His name was Wayne Pfirrman and he lost a sister in the terrible airline catastrophe in Charleston, West Virginia in 1968. At that time he and I were both serving in the Naval Security Forces out of Camp Tien Sha near Da Nang, part of what was then known as the Republic of South Vietnam.
I’m leaving tomorrow to visit him in Cincinnati, Ohio. We’ve been swapping visits now for nearly ten years. How it came about is interesting.
We were the result of some high-level decision on the part of the Department of the Navy that it was simply a waste of good marines to use them for base security. Why not train some sailors for a month or so and let them do it? So, they selected a group of misfits who weren’t serving any useful purpose as they saw it, and off we went. They taught us to shoot rifles, throw hand grenades, carry M-60s and M-79s, generally hit near what we were aiming at, and follow orders.
I arrived in the Republic less than 30 days before the famous Tet Offensive. Some welcome for a visitor to the mysterious orient. Wayne was already there and we became friends. We would pal around together during our rare time off and generally got to know one another well.
Like so many young fellows, we went our separate ways after our tours and lost touch. For 37 years, we looked at old photographs and thought of those times gone by when we were young and sailors. I went into the field of urban planning and Wayne served out a career as a Cincinnati police officer. We, it turned out, both married within a few months of one another and both marriages stuck somehow.
Then one day, I signed a guest book on an internet site for Vietnam vets, and who should respond but someone I hadn’t heard of since 1968? His emails sounded like the same fellow I had known so we started exchanging visits.
When he visits here, of all the sights of the Delta, he is most fascinated by armadillos. Don’t ask why. For my part, I’m intrigued by the joy those folks up there have in life.
By now, we have shared weddings, deaths, and retirement. I go to visit not only him and his wife Rose, but a host of friends I have made in the last ten years.
As the song says, it’s a big, wide, wonderful world we live in. Wish it could have been so as well for the more than 50,000 of our brothers who didn’t live to see reunions with old friends.