I just returned from my 17th annual Charlie Company reunion in St. Louis, Mo. Every year what’s left of us gather for good food and good times.
These are the Vietnam veterans who served with Americal, 19th Brigade, Charlie Company. The group constantly searches for men who served with that company from 1966 to 1971, its time in Vietnam.
There are always representatives from the DAV there to assist vets with their V.A. benefits. At one time we had about 40 attendees, but Agent Orange and old age has taken its tool.
This year we had 17. Each year we read the names of the 127 men killed in Charlie Company. There are colonels and generals there, but we still call them captain or lieutenant, or sarge, just as we did 50 years ago.
I had planned to go home with General Jamison, one of my old Company Commanders. He lives in Durango, Colorado. He was going to drop me atop Pike’s Peak and I was going to ride my bicycle down the 14,000-foot mountain.
Then on to Durango to ride the narrow gauge steam engine up to Silverton, then kayak back to Durango down the Animas River gorge.
Our plans were abruptly halted by numerous forest fires in the area. We all have Agent Orange and cannot tolerate smoke. I had to take General Jamison to an airport where he flew to his kid’s home in Atlanta until the smoke cleared.
I have Agent Orange in one lung and black lung in the other, and they have a turf war going on and have forgotten about me for now.
My first trip to the reunion I expected to see the guys all wearing camo, pigtails, long beards, tattoos all over, and crying about their PTSD. I was never so surprised in my life.
All were well dressed and well mannered. Most had the same wife of 40 or 50 years. A few were retired military, one lawyer, a police chief, two airline pilots, a chemist, two dentists, a nuclear physicist, three real estate developers, and one ran a UPS store, though he only had one arm.
Everyone there had injuries of some kind and according to our records, only one man (Sgt. Darrel Ordway) did a full tour without an injury.
According to the records, not one of Charlie Company had ever committed suicide, murder, been in jail, or on drugs. The ones I knew weren’t clerks or orderlies.
They were all hardened killers, the type to sit on your body and eat dinner while you bled out. Yet none seemed to have any problems with PTSD.
These guys were in the worst place in the worst time, along the DMZ and Laos border during the 1968 Tet Offensive, standing directly in the path of about a million NVA regulars heading north back to Hanoi after the beating they had taken farther south and around Saigon.
It makes me wonder why everyone coming out of the military these days seem to have serious mental problems, and the highest suicide rate in history.
I know I’m missing something here, and I can’t figure it out.
(Jerry Collins is a resident of Millstone.)