The Importance of Military Reunions

Posted on June 9, 2021


The importance of Military Reunions

I arrived in Vietnam April 12, 1968. I was assigned to Charlie Troop 1st Squadron 9th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division. The 1st Squadron 9th Cavalry Regiment was the “Eyes and Ears” of the 1st Cavalry. We were Division Recon. The 1/9th Cavalry had five Troops; Headquarters and Headquarters, Alpha, Bravo, Charlie and Delta Troops. Headquarters and Headquarters was the administrative Troop. Alpha, Bravo and Charlie Troops were aerial and ground recon while Delta Troop was straight ground recon.

The aerial Troops had a platoon of gun ships (helicopters heavily armed) and was known as the “Red”platoon. They also had a platoon of Scout Platoon, known as the “White” platoon, which used various small helicopters to search for the enemy. The third platoon was the Infantry platoon known as the “Blue” platoon which conducted ground recon, search and destroy missions, blocking force mission and the securing the helicopters that were shot down. The Blues also pulled day and night ambushes. A fourth platoon was the ”Lift” platoon. This was the platoon that flew helicopters to transport Troopers in and out of battle, supply units in contact with the enemy with supplies such as ammunition and water and they were also used as a method of transportation to removed wounded and those Troopers who were Killed In Action (KIA) from the battle field. The Lift platoon was made up of UH-1H helicopters , a Pilot (A/C) and co-pilot and a crew Chief. These brave Troopers would fly into and out of what was called a “Hot PZ (Pick-up Zone) and/or a Hot LZ (Landing Zone”.  This meant the enemy was firing at them as they were coming in and going out.

They also had a headquarters platoon which was made up of the Commander, Administrative Troopers, mechanics to keep the helicopters flying, Avionics to keep the radios working, Armament which kept all weapons systems working as they should and cooks to keep us fed.

The Red and White platoon worked as a team called a “Pink” team. One helicopter from the White platoon to find the enemy and one helicopter from the Red platoon to destroy the enemy. To do this, the White helicopter would fly as low and slow as possible searching for the enemy by sight or by getting shot at. They would then call in the Red platoon helicopter to destroy, if possible, the enemy or at least to make them back off while the White helicopter got out firing range. If necessary, the Red platoon could fire their own weapons ie. mini-guns, 2.75mm Rockets and 40mm grenades. If the enemy force size was to large, the Aircraft Commander (A/C) could call for Artillery or Tac Air to drop bombs.  If the size of the enemy force was undetermined they could call in the Blue platoon to make a ground recon to determine the size of the force. If the size of the enemy force was to large the Pink Team would supply aerial recon and fire power for the Blues so they could break contact with the enemy and a larger Ready Reactionary Force, usually a company or larger of infantry would be inserted to relieve the Blues. This is just one type of operations that a Troop might have. They also were used to fly aerial Recon and support for units in contact. They conducted “Recon” missions for larger unit prior to that unit moving into a location.

Sadly, many of the White platoon helicopters were shot down by enemy fire. Occasionally a Red platoon helicopter would be shot down.  When this happened, if it were a White helicopter the Red bird would continue to circle overhead to ensure that the enemy did not try to approach and kill the crew. The Blues would be called in to provide ground security and to secure the crew and get them to a Lift helicopter and taken away from the site. The Blues and the Red bird would stay until the White bird could be lifted out of the area.

If it was a Red bird that was shot down, then the White bird would remain providing overhead protection while the Blues were brought in. Of course, a second “Pink” team would be brought in for overhead security.

When the Blues were in contact with the enemy, the White platoon would continue to supply aerial recon keeping the Blues fully informed of where the enemy was and what they were doing. The Red platoon would provide any or all of it’s fire power to protect the Blues. These are just the basics of what happened in the 1/9th Cavalry.  There were other types of missions. Some would only use the “Pink” team concept. Some would only use the Lift platoon.

