The "Kilo" Company 3rd Bn, 7th Marines,
Vietnam Association, 2nd Annual Reunion was held in conjunction with the
"Mike 3/7 VietNam Veterans Association Reunion", at the Tucson Four Points
Sheridan, Tucson, Arizona, on October 17, thru October 21, 2001. Left
is our host, Marty Ryder (68/69) and right is Harry "Smitty" Smith
Those of us who went to the first
reunion last year walked into the hospitality suite in the hotel in Branson,
Missouri, with apprehension. The men searched each other's features for the
memories of faces not seen in thirty years. Some of them were worried about
how they would react to dredging up their experiences in Vietnam after so
many years of trying to forget them. The wives were nervous too, unsure of
the emotional response of their husbands. As I prepared to meet the Marines,
I asked myself: What do you say to the men who are largely responsible for
the fact that your husband came home alive? In the end, thank you is about
all you can say.
It was easier the second time around. When we arrived this year in Tucson,
we greeted each other as old friends, not ghosts from the past. Peg and Smitty,
whose tireless work makes the reunions possible, were signing everyone in
and taking photographs. Flags were on display. The large table in the middle
of the room was already covered with photograph albums and scrapbooks, some
of them started in Vietnam, with covers of embroidered cloth. Another table
was filled with items donated for the raffle, which raises money for expenses
and traveling funds. The bar was already open.
From Thursday to Sunday morning, we talked, caught up, greeted those attending
for the first time, laughed, ate and drank. The men re-fought the war, asked
questions and remembered those of the company who died in Vietnam.
At the memorial service, Colonel Ray Kummerow (1969/70) spoke about the
importance of remembering and recounted his experience in a Returned Servicemen's
League club in Australia some years ago. He witnessed the ceremony that takes
place in the clubs around Australia every day: at an appointed hour
(traditionally 9:00 p.m.) all activity stops while those present remember
the men and women who were killed in war. Lest We Forget. The names of Marines
from Kilo Company who were killed in Vietnam are read aloud at the memorial
service. This is the saddest time of the reunion, the time when steady voices
falter and tears come. One by one, the 135 Marines from Kilo Company who
died in the years from 1965 to 1970 are remembered, by name, rank and the
date of death.
This year, Juanita Kandi, the sister of PFC Bruce "Randy" Landis, Jr., who
was killed in action in 1966, attended the reunion as an honorary member
of the Kilo Association. She was eighteen when her brother, her only sibling,
was killed. The family was told few details of the circumstances of his death
and, afterwards, her father refused to speak of him again. She had always
wondered what had happened, and hoped that someone who cared about him was
with him when he died. In Tucson, just after she and her son checked into
the hotel, she was introduced to Bob Pitoniak, who had traveled to the reunion
from Florida. It was an emotional meeting. Bob had been with Randy when he
was wounded and was able to give Juanita information she had been missing
for so many years.
The attacks on the United States of September 11 were on our minds and many
discussions took place about the appropriate response. One person suggested
that, although the fighting days of the Marines attending the reunion were
behind them, they should go out of their way to show appreciation for the
members of the military and the national guard who serve in this war: To
thank them as the veterans of Vietnam were not.
We celebrated our companionship at a banquet, toasting those present and
absent with champagne provided by "Doc" Richard Wagner, offered by "Doc"
Thomas Mundrick in his absence. We sat for group photographs to record the
reunion and then, one by one, we left for home in towns and cities from Oregon
to Pennsylvania and beyond.
To the person who suggested Tucson as the location for the reunion, thank
you! There were many interesting places to visit: the Arizona Sonora Desert
Museum, Tombstone, San Xavier Mission, Tubac, the Saguaro National Park and
Tucson Studios among others.
See you all next year in Louisville, Kentucky!
Margaret Bender, Wife of John Bender (1968/69)