Prelude to a Reunion
"Looking for Duck, Teach, Ras, Vic, Eric, Charlie Brown... (from) Daniel Malin" showed up as I scrolled through a Guest Book years ago. Dan had listed every one in weapons squad along with a few others which came as a surprise but the dates were accurate so this would be too much of a coincidence for it to have been someone else! Problem was I didn't recognize his name but I did reply and sure enough Dan was looking for us. Turns out I even have a picture of Dan with Trace's squad including: name and nickname "Ohio". We have since learned to include any nickname if you want to be recognized. This was my first introduction to Charlie Company years ago.
We swapped email and phone calls (this was last century... in the days of home dial-up modems and free long distance calling on weekends if you had a cell phone) and I learned Bill Allen and Dan were making an effort to find those who had served in Charlie Company during Vietnam. Bill had also set up the 11th Brigade web site in his efforts to find others. Chuck Seketa's name also came up as I learned he was doing research on the battalion's records. Unfortunately I do not know how Dan, Bill and Chuck met up: Dan was supposed to write this part. However, it is important to note their influence in getting our association started.
Bill Allen, Mike Feltes, Leonard Harootunian, Dan Malin and Keith Trace met at the Americal Reunion in Cleveland in 2001.
Here are Mike Feltes words about that first meeting: If my memory serves me correctly, the first time any of us met after RVN was in July of 2001 at the annual Americal Div reunion held at the Marriott Airport hotel in Cleveland. Dan called me a few weeks before and said that he even talked Trace into joining us. Plus some guy called Snake (who left the company just before I joined in mid March 1970) would also be there. And so Dan asked would I come? Answer was--is the Pope Catholic? So we all convened in the main reunion hall at the hotel, then suddenly I saw them-- there was Dan and Snake (who swore he knew me from 1970). Plus another guy I did not know before; Bill (aka Willie) Allen, also from Charlie Company. The last man to show, (late of course) was Trace all dressed up in a Ohio State wife beater (sorry I mean athletic top) shirt, with OSU shorts and hat. I think he must have been a fan. Also at our table that evening was former Warrant Officer Frank Anton (who was an Americal former Cobra gunship pilot who was shot down in our AO and was made a POW. By the way, Frank is also the author of his book which tells his POW story "Why Didn't You Get Me Out?" He hung out with us that night because he thought we were pretty good guys. I would agree. I can only describe the evening as being absolutely happy. There was laughter, then beer, then a story, then more laughter, more beer, and another story. This went on all night and ended if you can believe this with Trace leading us in singing "The Ballad of Davey Crockett". To say we had fun was an understatement. I still have the picture of the four of us (taken by Willie) framed and hanging on the wall in my home office. Willie, Dan, Trace and Snake are all gone now. Gone but not forgotten.
In 2002, Bill, Dan and Trace met at a Vietnam vets rally in Ohio and Duck and I also showed up. However, it was going to be four more years until we had our first official Charlie Company Reunion. Dan and I were trying to find as many vets as possible during those four years. Dan had caught Bill Allen’s vision of finding and meeting with our group again and liked the idea of a ready-made reunion such as the Americal's Annual Reunions. Dan had the "lead" on a lot of Charlie Company and he would send some my way to check out and call. We did good back then in getting prospects from the Internet and often other names from those we found. Dan was calling anyone who had served in Charlie Company but, don't hold it against me, most of my early searches were for 2nd platoon. Dan usually made the first call and some would be upset they had been found as it brought back so many memories. Dan would tell me about them and I would call a week or so later after a “cooling off” period when they did not’t mind talking with us as much. However, some were like Joe Francomacaro… Jersey had been thinking and wondering if any of his friends were still alive and then was so thrilled he had heard from two of us within a week! Dan and I called it our “Mutt & Jeff” routine although we never established which of us was Mutt.
Dan had found Wayne Rasmussen, actually two times. We were saddened the first time when the wife told us he had passed away. She had failed to catch that Dan was looking for a Wayne Rasmussen who had served in Vietnam. Her husband was with the Americal in WWII! Dan found the right Ras and it was good to get to talk with him again. Later, Ras and I were talking on the phone and Ras said "We need to get together…" I agreed. He then said "You need to do it" and “yeah, right” quickly came out. However, as time passed I started thinking “Why not? At least try.” The idea of seeing the people we served with was much more appealing to me than the larger, Americal reunions. I later called Duck and asked if he could make it to Cincinnati mid June of 2006. When he said yes I emailed Dan telling him he was invited to the Duck/Teach reunion knowing full well at least he and Trace would show up! We got the invite out to everyone we knew from Charlie Company which was probably much less than fifty at that time.
We met at Red Roof Inn June 16-18 with a total of 17 present. In the photo at Cracker Barrel you have all twelve vets present except for Keith Trace. We are sure he ate with us but were not’t sure where he went afterward. Ronnie Ray was the only person we convinced to attend who was not from 2nd platoon. When asked if we treated him like a step-child, he said, "Not at all" but Ronnie would have said that anyway, bless his heart. He and Teresa have been to every reunion since! Ohio, Teach, and Vic & Ursula have also been to all ten reunions. Teresa Ray, Peggy Ciula, Ursula Yelenovic and Chuck’s daughter were also present at the first reunion.
Left to right is Dan Malin (Ohio), Wayne Rasmussen (Ras), Ronnie Ray (Norton), Bryan Ciula (Rocky), David Watters (Duck), Chuck Unterberger (Underdog), Mike Stinnett (Teach) and Mike Yelenovic (Vic). Kneeling is Mike Feltes and Leonard Harootunian (Snake). Seated is Chuck Seketa, a captain from Delta Company but a great help in getting us together. He told us he’d be back…”I like you guys.” That was certainly a compliment we appreciated and he did return!
With our 10th reunion we have had 90 different veterans attend at least one reunion and this combo of vets has totaled 333 reunion visits. In addition 77 others have met with us… 61 ladies and various other friends and relatives. Many of the ladies have attended as often as their husbands and it has been good to see how the ladies have become friends and still look forward to seeing their Vietnam buddies each year!
The first reunion to me began as a way to see friends again. I wish I could say I was smart enough to know that a lot of good things would come from these reunions besides just rekindling an old friendships. It has been an enjoyable experience over these years realizing you did not lose a friendship years ago. Talking is as easy as it always was and making new friends has been that easy too. I do not get to sit around the tables and reminisce as much as I would like but I probably heard more of a different story as several came by and thank us for having the reunions and telling what it meant to them. Wives too appreciated the chance to talk to other wives and compare “notes” and they understood a little more about their husbands and saw they were not alone. They would also mention sometimes what the husbands would not tell us…. how they could see a change in them... for the better.
You can watch and see emotions almost all weekend. Most of us were somewhat apprehensive the first time attending a reunion. The apprehension and nervousness quickly fades away when you recognize someone who meant so much to you during a difficult time in your pasts. The happiness as friends meet again with someone they have not seen in years… listening to the laughter as they talked of times in VN…. and watch the tears as we have our Memorial Toast to those KIAs who did not finish their tours. The stories seem to continue and grow. It is not like someone making up something but adding to it.... all these remembrances spill out and before long you have a complete story about an event from so long ago. For many, this is the first time they have ever voiced such a story but they know now they are with friends, someone who understands, someone who has gone through the same things they have experienced. Dan and I often looked over the Hospitality Room from the registration desk as a roomful of friends were happily reunited again and we would usually smile and say, “This is what it is all about!”
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Page Last Updated On January 27, 2016