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Vietnam veterans reunite in McMinnville
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The third reunion of the 3rd Battalion, 12th Infantry’s Recon Platoon, 4th Infantry Division in Vietnam was held in Warren County last week. Local preacher Sammy Lee is among the group members.
“I live here so we hold it here,” said Lee, a retired sergeant. “I can’t get away as easy as some of these guys. We enjoy getting together every year. We have a lot of fun.”
It took decades after the war for the group to begin meeting.
“Most of us stayed in the boonies and tried to forget about Vietnam,” said retired Sgt. Pete Moffitt. “After awhile, it was like everything was only a memory and really didn’t happen.”
Retired Staff Sgt. Eugene Keyser did two tours in Vietnam. After the years passed and the sting of the war subsided, he began to search for members of his battalion.
“I found our colonel and we talked for two hours,” said Keyser. “I talked to all of them for two hours when I would find one. When we got together, it was like our memories were real. It feels good to be with each other again.”
Retired Lt. Vince Rangel, age 22 at the time, was the oldest member. Along with leading the group, he played guitar while they were at base to ease the tension.
“If I could find a guitar, I always played songs about going home,” he said. “We all wanted to go home. The closest we were getting was in those songs.”
Along with memories, good-hearted name calling came back during the reunion, too.
“They called me Turkey,” said retired Sgt. 1st Class Dannie Moses. “I was really thin, if you can believe that, and tall. I had a long neck, so the nickname stuck. I was the youngest of the group, but the first one there. I don’t know how that happened.”
“Ghost” was retired Sgt. Jay Philbrick. He received the name after almost losing his life to friendly fire.
“I was sent out after them,” he said. “They almost shot me. I was given the name Ghost because I almost was one.”
The reunion group is growing in attendance. Year one attracted three, with the number growing from five last year to eight this year. The last two reunions have been held in Warren County.
Lee says one member of the group was absent. Retired Sgt. Dallis Gibson wanted to attend this year. However, he got sick and would not make it from his home in Georgia.
Recon platoons were one of the most successful types of operations in the Vietnam War. Their job was to engage in combating the Viet Cong infrastructure in the area.
Only two days after completing training, this platoon did what it was trained to do. While on a cordon and search operation northwest of Pleiku, a team helped capture three Viet Cong.
Rangel says teams, containing approximately five soldiers, were dispatched into different areas. Those teams would quietly move through that area in search of Viet Cong. If any were found, they would head back to the platoon and a larger team would return.
Their time in Vietnam was considered successful, but it did not come without a price.
“About four of the eight guys here today were wounded in action,” he said.
The 3rd Battalion, 12th Infantry Recon Platoon plans on meeting every year. In between, they search for other members of their team.