Reunions Bring Closure
By Tom Reese
Following the in processing that
we all experienced upon arriving in
Vietnam, I was assigned as a Platoon Leader in M Company, 3rd Squadron.
It was early in the evening of February 27, 1970, when I boarded the Huey that was to fly me to join the troopers of Mike Company. As the chopper gained altitude, I recall thinking our beautiful the countryside was. The only sounds I could hear were the rotors beating the air. In spite of the falling darkness and the airspeed, the air was hot. The faces of the door gunners were serious as they peered into the darkness below. I knew the instant we were over " Indian Country!"
Thousands of questions wandered around in my mind as we continued to fly. Was I prepared to lead men in combat? Would I possess a calm demeanor under fire? Would the troopers in my platoon have confidence in me? The most nagging question was, "why were we flying at night to land at some location that would perhaps present difficulty for the pilot and, worse, present a tempting target for "Charlie" as we descended using landing lights.
As we started the descent, the pilot told me he was taking me to my platoon's location. I thought, "great, now we're landing in some remote, night lagger!"
The 2nd platoon was located some distance from the rest of the company. As the ground swelled up to meet the skids, I counted five M-48's in a reasonable representation of a circle due to the terrain configuration. Darkness had now fallen and as the chopper lifted off, I remember thinking what an opportunity had been missed by "Charlie."
I really don't recall meeting many troopers at that time, as many were already asleep on cots tucked under the back decks of the tanks. I must have had contact with the legendary " Trip-flare" Hays, my Platoon Sergeant, as I found myself sitting in the cupola of one of the vehicles, listening to sitreps from other platoons on the troop net.
I knew the Commanding Officer was Captain Charles O'Brien and the First Sergeant's name was Vernon Nevil. As I sat there wondering what these men were like, little did I know that I would soon be talking with them under circumstances, I will never forget.
I've lost track of the actual time, but I seem to recall that very late that night, as I stood in the cupola, lost in private thought, I was alerted to a sound I had not previously heard: incoming artillery rounds.
For the next few minutes, time slowed and ripping explosions shattered the calm of the night. I had dropped to the floor of the tank instinctively. Scared, yes. Able to function, yes. I immediately called the company call sign and I'm sure in an excited voice explained that the platoon was receiving artillery fire.
I was immediately calmed by the voice on the other end of the radio who told me to stand by. The next morning I would be introduced to " Top" Nevil, a man who would be there for me for the next five months. As an aside, I would like to use this story to express my thanks to him for the guidance and support he gave a young officer during the trying days of War Zone C and Cambodia.
I spoke with Captain O'Brien and was told everything possible was being done to find the artillery unit who was using my platoon's location for H & I fire. Mercifully, the shelling stopped and I dismounted to evaluate our casualties.
Due to the darkness, the confusion, and the subsequent lift-offs, I awakened the next morning, not knowing the name of a fallen trooper. Our company experienced daily contact for the next thirty days and I quickly became hardened to the realities you all understand.
Over twenty-eight years later, I could not name the trooper who fell on February 27, 1970 in some remote plateau surrounded my jungle in Vietnam. How many times did I wish I knew his name. A distinct hollowness filled my soul for, I would lose other men in combat, but I knew their names; Bruce Elkins ,Clarence Young and John Bell.
It was during a reunion, that I met Johnny Riley, who, along with his wife, Delores, would become close personal friends. As we sat in the bunker, sharing experiences, I chose to recount my first night in combat. Before I had uttered a few sentences, Johnny finished the story as he was one of the crew members who lived the horror of that evening. Johnny rotated shortly after the incident and I simply did not remember him being there that terrible night.
As I expressed my frustration at not knowing the name of the soldier who lost his life that night, Johnny put his arms around me and told me his name was Johnny Joe Gallardo from Wasco, California.
Tears flowed as years of pent up frustration left me. I finally, after over twenty-eight years, knew the name of this gallant soldier and I felt peace.
To Johnny Joe Gallardo: I didn't get to know you that evening. Tragic circumstances would not allow us to talk over a cup of coffee the following morning. Someday, at Fiddler's Green, I'll buy you one and introduce myself. I just wanted to tell you that even though I never knew you, I've remembered you every day of my life since that night.
Thank God for our reunions. Thank God for each of you and for the strength we bring to each other.
Together Then-Together Again.