It was twenty three years ago. November 4, 1969.
By Ty Dodge (3rd Platoon, I Troop, 3/11 ACR)
In the early morning darkness, sappers of the NVA’s COSVN J-16 Armor Office and the NVA 7th Division breached the wire of FSB Buttons. It was a desperate attempt to overrun Buttons and take the city of Song Be. The battle raged for more than four hours. As part of the perimeter defense, I Troop lost one dead and several wounded. I was fortunate--the RPG’s that slammed into my track weren’t labeled "KIA," they had "Ticket to The World" written on them.
The last thing I remember of that pre-dawn darkness was being carried by four men to a medivac chopper. On one corner of my litter was a 1st Cav Division chaplain. I don’t remember his face and I didn’t know his name. I only knew that he, like the others that night, was there for me.
For twenty three years I’ve wondered who they were and have longed to come face to face again——to be able to say "thanks!" to those men and others who made my welfare their concern that night.
But my story has really just begun.
Chapter Two was set in San Antonio in August of 1992. My wife, Florence, and I were there for our first 11th Cav reunion. Shortly after we arrived I was approached by a Blackhorse trooper named Bob Walker. He looked at me with just a shadow of doubt in his eyes and then exclaimed, "I remember you! You’re Lieutenant Dodge! I stayed with you when you were brought to the command track after being wounded at Buttons! I never saw so much shrapnel in one leg! And I think I carried you to the medivac chopper when they flew you out, too!" Here was my first chance to say "thanks!"
That meeting in itself was reward enough to have traveled 1000 miles to Reunion VII! But there was more to come.
As Florence perused the tables along one wall of the banquet room, she found a handwritten note that said simply, "My name is Chaplain Gene Allen, 1st Cav, FSB Buttons. I did a lot with the 11th when they were attacked outside the berm at Buttons. Call me if you remember."
My heart was in my throat! He had to be the chaplain I remembered! I called him, and we went to dinner (appropriately enough, to a Vietnamese restaurant). After twenty three years, I was face to face again with my second stretcher bearer! But here’s the rest of the story--and it involves the incredible circumstances that brought us together again. Gene Allen had retired from the Army in San Antonio. Not Washington or Dallas or San Diego, but San Antonio. He’s now a hospital chaplain and knew nothing of our 11th ACVVC reunion because, you see, while in Vietnam, he wasn’t even with the 11th ACR--he was assigned to the 1st Cav. But, by chance he was doing a seminar this particular weekend at our Holiday Inn, and when he saw the Blackhorse banners, he left his hastily written note in our meeting room. My call reached him as he and his wife were packing for a trip to Austin. An hour more and he’d have been gone. And, had Florence not been with me I may never have seen Gene’s note. But, she was. The rest is history. My reunion was complete.
Having just been reunited after twenty three years with two of the men who truly were my "tickets to The World," I thought my story must have been the most incredible of the weekend! What I noticed, though, was that everyone I met had a story. They were stories of sadness and brotherhood and friendships rekindled. They were filled with every emotion you can imagine. And each story was just as important as the next.
That was the essence of Reunion VII... that we were together again sharing one of the most significant experiences of our lives.
And it was good.
2701 Overhill Road
Birmingham, AL 35223
P.S. Perhaps the men on the remaining corners of my stretcher, as well as others who risked their lives to save mine that night, will read this and call. I don’t know who you are, but I do want to tell you "thanks!"