought home, out of the storage room and looked at all the letters and pictures I’d sent home during my tour. I was amazed at how little I could remember about the circumstances they represented. I remembered the guys, but couldn’t remember what was going on at the time the picture was taken. I had managed to live with the nightmares that came and went and the hyper vigilance that had become a way of life. The letters I had sent my Mom and Dad seemed to give no detail about where I was at or what was going on. The letters simply said that I was fine and asked them to send me a “care package”. I was hoping those letters would help me remember the details of specific events, but they didn’t help. I had a basic outline of events such as a memorable firefight or one of the guys getting hurt or killed, but beyond that I drew a blank. Several weeks went by and I told my wife I wanted to locate the guys. We had a computer and I had to figure out how to find guys with the limited information I had. I called Russ Bruns and told him I was going to look for the guys and asked him to give me a list of all the guys he remembered. His list included Sneeker, Big Joe, Rambo, Ray and SSG Glover. His memory was much worse than mine! He suggested that if I found anybody maybe we could have a reunion of some kind. I purchased a Net Detective program and started to look for my first buddy, Ray Bourgeois (who I hadn’t talked to in over 10 years).
When I found Ray I asked him why we hadn’t kept in touch and he said, “I don’t know, I’ve thought about you everyday”. That’s just the way Vietnam Vet’s are I guess! Ray and I talked for a couple of hours and before we hung up ,Ray said he would look for his pictures and send them to me, and also said the idea of a reunion sounded really good. We ended our conversation with a promise to keep in closer touch. A few days later I received a box of pictures that blew my mind. There were pictures of most the guys we served with from August 68 to well into 69.
My intention was to locate the guys we served with from August 68 to August 69. One of the first guys I found was platoon icon Willy Williams, who lived in Yuma Arizona. As it turned out Willy was a great source for names and the home towns where the guys lived. It also expanded my search to guys who served in early 68. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this project was going to be very significant. My wife Laura came up with the idea of creating a website dedicated to the Wolfhounds. She found a free website service called Tripod, posted some pictures and we were up and running. I was hopeful that maybe some of the guys were looking for us and would bump into the site.
Many people ask me how I found so many guys. I tell them in the beginning I dialed hundreds of phone numbers to find a single Wolfhound. At one point my wife and I traveled to South Dakota to find Dick Glover whom everyone said was from famous city of Wall. I would leave messages saying I was looking for a man I served with in Vietnam. By luck sometimes I would connect with a relative of the guy and they would give me information on how get in touch with the Veteran. This was the case with finding Bob Noel, Dave Duininck and Mike “the kid” Lozon. There was one exception to this rule. I got Rick Galli’s sister on the phone and I had to go through two days of interrogation before she would tell Rick my phone number. The only thing I refused to do was give her my social security number! One day I stumbled onto the 2/27 Regimental Site and I started checking out the Charlie Co. Roster. To my amazement, my name, along with a lot of the other guys was on this roster. The list of guys to find was growing and growing. I sent out hundreds of 3X5 Postcards hoping the guy on the other end was one of our guys. I left messages on every internet billboard site I could find. One day I found Herb Nye’s Poem and as I read it I knew I had to find this platoon hero. Every man I located had a story to tell and piece by piece the Wolfhound puzzle was being completed.
Our first reunion was in 2004 in Washington DC. in June 2004. XX number of Wolfhounds attended with their wives. It is difficult to describe the feelings we experienced when we saw each other after so many years. The three days together included a visit to the Vietnam Memorial Wall and most of the monuments. One of the more memorable moments was when John Cook crashed the Asian Wedding that was taking place in the room next to our banquet room. We had a distinct honor to have Randy Brockway’s son Scott attend the reunion. Scott was inducted into the platoon and he and his wife Gina have become an integral part of our platoon family. This reunion began the healing process that so many of us needed. We had been separated for 36 years; we would never be separated again. We had gone to Vietnam strangers, we came home brothers. We pledged to meet every two years and continue to look for the guys we hadn’t yet found.
