The morning of July 4, 1969, would be the first Independence Day retired Sgt. Dan Gamble was not looking forward to an evening of fireworks.
It was a day when he had a vision he will never forget. That day, he said God sent him to be with his new brothers in Vietnam.
“In their eyes, you could see everything: fear, hate, confusion,” Gamble said. “And, most of all, the fatigue of combat.”
Veterans of Bravo Co. 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment came from across the country Saturday 50 years after they served in the Vietnam War inside the Shiloh Inn of Killeen. The more than 50 were deployed together in Vietnam in 1969 as an air mobile infantry unit, where they flew into combat zones aboard Army helicopters.
Gamble, now of Indianapolis, was among a handful of veterans who helped spearhead the annual tradition about 17 years ago. For their “golden anniversary,” the veterans decided to move the reunion from Fort Lauderdale to the greater Fort Hood area.
The gathering acts as an opportunity for those who served to heal, according to Gamble. In their reunion, he said, veterans of the Vietnam War soothe internal wounds that have lingered decades after their time overseas.
“Through this reconnection, we were able to help each other through a lot of problems — a lot of guys couldn’t get through the horrors of war,” Gamble said. “It’s nice to have a therapist, but sometimes, the best therapy is to have a soldier you can talk to who was there beside you.”
Retired Lt. Gen. Pete Taylor, a Vietnam veteran and former III Corps and Fort Hood commander, urged the dozens there to possess their memories of service in pride.
“All of you have memories. We’d never have made it without each other,” Taylor said in a speech recalling several memories of his service. “We all did what our country asked us to do. You have nothing to be ashamed of.”
Taylor held a copy of a memoir Gen. John Rogers Galvin published in 2015, called “Fighting the Cold War: A Soldier’s Memoir.” He and Galvin served alongside each other in Vietnam and knew one another before Galvin died three years ago.
In grim remembrance, Taylor told those before him how he and Galvin would unzip body bags of fallen soldiers after they were retrieved from battlefields.
The bodies would always be returned to their base, Taylor said, and the officers would have to unzip the bag and look at the deceased.
One day, he was told why.
“‘The reason I want us to do this is because I don’t want us to ever forget what this is all about,’” Taylor said, quoting Galvin.
Retired Sgt. Dan Houmes said he has a book bursting with names of veterans he’s reconnected with over the years, which he amassed from a variety of resources, such as alumni directories and contacting churches.
Following the labor of reaching out to dozens of veterans and finding about 100 names, Houmes said the annual communion has developed into something special.
“We have probably, out of that hundred, had about 60 guys come at some point. Some came one time, and that was it,” Houmes said. “But over the past 17 years, this has become more of a family reunion than an Army reunion.”
The veterans also toured Fort Hood during their time here, and visited their old unit, 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, which is now outfitted with Abrams tanks is part of the 1st Cavalry Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team.