When brothers in arms become brothers for life

We met 55 years ago and reunited as if nothing had happened.

Etta Sauers of North Huntingdon, Pa., visits the grave of her husband Roy W. Sauer, a Navy veteran, at the Alleghenies National Cemetery in Cecil Township, Pa., on Veterans Day, Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

“War, what is it for? Absolutely nothing!”

— “War” sung by Edwin Starr, 1970

It was called “The Summer of Love”. This is how he was portrayed in San Francisco in mid-1967. Many young people were in this beautiful city to express their love for one another. Some of us, however, were there for another reason. Instead of flowers in our hair, we wore military uniforms. We were on our way to a war in a place called Vietnam.

Yes, we were members of the United States Armed Forces spending a day among the hippies in their peace gear before flying overseas. Most of us didn’t know each other. Unlike previous wars, we did not travel as part of a cohesive military unit like a company or battalion.

When I arrived in Vietnam, I was assigned to the United States Army Headquarters in Vietnam (USARV) in Long Binh. Upon entering my barracks, which we called a “hootch”, the first person to greet me was Charles “Chas” Simone from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He’s the first Italian-American I’ve met. After a few days, we became best friends forever. It was like that in Vietnam. Friendships were made on the spur of the moment and solidified through similar experiences over a year in a war zone.

Shortly after, I met James “Ark” Sanders from Little Rock, Arkansas, “Ol” Joe Taylor who owned a farm in Paris, Tennessee, and Terry “Baldy” Baldwin from Seaford, Delaware. We formed a relationship that became a strong bond that carried us through the typhoon season of 1967, the Tet Offensive of 1968, and the May Offensive that followed.

After returning from Vietnam, we decided to keep in touch with each other. Before long, we were in college, married, had kids, and everything that comes with civilian life. Five years after our return, we had our first meeting at “Ol” Joe’s farm near the Tennessee River. It was truly a wonderful and glorious summer party.

Since that time, we’ve had a great time at 18 meetings in various locations across the United States. Among these are Las Vegas, Nevada; San Diego, California; Key West, Florida; Wildwood, New Jersey; and New Orleans, Louisiana.

Additionally, we visited historic sites such as Valley Forge and the battlefields of Gettysburg and New Orleans.

Some of us left memories of the war at the Vietnam wall. While visiting Washington, DC on a recent Memorial Day, we had the honor of seeing President Barack Obama lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

In 2007, four of us returned to Vietnam for a real “tour” of the country. We timed it for Veterans Day 2007, because it meant forty years since our first visit to the country. We traveled from Hanoi in the north to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) in the south. Needless to say, the trip brought back many repressed memories, but it was also cathartic.

This year we gather in Charleston, South Carolina for Veterans Day. We will stay in a beach rental. Our plans include participating in various activities that will recognize veterans’ contributions to the defense of our nation. This will include a boat ride to Fort Sumter to see where the first shots of the Civil War were fired.

It will be a special moment for us. It’s been 55 years since we first met, but when we come together, it’s as if those years didn’t exist. We will laugh and joke while we drink our favorite drink. Of course, we will tell great stories about our exploits. As some ancients might say, “The older we got, the better off we were.” For a short while, it will seem like we are young again. As if we were in Vietnam.

In the end, contrary to what the song said, the war was good for one thing. It brought my friends and me together to become brothers in arms, brothers for life.

Luciano “Luce” Martinez, Murray, is a retired educator from Utah who served in the United States Army (1966-1969). He is a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) and the American Legion.

Martin E. Berry