Our second reunion was held in Las Vegas at the Hooters Hotel in June 2006. XX number of wolfhounds attended with their wives and families. Big John’s daughters Tammy and Laura (Hooters Girls) greeted each veteran as they arrived. One of the high lights of the reunion was when Willy Williams showed up for the day with PTSD therapist Ashley Hart. We had two guest speakers Patience Mason and POW Steve Long. We ended the reunion with a poolside barbecue and everyone had a great time. Many memories were made in Vegas and we looked forward to our next reunion.
The third reunion was held in Branson Missouri at the Grand Plaza Hotel. There were 25 Wolfhounds attending with their wives and Family. Our guest speaker was Billy Chaney, First Sergeant of Charlie Co. 2/27 Wolfhounds Iraq. We were all brought up to speed on what the modern day Wolfhound experienced in the Iraqi war. Some conditions in a soldier’s life have changed since Vietnam, newer weapons systems, updated communications and a lot more gear to hump, but a warrior’s life is the same now as it was then, war is hell. Branson will be remembered as the reunion that forged friendships for a lifetime. Many attendees met with former wolfhounds for the first time in 38 years. Janie Wonderlich and her sister Jan Lagge found us through the help of Jim Calvert. We are blessed to have them as a part of our family. All of us were glad we had been found! Big Joe blew all of us away when he showed up to the banquet in his tuxedo! Bob “Moose” Mollenhauer proposed the idea of having a fishing trip in Minnesota the following year and several guys said they were interested.
In September 2009 14 of the Wolfhounds met at “Back-o- the moon resort for 3 days of R&R. It was the first time in 41 yrs any of us had seen SSG Glover. For the most part the accommodations were adequate if not a bit rustic for our east coast brothers. The saving grace for them was the gambling casino on a nearby Indian reservation. Paul Naso dropped a couple of grand and Dick Glover won a thousand bucks! The accommodations for Moose, Big John, Steve Klaus and Jim Brandau can only be compared to trying to stuff a marshmallow into a piggy bank! Moose and Jim shared an air mattress. Whenever moose would get up Jim would sink out of sight. When Moose got back on the mattress Jim would be vaulted into the air.
Every night we sat around a campfire and shared memories of our time together in Vietnam. Dick offered a different perspective, as a man that was responsible for getting us out of Nam alive. Moose unveiled a story none of us had heard that Moose referred to as “Top blows his stack in the shit house”. Many of us are still laughing whenever we think of that story. Everybody caught fish and we were treated like kings by the Moose’s buddies from Owatana who cooked all our meals and took us out on their boats as fishing guides. The owners of the resorts presented all of us with resort hats as a way of thanking us for our service.
Many of our fellow Wolfhounds have embraced the “Age of the internet”. Some of us were drug into the technology kicking and screaming but this communication miracle has allowed us to stay in touch on a daily basis. Face book and MySpace have really taken off and many of the guys and their wives keep in touch through these media. Recently, we have had brother Wolfhounds find us through these websites.
We have gathered once again for our fourth reunion. As I look around I see many new faces that have not attended a reunion before. Our reunions have taken on a life of their own. 103 wolfhounds have been found since 2003. Some of those guys found us through our website. Over 2500 pictures have been posted on our website to chronicle and recognize everyone’s service. We honor those men that did not make it home alive. They paid the ultimate price. We honor those men that have passed since returning home so many years ago. We have learned the value of supporting each other and helping everyone to receive the Veterans benefits they so rightly deserve. We will continue in this effort as long as there is a brother to help.
Our reunion should be a time of celebration. As Percy Allen so aptly put it “We made it”. I am thankful for every man in this room. Without each of us pulling together we might not have made it. In the next few days take a minute to reflect on our time together. Some reflections will be painful, many will be gratifying. We did what we were asked to do, we did the best we could and we did it together. We will continue to search for our brothers and we will continue to meet and celebrate our service together.