A Reunion in Port Isabel TX
Virginia and I made a trip down the coast to Port Isabel, TX; our old home town. I was born and raised in Port Isabel and Virginia’s family moved there when we were in grade school. We went with a friend to the local American Legion hall and by happenstance ran into Pat Camacho.
Our friend also sent the picture below of Virginia, taken while Pat and I took some time to catch up on life’s events, as we hadn’t seen each other in several years.
Port Isabel, TX was a small town at the end of the world in 1967; population less than 2,500. I was at the OP up on the Razorback. A resupply fire team climbed down and back, bringing water, food, ammo and news that someone from my hometown was on Lima Hill asking for me. They wanted to know if I knew someone named Camacho, but did not have a first name. Being from a small town I knew all of the Camacho’s, probably 40 – 50, but had no idea who was down on the Hill until we rotated and stood down from the OP.
Pat is several years younger than me, but his older brother and I were very good friends having played high school football together, hunting, fishing and doing all of the things kids from small towns do for entertainment. To this day I am still overwhelmed by the odds that two boys from the same small town would end up in the same Company, in the USMC, at the same time, half way around the globe. The odds must be astronomical.
The picture below is of Pat and me taken in March of 1967. I went on R&R just after our battles along the DMZ (March 2, 1967). Virginia and I were newly married and she met me in Hawaii for R&R. My R&R outbound trip is a whole saga in and of itself starting with the fact that I missed my departure day owing to the battles – and it went down hill from there.
Meanwhile, I made R&R and we had a great time. When I returned I came with a stash of groceries that rivaled a convenience store. When I got out to Lima Hill the Company is out on an operation and another unit is holding our position. There is nothing to do but stay out of the way and hole up in a bunker.
To my surprise, along comes Pat Camacho, returning from Subic Bay or a hospital ship after recuperating from wounds.
Pat had gotten a care package from home that was also full of groceries; Pat had an uncle (another good friend) who owned a grocery store. The picture below is of our stash, before we started our culinary feast which lasted several days.
Pat and I both enjoyed and missed Mexican Food; nonexistent in Viet Nam on Lima Hill. We had enough supplies to make a Mexican dinner complete with enchiladas. Enchiladas are prepared by baking in an oven. We had no oven. What I did have is a fruitcake tin left over from a Christmas care package. We prepared the enchiladas in the tin, I poked small holes in the lid with my K-Bar knife (so the lid would not blow off) and we built a small fire. When the fire was down to coals we placed the fruit cake/enchilada tin in the coals and covered the lid with coals (much like the old chuck wagon cooks using cast iron pots while on the trail). The enchiladas were a huge success.
While we were sharing a libation in Port Isabel and catching up, Pat asked me if I remembered that event and still had the pictures. Indeed I do; one of life’s simple yet great moments.
Pat had a hard go in Viet Nam. He was wounded by “friendly fire” the morning we were about to start down into a valley. Artillery had been called to sweep the trail before we jumped off. The incoming killed several of our folks and Pat experienced a “miracle”. He had been standing with his rifle slung barrel down with the butt under his are. Shrapnel from the incoming passed through his arm; he had a clean hole in his upper arm through which one could pass a ping pong ball. The hit missed the bone. After passing through the arm the frag took out a chunk of the rifle stock about the size of a baseball. The impact of the frag striking the rifle stock bruised his ribs. Had it not been for the rifle stock being in the right place at the right time, Pat would not be with us today. Miracle indeed!
Pat was WIA twice and was burned is a gasoline fire incident while clearing elephant grass from a field of fire. [WIA Feb 67 and Jan 68]
It was great to see him. I am working on him to see I can get him to attend the 2008 Reunion.
Semper Fi, S. Marlin
Marlin & Comacho … picture Composite with 2007
Letter to Three Friends
I am not that good that putting things into words, I usually just write what I am thinking into words. It took along time to get over blaming myself but I have dealt with it over the years, since they have put the memorial wall in at the cemetery I have written them letters ever year; some I keep and some I toss away. I just can't see these marines being forgotten, as most of their parents are going and brothers and sisters getting on with their lives and putting everything behind. So, I try to talk to make sure that least these three Marines don't get left behind and all. I consider you Corpsmen are of a different breed, and as far as I am concerned you are high up on the list of the Supreme Commandant in the sky.
