I can't tell you how much I hated not being out there in the land of Big Foot with ya'll (I'm from Georgia--can you tell?). This is only the second reunion that I have missed, and it was lonely back here in Georgia--okay, I lied-- it was really quiet and peaceful. However, I did miss seeing everyone.
Over the years, I have really began to look forward to the reunions. When I went to the first one in Dahlonega, I was almost afraid to attend. That was about the time that the television writers started to write shows based on the Viet Nam veteran. The media portrayed the men as delusional, anti-social, paranoid, and confrontational. Of course, that wasn't the worst of it. The writers seemed to take particular interest in making the guys alcoholic and drug dependent.
When I got there, I found reality very different. I found men who were employed, married, intelligent, and personable. They were so happy to see each other again after all those years and yet were still kind enough to include the wives. They talked about their families, homes, jobs, and churches.
If they discussed Viet Nam, it was usually a funny story. Sometimes they discussed or asked questions about an incident which was still haunting them. However, this was to help them get the peace that sometimes is so tough for them to find. No one had a flashback, and no one was anything other than thoughtful--to each other and to the family members. I loved you from the first time I met you and have looked forward to every other summer since.
The reunions have really started to become a family vacation. It is wonderful to meet the wives, girlfriends (not at the same time!), children, and other loved ones. The gals are now starting to branch out on their own--I mean really how many Hey, honey, have I told you about can one take! So, we tend to go our separate ways.
We go visit some historical places, stores, local attractions, malls, parks, craft places, kiddie places, and anything else that we decide upon. As you can tell, we can certainly find a lot more to keep us happy than merely shopping!!
One of my friend's husband was also in Vietnam . One day she and I were talking, and she began to tell me about some problems her husband has had in recent years. As I listened, she became aware that I understood. We discussed how difficult it is for others to understand that Viet Nam came home in the duffel. As with all of our live's experiences, these remain a part of us and shape who we are.
I hope that by the next reunion that even more of us can get together. If you have never been to a reunion before, you must come. It is a HOOT!!! After all, who doesn't enjoy going to a reunion where half can pretend you are young again, and the other half get to say, Yeah, right!
3056 Apache Drive
Columbus, Georgia 31909
(I would love to hear from you, and it would give me an excuse to not talk to my children.)
It was about this time four years ago when Joe asked me if I would consider using our vacation to go to a Ranger Reunion at Ft. Benning in June of 1992. He seemed excited about the chance to see some of his old army buddies and to visit Ft. Benning. At the same time he was somewhat leery of exactly what we could expect from the trip. I have to admit I envisioned spending my vacation (which, by the way, I was planning on our usual lounging by the seashore) with a bunch of Vietnam Vets, as they swilled beer and rehashed old war stories. I could not think of a place where a wife could be out of place and excluded from the general conversation. But, I knew that trip meant a certain type of closure for Joe as well as the opening of new doors, so I agreed, halfheartedly, that we should go.
Joe and I didn't meet until he had been home from Vietnam for several months. From the beginning of our relationship I heard stories about his friends, team members, LRRPs, the country, R&Rs, and insertions. The same names were frequently peppered throughout his stories, Ray, Jesse, Scott, Sonny, Purdy, Bill, and Dave. I only knew these people in my mind's eye hope was for at least one of these characters from his stories would show up at Ft. Benning and make his trip worthwhile. But the trip wound up meaning much more than seeing old friends. The respect and honor shown to all who showed up was overwhelming and totally unexpected. Those of you who attended that first big get together know exactly what I mean.
From the minute we arrived at the hotel, the sense of continuation was overwhelming. These men, many of whom had not seen one another in twenty plus years were still connected. Time had changed appearance and led many to different life styles but time had also enhanced their memories. Everyones sense of camaraderie and closeness again encircled the group. Immediately and without reservation, I was pulled into this wonderful circle with you all. I felt honored and special to have been accepted so warmly and openly.
Since Benning '92 the circle has continued and grown stronger. I look forward to the future reunions.
If any wives or girlfriends wonder, just as I did, what to expect from attending a reunion, I'd tell them to encourage their husbands or boyfriends to plan on the trip. I have seen firsthand the wonderful effect it has had on Joe. And, as for yourselves, expect to become part of the circle without end or measure.
91 Adams Drive
Newport News, VA 23601-3001
P.S. I hope we don't have to wait until next year to hear from you,
Ray Armstrong . . . Please write!