They were young soldiers once — and friends ever since. Tom Brooks, a Vietnam War veteran, organized a gathering of men he knew from the 1st Air Cavalry Division during the late 1960s.
It’s been that long since he’s seen some of them.
"Everybody’s close to 60 now, instead of 19," he said.
Brooks is the catalyst for the reunion. He makes connections for get-togethers and keeps contacts thriving.
Joined by Richard Begrin of Cañon City, Colo., and David Boatman of Kamiah, Idaho, the three eagerly anticipated the arrival of six more veterans Sept. 9 at Brooks’ Mesa home.
Brooks, Begrin and Boatman went through everything together, from training to the battlefield, after being drafted.
Youth seemed to course through their veins once again as the three recalled war memories with enough military lingo to stump any civilian. But they understood one another loud and clear.
Dates of battles rolled off their tongues, especially Jan. 31, 1968 — the Tet Offensive, considered to be among the worst days in Vietnam.
"It’s very bewildering to see all of your buddies get shot up and killed in 10 minutes," said Brooks, who uses a wheelchair after being shot in battle. "It happens so fast."
Between puffs off cigarettes, Brooks and company held nothing back during recollections of life in Southeast Asia. Honest language colors all of their vivid stories, told with truth and adrenaline, with a realistic hue.
"I killed three (enemies) this day," Boatman said matter-of-factly during a slide show of war pictures.
"I could have been dead over and over," Begrin said, shaking his head as to why he’s alive today.
They weren’t interested in medals, though they earned a few. They wanted to make it back home to the United States, where people would end up spitting on them as they walked off the airplane.
These men not only endured the war, but also lived with its scars and scares ingrained in their minds ever since. Some memories are too horrible for their minds to remember, they said.
Maybe that act of selfpreservation has helped them survive, then and now.