Tom and Me
By Robert "Bob" Kickenweitz
HQ & HQ Trp
It was late January 1966. My dad and I were watching the Bob Hope 1965 USO Christmas Tour on TV. I was thinking to myself, I could be one of those solders next year. You see I have been going to school part time while working during the day. I had a student S1 deferment while going to school. After transferring from Union County Technical Institute to Rutgers University, Newark Campus I thought I was good for the 1966 spring semester. Getting home from work about three days later I received a letter. I knew what it was immediately. My greetings letter, no doubt about it. I don’t get letters with the return address: The Office of the President of the United States every day. I opened the envelope and sure enough, it read: “Greetings from the President of the United States. You are to report to the Selective Service Board Office in Plainfield, New Jersey on Wednesday, 20 April 1966 at 7:30 AM for induction into the Armed Forces of the United States of America.”
On the 20th I reported as instructed, had eight weeks of basic training at Fort Dix, New Jersey, then eight weeks of Jungle Warfare School, at Fort Polk, Louisiana. Little did I know it at the time, but the same thing was happening to a guy from Hicksville, Long Island. His name was Tom Brophy, he was from a middle class blue collar family like me, both of us were Roman Catholic, and Tom came from Irish America descent and I from Austrian, Irish America descent. Tom had been inducted a few months before me and was assigned to the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, 1st Squadron, Howitzer Battery, which was training at Camp A.P. Hill, VA and Fort Pickett, VA. On August 18th, 1966 Tom was flown from Friendship Airport in Baltimore to Oakland, CA. There he boarded the USNS Sultan for Vietnam, and landed ashore at Vung Tau, South Vietnam on September 7, 1966. My training was just ending around this some time. I was given a three week leave, and then reported to McGuire Air Force Base for deployment to South Vietnam. Arriving on the11th of October 1966, not having been assigned to any unit, I was taken to the 90th Replacement Center at Long Binh to await assignment to a unit. After a few days I was assigned to the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, HQ & HQ Troop as a scout. My job was to provide security on convoys.
One day Tom was called to headquarters and was told that he was needed at the Post Exchange due to him being good with numbers. Somewhere around the beginning of November I was transferred to the Post Exchange as well due to having an accounting background. Tom and I worked together and got the Post Exchange running well. We even bunked in the same tent. We were on more convoys, been under more rocket and mortar attacks than I care to remember, but thank GOD we made it. When August 1967 rolled around we had a party for Tom and the next day he left. I didn’t leave till late September of that same year. Tom went home, got married, had two sons and was living his life. The same things happened to me, but I had a daughter and a son. Time went by and we never knew where the other one was. I always looked for him out on Long Island, to no avail.
Then September 11, 2001 hit! Now Tom’s son Thomas, was a New York City Police Officer. Thomas went to ground zero on September 11th and was stationed there for 98 days. I had written a story about the spiritual Christmas I had in Vietnam and knew that this coming Christmas there would be young soldiers away from home and I hoped they would have the same kind of Christmas as I had. I had sent the story into the 11th Armored Cavalry’s Veterans of Vietnam and Cambodia web site and they printed the story.
Now here is where the story of Tom and me all comes together. You see one day Tom was on the web site and read my story and then went on to other stories and articles. For some reason he came back to my story and read it again. This time he noticed my name at the bottom along with my e-mail address. He sent an e-mail saying: I don’t know if you remember me I’m Tom Brophy, we worked together in Vietnam. And I replied: Francis Thomas Brophy how could I ever forget you. Well that started e-mails going back and forth. We told each other what we were doing over the years and all about our respective families. Tom told me about his son Thomas who by this time had been diagnosed with cancer due to the bad air at ground zero. One day when I called Tom, his wife Marsha answered the phone. I asked about Thomas. He was not doing well and Tom went to visit him out on Long Island. I said to Marsha, should Thomas pass away please call me, I want to go to the viewing for Tom. Unfortunately I didn’t have to wait long. I received the call from Marsha that Thomas passed away and she gave me the address of the funeral home. My wife Patti and I drove out to Long Island for the wake. We were on line to pay our respects when Tom first spotted me then my 11th Cav lapel pin. He said to Marsha; “that’s Bob Kickenweitz.” For the first time in 38 years Tom and I embraced in front of his son’s casket. We introduced our wives to each other; Tom took me over to his kids and introduced me to them. I was about to say “I’m Bob Kickenweitz and Tom and I served together in Vietnam,” when his step daughter Kristen said: “we know who you are; your picture has been in our living room for years.”Well when you reunite with somebody after so many years you always say, if you are in our neighborhood you have to stop by. Later that year my wife Patti and I were going on vacation to Cape Cod, so we called Tom and Marsha and asked if we could come by. That started six years of friendship between Tom, Marsha, Patti and me. Tom was a lot of fun, always the life of the party; you could always count on him to have a can of Budweiser next to him or in his hand. We would go to their place in New Hampshire and they would come down to our place New Jersey. We went on two 11th Cav reunions together, one in 2007 at Louisville, KY and one in 2010 at Washington, DC. Life was good, but for Tom his time was running out. He was very ill. Tom was diagnosed with Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension (PAH), one of only two cases in the state of New Hampshire. Tom was on oxygen constantly. After returning home from the 2010 reunion in Washington, DC he went to bed and for six months fought the fight of his life. Patti and I went to visit him in late January and to help Marsha. None of the hospitals wanted to take Tom in due to his Illness; nobody knew how to handle it. The only hospital that would see Tom was Dartmouth-Hitchcock at Dartmouth College an hour and a half away. They instructed Marsha and one of her neighbors how to mix Tom’s medication. Mix it incorrectly and it could kill Tom, so they worked together and double checked everything. Other then Marsha’s neighbor Debbie, Marsha was on her own in trying to help Tom. In March Marsha called and asked if we could come up for a few days to help give her a little breather. We stayed for a few days, got some things done for Tom, but then had to leave for home not knowing if we would see him again. Within a week Tom passed way. We drove back up to New Hampshire for Tom’s funeral and helped Marsha with all the running around and things that needed to be done after a funeral. But the story doesn’t end there, Patti and I still go and see Marsha, and she comes down to see us. We go on vacation together, we call, we e-mail and always have a great time. We genuinely love and care about each other, we are family. When we are in New Hampshire visiting Marsha, the three of us go to the New Hampshire State Veteran’s Cemetery to see Tom. We all know that Tom would be happy that we continue to see each other.