WOLFHOUND REUNITES WITH OTHERS AFTER 38 YEARS AND VISITS FAMILY OF BEST FRIEND KILLED IN VIETNAM
By William R. I. "Easy" Smith
Company A 1st Bn 27th Inf Regiment, 25th Division, 2nd Platoon
Republic of Vietnam
February to September 1967
"I go to reunions and the Wall because it is my hope that I will find those I served with!"
Initially, I was only going to attend the Wolfhound Pack Reunion in Philadelphia and visit my family in Washington, D. C. (as I do when possible after leaving one of these reunions). But, something happened this year to take it all out of my norm.
I flew from Sacramento, California on August 10, 2005 to Chicago where I met with Tom Demunnick who lives in Darien, Illinois ( I saw Tom for the first time since Nam in July 2004 when he visited me in Sacramento) . One may have given us odds for having a good time considering we were in the dark my entire visit because the power plant burned down the day I arrived. We made the best of the visit as we ventured out during the day seeing the city and catching up on our time in Vietnam. That Friday I was treated to something special: I was permitted to sit in on his groups at the VA. I got to laugh and enjoy as well as appreciate the way the groups ended the week to tunes of a fiddle playing volunteer and the welcoming of a FNG to the group. After group we got in the car and headed for Stevens Point, Wisconsin.
The trip to Wisconsin took about 4 hours. We were going to visit Joe Wanta another member of our platoon in Nam. I was about to see Joe for the first time in 38 years. We got to Joe's house and he wasn't there. The widows in the house and the car in the driveway were open. There was some worry and maybe a little panic as Tom noted; "This is not like Joe" We left a couple of messages on the phone and even put my card in the door and drove around. But, the thing that was more noticeable than our worries and panic was my mood. Tom showed me a few sights, but in reality we both looked for some sign of Joe. Mentally, I was thinking positive. Nothing was wrong and he'll show up. Tom whose sister lives in Wisconsin had already been called for a back-up place to sleep for the night.
For me that high I was on that comes with the adrenaline rush had subsided. The anxiety and apprehension remained and I could not hide it from Tom. We decided to stop and have a cup of coffee. As for me, I decided to call and leave another message. Before the coffee arrived at our table, Joe had eased in and shook Tom's hand and his other hand was on my shoulder. We both teary eyed a little. As for me, I've been in that space before and I knew the real tears would come later, and that's ok. Wow! Joe was the 3rd man from my platoon in Nam that I had seen and was I excited.
We went back to Joe's and loaded his truck and headed for his cottage in Minocqua. We caught up on some times in Nam and watched slides that Joe and Tom had. My excitement came during the slide show when Joe showed a picture of me on the boats and there were a couple that looked liked me. We also got to go through pictures we had gone through before and attach some names that were either omitted, forgotten or between the three of us we were able to match the faces.
I was really hyped up in between slide shows. Joe took us on a couple of relaxing rides on the lake and we hit the nearby casino a couple of times. I also, got to meet Tom's sister and her family. We browsed the nearby flea market and met some of Joe's friends. As we toured the flea market we heard "WOLFHOUND!" from a one of the booths. As it turns out it was a Wolfhound from the Korean War. We got a lesson from the sports cards collectors as they played what is called "pack wars" (they blindly open packs of football trading cards to see who has the best card and it can go on for quite some time at quite some expense).
Yet in all that was going on; the 3 of us were together again sharing the same spot for the first time in 38 years.
Another visit was about to come to an end. At least for this visit as Tom headed back to Chicago and Joe and I flew to Philadelphia for the Wolfhound Pack Reunion.
It was to be Joe's first reunion. No need to try and figure what was going through his mind. I only needed to recall my first reunion. There I was after carefully, mentally planning and trying to figure out what I was going do and who I was going to see. I was filled with that glimmer of hope as to why I was there in the first place: To find those I served with in Nam. I didn't find anyone from my platoon during my time in Nam, but I did find those from the platoon that I replaced.
That first reunion was totally different than I had expected. There was one thing that stood out for me. It was when two men walked into a room and hugged and cried as they had not seen each other since Korea. That scene gave me hope. I knew that if I were to find those I served with that attending reunions had to be on my list of priorities.
Joe and I arrived late Tuesday evening thanks to delays in our flight. We checked into our rooms ordered some pizza, talked for awhile and got some sleep. We knew things would be different in the morning. Not just for Joe, but for me too!
Once registered it was on. Joe and I mingled and as introductions were made to the Wolfhounds and their families already present. For me it was saying hello to those I already knew and putting faces to names of those I've come to know on the internet. And shaking the hands of many for the first time.
As the day went by I decided it was time to make a phone call since Joe had gone to his room. The call was to Luther Ingram also from our platoon. Ingram (as we knew him in Nam) lived about 20 minutes away and I had seen him for the first time since Nam at the Wall in D. C. 2 years earlier Veterans Day. I told him that Joe and I were at the reunion and when was he coming.