LETTER TO MY THREE CHILDHOOD FRIENDS WHO WERE MARINES - 2007
It is getting close to Memorial Day again an it is time to write a letter to three Marines that I grew up with who are lying in Washington Cemetery from the Viet Nam war.
These three Marines will never be forgotten as long as I live: ROBERT FINDLEY, JOHN SLEASH, and LARRY SAILSBURY. They will never have to worry about being forgotten even when I am going as I know another Marine who is close to my heart that will write them letters every year and that is my brother Jeff who is a good Marine.
It has been 32 years since I have played ball at Washington Park with Larry and John and Bob was one of my best friends. Guys we had a lot of fun together and I can still see us as kids and soon as men who was sent off to war not knowing what we were getting into. I have suffered for years wondering why I came home and the three of you had to give up your lives.
It was not because I was a better Marine, no maybe because I was faster (and you know I could out run all of you) or maybe I was just luckier. I cried a lot for you and I still do every Memorial Day I even wished I could have taken your place Bob, because you had a wife and a child on the way, but I will meet up with the three of you before to long.
I can remember my dad crying around Memorial Day all the time and I asked him why a grown man was crying all the time around Memorial Day. He told me it was none of my business that some day I may have to find out. You see my dad was a Marine and was at Iwo Jima. He would not talk to my brother or me about the war.
Well I did find out why he was crying around Memorial Day and I do it all the time myself. It is very hard when you lose your friends while you are in battle but you have only known some of these guys for a short time, but when you lose three of your childhood friends believe me it is even harder.
Bob, John, & Larry I think I have found the reason I was sent home in one piece. I have joined an organization that is one of the best in the world and I am very proud to be in the Marine Corps League and it is the Washington County Detachment 1138. I wished you three could be their it is a great group, they don’t only help Marines they help other VETERANS which are forgotten, they go to the Veterans hospital and give these vets parties all the time and they do funerals for fallen Marines or former Marines. They love to march in parades no matter what the weather is. These are a great bunch of Marines and associates.
When I first joined I met the Commandant and he was a great person and we got along good. He is one reason I am starting to get my head on straight. Ed Ringer is a great Marine and he will do anything for anybody and he is what
The Marine Corps League is all about. I also met Tony Cuccaro, and Dan O’Connell these are two great Marines and they can relate to what we went through, they were over their to, they don’t know it but they have help me a lot by just talking to me and trading stories. I even saw a shrink once and I ask him if he had ever been to war and had lost three childhood friends and he said no and I told him that he couldn’t help me.
You guys are going to like this one, I was sitting in a bar one time when this guy next to me ask me why I was so bummed out it is Memorial Day. I just looked at him as I wanted to be left alone as I had just come from the cemetery talking to you three guys, all I wanted to do was drink my beer and a couple more, so I told him politely he wouldn’t understand. He said answer me a question, I take it you are a Marine because you have a Marine hat on. I said what is your question. Do you know what a hero is? I said I would try to explain to you my opinion of a hero. I don’t take the word hero likely as I am a fireman, but I will try to explain if you are not joking. He said he wasn’t.
To me their are several different type of heroes, the first one is easy it is people who save other peoples lives at the risk of their own. Then there are people that lose their lives trying to save other people. And other group I am proud to call heroes are Navy Corpsmen, they risk their lives trying to save other people under fire disregarding their own lives. When I called for a Corpsmen they always come running or crawling anyway they could get their and I am proud to know one that I am in the Marine Corps League with and he is a hero, Joe Marabito. There is also a group that is heroes that did not get medal only a purple heart and a flag for their casket. These are the real heroes; they gave their lives so you could sit here and ask me questions. Freedom does not come free.
I have three childhood friends that are up in Washington Cemetery who died in Viet Nam, they are HEROES and that is why I am in a down mood right know. So he told me that I had answered his question in a way that he had never heard of before. He shook my hand and said he was glad to have met me and we sat there and drank several beers.
So you see you three Marines are heroes and like I said I will never let you be forgotten.
Until next year.
Semper Fi, Sgt. John A Gallagher Jr. USMC Vietnam 1967 & 68