In my opinion, the worst mission the Blues could get was when a helicopter was shot down and we had to retrieved the remains. This was necessary because we did not want any of our Troopers to not make it home. In my 12 month tour of duty, we never left anyone behind.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD is a state of mind. It is brought on by the various sights, fears, memories of missions and loss of life. I have to admit that in some ways I am one of the luckier ones. I can only remember about 20-25 days of my time in Vietnam. Of course, they are not the better days. I have been told by Psychologist that I have compartmentalized my memories and have put many of them into a place I keep hidden from myself. The memories I do have are very vivid and troubling. I’d hate to see what the others memories would be.

As a Charlie Trooper, I have lost a lot of comrades. They were all Pilots, Crew Chiefs and Door gunners assigned to the two helicopter platoons. I can happily say that we did not lose even one of the Blues. Some were badly wounded or injured and medevaced back to the States. It does not make any difference. We hide our tears from others back then, it is not so easy today.

I joined the 1st Cavalry Division Association back in 1988. My wife and I attended two of their reunions but decided they were to divided. All the units were encouraged to sit together. There were two “Dress up” dinners. Lunches and breakfasts were set for each unit.

Then Carol and I joined the Bullwhip Squadron. We made I believe four of their reunions. Once again, each Troop was encouraged to sit together and the Officers and Enlisted were encouraged to keep separate.

In 2010, at the Bullwhip reunion, I was giving a business card from a fellow trooper that I had served with in Vietnam but had not had contact with since 1968. Shortly after that, we met at a restaurant and became reacquainted. Phil Merritt and I decided that we would hold a reunion just for the Charlie Troop Blues. Phil and I were able to get in touch with several of the Blues but I wanted a little more so I invited Blues from an earlier time and a Pilot. One of our Blues had also been a crew chief, so we had a good group. We honored our Blue Platoon Leader (in Nam his call sign was “Blue”), Peter Guthrie. We presented him with a Saber with scabbard and a Plaque. Pete was our platoon leader for a full year and during his time we never lost a Blue as being Killed In Action (KIA). We had 17 total people attend that reunion. Two years later we conducted our second reunion and had 37 Troopers and wives attend. This time we also had someone from Delta Troop in attendance.

In 2014, LTC Billie Williams (the original Commander who took Charlie Troop to Vietnam) ask SFC Titchenell to ask me and another Trooper to co co-ordinate a reunion in 2015 to “Honor” the Troopers that went to Vietnam in 1965. He wanted it in Columbus, Georgia since that is where Charlie Troop departed to go to Vietnam. The other Trooper could not help as his wife was in bad health. My wife, Carol, and I began immediately. SFC Titchenell was very helpful since he had been a member of the Bullwhip Reunion Committee and had contacts in Columbus.

Billie Williams only request was that we make it informal. Carol and I decided we needed to make sure that: 1. We honor all Troopers that went to Vietnam in1965. 2. That we honor or Gold Star Family Members. 3. We honor “Our Fallen Brothers” from all years. 4. We keep it entertaining. 5. We get the families involved. So far we have had 11 children, 7 grand children, 1 Great Grand Child attend our reunions.  One Grandson, his wife and his child has made every reunion since the 2015 reunion.  6. That Politics and Religion be kept out of the reunions. 7. We make sure our Charlie Troop+ reunions are also family events. Each reunion we involve another family by having them read the poem “It’s me who has your Back”. 8. Any Soldier from the 1st Cavalry who wants to attend our reunion is welcomed with open arms.

I wrote and typed up a certificate for each Troopers to honor him for his devotion to duty in 1965. For him and his brothers writing the play book that we who came after them played by. The certificate was signed by LTG Charles Bagnall who as a Major was Charlie Troop commander at one time. I also asked Gary Sinise if he could come and read the certificate for the Troopers. He could not but he did make me a video with him reading the certificate word for word. We had two dinners but they were both casual dress. We hire an entertainer. We went to the National Infantry Museum and held our “Honoring of our Fallen Brothers” ceremony at the Vietnam Wall behind the museum. The wives read the Names for us. We had a Cub Scout Pack from Phenix City, Alabama “Post our Colors”, we had a Bugler dress in Jungle fatigues and boony cap Play Taps, a Seven Man, 21 Gun Salute” team from Ft Benning fired a 21 gun salute. We had two granddaughters hand out Cavalry Yellow Roses to every Trooper, Wife and Gold Star Family Member to place at the wall.

