Monday, November 24, 2014

A Story of Reunion--44 Years After Vietnam

They were born and raised on opposite sides of the country, one in a coal camp in West Virginia, the other in his Native American community near the coast of Oregon. Their upbringing was similar, however--large extended family close buy, little money, simple living in poorly built homes, hard work, grandmothers who quilted and put up food in root cellars.

At eighteen each joined the U.S. Marin Corps. At nineteen both found themselves in Vietnam. The two became close friends; They went out on patrol together, faced danger together and got into all kinds of comical scrapes, most of their own making. They went down tunnels, went on search-and-destroy missions, shared the condition called "jungle rot" that sent one to the hospital.

In early February 1971 one of them got orders that he was to pack his things, turn in his weapons and get on the bus. His deployment was over and it was time to go home. He had only minutes to get ready, and there was no time to say goodbye to his friend. As he rode away on the bus, he realized he didn't even know his buddy's name--they used nicknames for everyone, and all he knew his friend as was "Indian."

Fast forward 44 years to this thing we call the Internet, and to the thing on the Internet called Facebook. One day I received a friend request from a man I did not know, and I was going to delete the request when I saw a message from this same man. The message said, "I think your husband served with my father in Vietnam. Ask him if he remembers a man they called Indian."

 And so my husband Larry and his old friend Reyn Leno of the Grand Ronde tribe were re-united. They talked on the telephone and communicated online and then last week, Reyn Leno came to West Virginia.

He spent three days with us, and it was as if the two of them just picked up the conversation where they had left off 44 years earlier.

We had an amazing time; lots of conversation, catching up on families and laughing as they told of some of their misadventures in Vietnam. Reyn brought Larry a warrior's medal, made by a member of his tribe from shells and beads in the colors of the Vietnam medal.

Two of my sons joined us for dinner one evening, and more stories flowed between all four of these veterans.

Reyn signing the visitor's book in the Governor's office
at the WV State Capitol

Larry and Reyn toured the West Virginia Capitol building and state museum, and traveled down to Olcott to see the place where Larry grew up.
In the Capitol Rotunda

Through the gates to the airplane. Goodbye, Reyn!
It was hard to say goodbye, but it was only au revoir, really. This coming summer we will visit the Grande Ronde reservation at Reyn's invitation, to meet his family, see his part of the country and take part in the tribe's annual Veterans Memorial Pow Wow. I can't wait to go, and I know Larry can't wait to see his friend again. The two of them shared the worst life has to offer, and now, they're sharing the best.

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.


Mac n' Janet said...

Isn't the Internet amazing. I'm a retired teacher and some of my old students have tracked me down on Facebook.

Celia said...

So glad to read your story of this happy reunion. Amazing they found each other again.

Carolyn H said...

What a great story! So happy for everyone

Rob Hunt said...

What a great story it really makes me smile. Everyone have a awe sum day!

Anonymous said...

Coming out west again. Hooray! Don't suppose you will have time to visit Idaho? Batsy

Grandma Susan said...

What a nice story. Thanks for sharing!

annie said...

A wonderful story!
Thank you to both of them for serving their country. Blessings!


What a wonderful reunion story. Loved hearing this. Felt such joy for all of you. Raymond was able to contact several of his service buddies from the Navy before he passed away. he was thrilled and so were they. Hugs to all of you.

Granny Sue said...

I never realized how strong the bonds could be from only one year (not even a full year, really) spent together. This really brought home to me how powerful relationships can be, and how friendships formed in such conditions can endure.

Anita said...

Such a lovely story. I'm glad they found each other again.

Nance said...

A great story of brotherhood. It made me cry. So glad they got the chance to reunite.

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