Dave (wearing headphones) and members of Alpha Company.

My face was bathed in the scent of a potpourri of aftershave lotions by the time I had been kissed by the last guy in line in front of me. This was not a typical reunion with old friends or classmates. I hadn’t known any of these men until this moment. As they hugged me and planted friendly kisses on my cheeks, they gave brief introductions:

“I’m Joe. I carried the code book for the Captain.”

“I’m Phil. I was his track driver. I don’t know why I wasn’t driving for him that day.”

“I’m Dick. I was one of his platoon leaders. So glad you’re here. Dave was the best CO ever.”

“I’m Lon. He was my hero.”

“There are so many stories we have to tell you,” they say. “He was the best of the best.”

They said they had known about me in ‘68-‘69 even if I didn’t know them. My husband, Army Captain David R. Crocker, Jr., carried a picture of me in his pocket in Vietnam, and at some point he had taken it out and shown some of them; perhaps some quiet moment when they sat around eating “beanie-weinees” or “ham and lima beans” from a pack of c-rations, or playing Blackjack back at base camp. For an infantry company in the area of Chu Chi province, there wasn’t much down time.  In April, 1969, one month before Dave was killed with four others while inspecting a booby-trapped Viet Cong bunker, they had endured seventeen straight days of a “fire-fight” with many injuries. Some of these guys greeting me today were still in hospitals a month later on May 17, 1969.

Thirty-eight years after his death, at a point when I thought memories of Dave existed only with me and our family, I met these strangers -by chance – because they wrote tributes to their beloved Company Commander on the virtual wall; an internet replica of the Vietnam Memorial. We connected through the words they posted there and they invited me to an up-coming reunion of the 22nd Infantry Regiment Society of which Alpha Company is a part. Since 2006, I’ve been meeting them like family in different parts of the country every eighteen months. These are true reunions for them, many finding each for the first time after three and four decades, bursting into stories with vivid details.  For me, it is a re-kindling of my memories of a person I deeply loved; a kind of reunion with him, through them, these unknown heroes who spent days and nights together suffering through an egregious war.

Alpha Company (note Lon Oakley's Texas flag)

They were boys in their late teens and early twenties back then, mostly draftees who never expected to experience jungle warfare, stinging red ants, foot rot, monsoon rains, dust, lack of sleep, poor food, little water at times, gaping wounds, burning sun, bloody carnage, horrendous noise, constant fear for their lives, dying friends, and ultimately the death of their leader; the guy who they all believed was trying to save them from disaster. They called him “the old man,” even though he was only twenty-five.

Dave (second from left)

After I received notification of Dave’s death in May 1969 from two military personnel with a telegram, no first person reports followed. A deep silence fell in the years that followed for most people directly affected by the war. Not until that first reunion in Omaha, Nebraska, 2006 did I hear the chain of events leading to his death and the aftermath.  Since connecting with these former soldiers, many of whom witnessed that day, we’ve met in Seattle, Atlanta, Washington, DC, and now in Colorado Springs. Each time, more members of the original group have been located and the story stick continues to be passed, bringing back my beloved again and again in stories of the intense life they lived together trying to survive an unwinnable war.

There is a “knowingness” that exists between us at these reunions with people I’ve never known before.  It is a deeper and more palpable recognition,  than any high school or college reunion I’ve experienced. Reunion is to “reunite” and they have reunited me with the memory of what it was to know my long-lost beloved. With their descriptions, I can see his smile, his concentration, his frustration, his blue eyes, his form and fitness, his desire to survive and protect and lead these guys out of chaos. I can almost remember the scent of his skin.

He never intended to be left behind, and these guys, my new/old brothers, are persistently bringing him back and holding him among us with their faithfulness to his memory. There is always an extra plate and place at our banquet table. I’m already looking forward to the next reunion in eighteen months.

For more information about reunions of the 22nd Infantry Regiment, visit: http://www.22ndinfantry.org  or


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