This has been an awesome year for me. It has been a year where I have found several of the men I shared foxholes with. The ironic thing that has puzzled each of us is that we were in the same places, walked past each other regularly, fought together, we even know the same men; but we don't seem to remember each other. Or shall I say also, either they remember me and I don't remember them or I remember them and they don't remember me.
This has been a year that many pieces of the puzzle have been put in place. It has been an emotional roller coaster. It has been a year when some names have been put to faces and faces to names. Put pieces of the puzzle it has taken 36 years to find and there is still a large portion missing.
It is the year that I have been able to reflect on the fact that once I gave up on ever finding any of the men I served with in Vietnam. There were times when I pondered finding a way to close the can of worms that I had been opened knowing that once opened it would remain open.
I recall, searching for my friend Lonnie Upchurch. He and I went to Vietnam together in February 1967. He went to the !st Infantry Division and I went to the 1/27th Infantry Regiment Wolfhounds. We would not see each other until sometime in 1968. Lonnie married in June of 1969 and that would be the last time I would see him for many years. But, I never gave up my search for him. I looked for him in Washington, D. C. ( our hometown), the internet , phone books and even in crowds of people on the streets; veteran search engines; anywhere I thought he might be found.
Like the men I served with I thought Lonnie had been swallowed up by the winds of time never to be seen again. But, sometime in late 1999 or early 2000 I tried once again; problem was I didn't remember where he went when we got to Nam. So, I tried the MSN white pages and something happened that never happened before: there was this little box for surrounding areas and up came his name.
I contacted him by letter and we were reunited in April of 2001. We keep in touch with each other by phone once a week and I get to see him atleast twice when I go home to D. C.
Prior to finding Lonnie, I found the Wolfhound Alumni website. I signed the guestbook late 1997 or early 1998. It was the first time I was able to make public some of the men I was looking for from my former platoon. The names I listed at the time was Sgt. Joe Riley, SSgt. Joe Black, Luther Ingram, Lawrence Dunmore, Gault, Pops, Donahue, Wanta ,Sgt. Vicanenca, Wally Cox, Gary Shifflette and Lt. Alvarez.
I had one problem and that was I didn't know which platoon I was with. I heard from a couple of men from the 3rd platoon and we even exchanged pictures. I was not in the 3rd platoon. Then I heard from a guy named Chuck Farmer who was in the 2nd platoon and he remembered me. He also, was in the hopital in Japan with Gary Shifflette the man I pulled from a canal when he was hit during a night ambush. I never heard from him again. Atleast, I know he and Shifflette made it. There was some closure, but not enough because now I zeroed in on Shifflette, with no luck to date.
My search continued very low key until Veterans Day 1999 when I met and shook hands and received a big Welcome Home from the first Wolfhounds I had seen that identified themselves as Wolfhounds since Vietnam at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D. C. . Though I knew other veterans, it was the first time I felt like I was home again. It was the first time I physically felt like I was home again. It was the day my life as a veteran would change. It was the day that I renewed my faith that I would find others.
Soon thereafter in 2000 I was at my first Wolfhound reunion. I was again amongst Many Wolfhounds. There was a scene that I will never forget. two men walked into a room that had not seen each other in years and it was a very emotional moment. Right away I wanted to experience that moment. It would not happen at that time. I met men that were there at the same time I was and and in the same company but different platoons. I even met one who was leaving as I was coming from the same platoon.
But, when I left that reunion and returned to my home in Sacramento, California I was in for a real surprise. I got an email from 2 medics on the same day. One who worked on me when I was wounded on March 29th ( Doc Alan Mitose) and one who worked on me when I was wounded on September 4th ( Anthony Tasconie). Doc Alan and I keep in touch. But I have not heard from Tony in a while. It is because of not hearing from Tony and Chuck Farmer that I made a promise. I will keep in touch with the men I find today.
I was in for more surpises. While in Florida visiting a friend from the 2nd Platoon, Mike Moschkin ( 1966) I got in touch with Tom Demunnick. He sent me some photos and I remembered him. And we both remember and was close to the same men. I also heard from Jerry Elsenheimer (Weapons Platoon Leader/XO) who has helped to fill in some of the pieces of the puzzle. He too remembers some of the same men I remember. And to top it off I heard from another from the platoon, Jimmy Johnson who I remember. He doesn't remember me but , again, we remember the same people. And Jimmy furnished me with a big piece of the puzzle. The man who became the first man I made friends with in Nam and who was KIA I only knew him as "Wally". I know now his full name is George D. Wallace (KIA 06/03/67). The first time I went to the Wall I had a hard time because I didn't know his full name. I was able to bring some closure to that this past Veterans Day.
Then there is the icing on the cake. Weeks prior to leaving for D. C. the topic of my travelling and being involved with the veterans community became an issue. I found it easy to tell why I do the things I do. First, if it were not for a homelesll vet I met in 1992 I would not have known about some the problems and issues surrounding veterans. I saw first hand what "vets helping vets" was all about. It became an easy and sometimes trying agenda to adopt.
Second, I have not forgotten the men I served with who gave some and who gave all. And third, there was that scene in the room of the two men who hadn't seen each other in years. And, it was finding out that I found men who not only had been where I had been but who understood me and I could talk to them.
And finally, it was because of days like this past Veterans Day. In those discussions I mentioned, one name seemed to come up little more than others during this time period. His face showed up in pictures from Tom Demunnick. He was in one picture with Bill Harnack ( I met Bill at the 2000 Wolfhound Reunion). I even tried to call Bill to see if he remembered him. I even called Mike Moschkin in Florida for some verification as to when Bill left because I wanted to know if he was still there when I was there. According to Mike he left in January 1967.
So, a few days before leaving the first part of a dream come true experience happened. Tom writes me that he found Joe Wanta from the platoon. And yes I remember Joe. And yes Joe remembers me. I finally was able to hear from someone that we remembered each other. But. when I got to D. C. I found myself once again looking for faces in the crowd of thousands at the Wall.
I was to slump into a temporary state of depression as I always do during this time. Only this time what was different was that I had a new reality. With the exception of Jerry, I had not physically been in contact with any of these men ( though I have warned them don't be surprised if I was to show up on their doorstep).
However, the two days before Veterans Day I had told Mike that just once I want to walk into a room or a space or a situation and there will be one of the guys who remembers me and I remember them so I can give them a " Big Wolfhoud Hug" ( it was also the last thing I told my wife as to why I do what I do before leaving for D. C. ).
On November 11, 2003 as some of us Wolfhounds were headed for the Wall to participate in the presentation of Unit Colors for the 10th Anniversary of the Women's Vietnam Memorial we detoured to the restroom. When we came out to join the other Wolfhounds already there, I looked to my left and saw this face and walked towards the stare in his eyes. As I got closer and closer I knew already what I didn't believe to be true. I was stopped in my tracks. My eyes froze in time. My feet were cememted. He asked " Were you with the "27th?" Still imobile except for the tears that had been buried deep for years began to surface I shouted " INGRAM !!!!!!!" AND GAVE HIM THAT BIG WOLFHOUND HUG!
Yes, it was Luther Ingram, the man Chuck Farmer once told me I had the first name wrong. The man who use to make me laught. A man whose face and name I never forgot. The last time we saw each other was September 4, 1967. It was one of the most emotional moments I have ever experienced. It has been 36 years and I thank God for the moment. Welcome Home Bro!
November 22, 2003