Since this reunion we have conducted four more reunions missing this year (2020) only because of the Covid-19 Virus. Each year we have two informal dinners, an “Honor Our Fallen Brothers” ceremony, a ceremony to “Honor” the Troopers who went to Vietnam that year, and entertainment. Each year to have a different Family do the Reading of the Poem, “It is me who has your back”. At which time, we honor the child who partakes in the reading with a certificate making him a “Little Brother” or her a “Little Sister” of Charlie Troop. The young man is given a 1st Cav Dog Tag with his Father/grandfathers information on it ie date served, rank and Charlie Troop. The young ladies are given a 1st Cav wreath pin.

In 2019, our second trip to Washington DC, we hired buses (at no expense to the troopers) to take us there. We held a ceremony at the Vietnam Helicopter Pilot/crewmember Memorial. We laid two wreaths there. One for our returning Pilots and crew members and one for our Gold Star Families. These we carried and out into pace by a Pilot and Crew Chief and two Gold Star Family Members. A speech was given by Col Galen Rosher, who was Charlie Troop Commander in 1969, as to what this memorial means to him. A Daughter, Deidra Jelich Langworthy, of one of our “Fallen Brothers” (CW2 John A. Jelich), gave a speech as to what the memorial meant to her. We had a young lady (Lucy Bieneman) sing Tim McGraw’s song,” If you’re Reading this” to conclude the ceremony. We also had four other Troopers lay a wreath to the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. We went to the Vietnam Wall where two other Troopers placed a 1st Cav patch wreath at the center of the wall. We then laid 122 Cavalry Yellow roses and 122 3″x5″ American flags at the base of the wall.

The involvement of as many Troopers and Family members is key to a great reunion. It is key to having the reunion stay full year after year. There are not any ranks at our reunions. Everyone is known by first names. We all fought together and we had each other’s backs. Yes, everyone wears their rank on their Stetsons but that is where it stays. This was another demand I made if my wife and I were going to co-ordinate reunions. I once hear General Shoemaker tell a trooper to call him Bob or Robert. The trooper said “but Sir, you have four stars on your Stetson”. Bob looked at him and said,” you see those four stars, they retired when I did. My name is Bob or Robert and if you can’t call me that than don’t talk to me”.

We all need reunions. We need to get back with our Brothers. An example, John Strickland wanted to get back with Mike Tuttle. Mike Tuttle was John Strickland’s Pilot in 1969. I could not get Mike to come to a reunion. One year Mike’s sister, Cecelia Tuttle Jelich Frost, her two children and Mike’s Daughter, Jennifer, came. Mike’s sister is and her daughter and son are Gold Star Family members. She lost her husband in 1972 on his second tour. His first tour was with Charlie Troop. Mike was sick and could not attend.

The following year, Mike and his daughter Jennifer came to the reunion. Mike had been the pilot and John’s was the Crew Chief on a Scout bird. The reunion was like they had not missed a day away from each other. The following year Mike came back. This time his sister, her children and Jennifer attended. They all kept telling us that we would not know Mike. That he is back to his old self that they had not seen an many years. Mike was outgoing and full of happiness.  Mike passed away in January of 2020. The transformation in Mike was brought about by the Reunions he attended. The Camaraderie he enjoyed with his Brothers and Sisters both blood family and Cav Family. The bonds formed in Vietnam or whatever war you were in will only be strengthen by attending reunions.

If you have never made a Military reunion with the Brothers and Sister that you served with in time of conflict, now is the time. It is never too late. Even if you can only find one of the people you served with go for it. We are now up to between 155 and 185 each year counting spouses and children, grandchildren and Great grandchildren.