KILLEEN — Vietnam veterans of Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, came together at the Holiday Inn in Killeen for their annual reunion.
“These guys won’t tell you that they’re any different than any other company that served in Vietnam, but it’s a very special company,” said Capt. Kyle Hatzinger, the commander of Delta Company from Sept. 1 to April 5, 2011, who helped organize the event. “There are a lot of heroes in this room. Guys with unbelievable stories about what they did for one another, and how they were able to come home, face a lot of adversity and right the ship.”
More than 35 veterans and their families showed up this year, for the third gathering since fighting shoulder to shoulder off the South China Sea during the Vietnam War.
“Just like a rifle company anywhere, we were in and out of base camp,” said retired Lt. Col. Jim Buckner, who commanded the company as a captain from 1966 to 1967.
“I took command on Christmas Day of 1966, and that very afternoon we got in 12 helicopters and did our first air assault, not three hours later. We would come back in once every three weeks, get a cold field shower, a hot meal if we were lucky, then we’d go back out,” he said.
With hard fighting came wounds that did not heal easily, if at all. That is the reason it took so long for them to finally come together again.
Theirs is a story of coming to terms with the mental wounds of war that is profoundly relevant to present-day soldiers.
“I was in the Army eight years, four months, 13 days and breakfast,” said John Blehm, a stocky former sergeant first class, Ranger and recipient of three Purple Hearts. “I got (post-traumatic stress disorder) in 1969. I wasn’t diagnosed until 1997.”
Nearly every veteran who attended the event shared stories of suffering from PTSD, and how rejoining their brothers in arms helped alleviate some of the pain.
“This is a healing process when you have these reunions,” said Dave Ciocca, who led the first squad of 3rd platoon as a staff sergeant from 1966 to 1967. “When you go to an infantry reunion, and you’ve all been under fire, it’s very emotional. The first one started out very sad, but after the three days we were like a band of brothers again, joking around and having fun.”
“No one is closer than men that serve together when they’re getting shot at,” said Larry Willis, a draftee who served for two years and left the Army as a sergeant. “You get closer than you do your own family. We didn’t see each other for 45 years, but when we first met in Washington, D.C., two years ago, it was like that 45 years didn’t exist. It was like we were 20 years old again — we recognized each other, hugged each other, cried and laughed — it has really done a lot for some of our guys.”