Ingram was there before long and I called Joe's room with some excuse for him to come to the hospitality room and fast. As Joe walked in and saw Ingram and they both teared up all I could do was smile because there I was again in the room together with 2 men I served with in Nam. A scene that repeated itself twice on this very special journey.
But that was only the beginning as I watched time after time men walking up to each other that served together many years prior and seeing each other for the first time. You could see in their eyes, that thousand yard stare as they stood or sat quietly momentarily in between the introductions. These faces meant business, and I could sense that glimmer of hope that they would find at least one man they served with in Nam, Korea or World War II.
There was Shelton Jackson showing pictures and Roger Cates and Joe Guchek arrived on the scene recognizing faces in the pictures .... they served together. And there was Henry Montijo, Bob Humphrey and others who were joined by Frank Sandel for the first time. And Rick Melli who recalled seeing Gary Huber for the first time as he was reunited with Cary Clark and Don Arndt.
And there was Richard Heater who made it know that he was there to find those he served with as he was reunited with a couple of men from his company.
When asked how many were there for the first time, at least 21 men stood up. And let's not forget John Babbitt being reunited with some men from his platoon or David Brown seeing others for the first time since Nam.
All in all this reunion re-defined the meaning of going to reunions for me in that there is hope you will find those you served with if you don't give up.
(The reunion was also a success thanks to the planning by Rick Melli, Reunion Coordinators; the VFW, DAV, VVA and other veterans publications; the internet and word of mouth).
Not giving up played a very important role in the next phase of my trip. That was my anticipated visit to the family of my best friend George David Wallace (Wally) who was killed in Nam on June 3, 1967.
The search for Wally's family was over. I found a post on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the internet. Betty Wallace Marshall's grandson, T. J. Marshall, was surfing the Internet and came upon the Vietnam Wall on the net. He left the post dictated by his grandmother who thought it may never be seen. But, TJ had higher hopes. The post contained the names of Wally's sister, Betty Marshall and 2 brothers. I immediately started searching the white pages and found some Wallace's' listed. I had seen them before but it was so many I didn't know until now which ones to take chances on dialing. First I called Dennis Wallace and there was not answer. Then I dialed the number for Kenneth Ray Wallace. In an emotional stutter it was the brother of my friend Wally.
I had talked to his brother, Kenneth for about 2hours. I learned from talking to Kenneth the reason why I did not find them sooner based on the information I had. I had the name of his mother Virginia residing in Dry Fork from a page in a notepad that Tom Demunnick kept on the men in his squad. However, his mother had passed away 3 years ago October and older brother Ruben shortly thereafter.
His sister Betty Marshall called me on June 3rd, 38 years to the date we lost Wally. Betty's call was followed by a nephew George David Marshall. We kept in touch talking sometimes 3 and 4 times a week and I promised that I would visit them the next time I was in D. C.
I may have made the promise but there was no mistake that this was one journey I could not do alone. I put the word out and Ray Garretson, a brother Wolfhound responded that he would gladly take me to see them in Roanoke ( where Betty lived) or Dry Fork, Virginia ( where Kenneth lived).
I arrived at Ray's August 24, 2005 39 years to the date that I went into the army. The following morning, a bit scared and afraid and full of pain and grief Ray and I took off in his mobile home to Roanoke.
I had a plan to get in and get out once we saw the family because I felt it would be too emotional for me to handle. Ray and I had it all figured out that we would get a room or stay in the mobile home. Not if Betty and husband Roy had a say in the matter. We stayed in the house. But, we were not only welcomed with opened arms; we were treated to a real "Welcome Home" by the Marshall and Wallace family and friends. It was a trip that has been difficult to put into words. I learned much about my friend Wally and shared the good times and the bad times with his family. I saw the place where he grew up in Dry Fork.
Holding back the tears as much as I could Roy and Betty took Ray and me to his gravesite in Dry Fork, Virginia, (near Danville). I woke up one morning and looked out the window and saw a little red wagon and the tears flowed. I felt the hand of Betty on my shoulder.
Finally, the search had ended and the opportunity for closure was there after 38 years. Roy and Betty Marshall's neighbors joined in the celebration and excitement of her visitors and welcomed them with open arms. We have all found truly wonderful new friends and plan to continue our friendship. I've set up and devoted a page on my website to George David ("Wally" or "G.D.") Wallace: http://www.easysplace.com/GEORGEDWALLACE.html.
Betty once told me that she could not believe that after all these years that someone remembered her brother. The truth is "Wally is not forgotten. I think of him every day. He was a warrior. He was not just my best friend, but the best friend of many. And none of the men I served with in Vietnam are forgotten!"