Photo Gallery | Dalton veterans reminisce about their service in Marines
DALTON — Bob and Ruth Waldheim hosted a timely reunion in their backyard Sunday afternoon.
Fifty years ago Tuesday, Waldheim, Al Eurbin, Arthur "Butch" Connelly, Allen Palmer, Tom Fillio, Rudson Bellinger, Mike Prue, Dick Moon and Mike Penney together on June 28, 1966 enlisted in the Marines Corps. All but Moon from Pittsfield are Dalton/Hinsdale natives.
Five made the family-style cookout, three living across the country couldn't attend and one, Palmer, died in a car crash shortly after all nine friends completed basic training at Parris Island, S.C. in 1966.
Any regrets they enlisted?
"The minute I got on the bus [for boot camp,]" quipped Bellinger,
Bellinger, Waldheim, along with Eurbin, Fillio, and Moon seemed to enjoy reminiscing about Parris Island by pouring over dozens of black and white photos. The mood was a bit more somber when all but one swapped stories about their 13 months overseas in the early days of U.S. combat involvement of the Vietnam War.
Eurbin never deployed to southeast Asia where nearly 60,000 U.S. servicemen died or went missing in action in the 1960s and early 1970s.
"Kind of makes me feel bad I didn't go, to feel part of this group," he said.
Unlike Eurbin, the other seven were constantly in harms way whether on the front line or making it safe for the infantry.
"I was an engineer and every day we swept the roads for mines," Fillio recalled.
The fear of an unseen enemy kept Waldheim on alert — and on edge — during his 10 months patrolling the Demilitarized Zone separating North and South Vietnam.
"There were nights I could wave my hand in front of my face and not see that's how dark it was," he said.
Moon believes enduring Parris Island prepared the young Berkshire men for Vietnam.
"The training and tactics saved us," he said.
The good food, good drink, good times on the Waldheims' deck on Sunday, shared with the five men's wives and other family members, probably wouldn't have occurred a few years ago.
For some of the eight, it has taken almost 50 years to open about the horror of an unpopular war in America where donning a military uniform might get a soldier or sailor jeered, not cheered, upon returning home.
Ruth Waldheim says her husband talks more about his time in Vietnam and is proud to have a served his country. He has let his emotions flow, especially upon visiting the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
"When we went to Washington [D.C.], we went to the wall and Bob had a total breakdown," she said.
Barbara Fillio's spouse came out of his shell about his Vietnam experience after she joined the local American Red Cross military support group after he son James Scace joined the Marines and was deployed to Iraq.
"Once I got into the group, Tom opened up and it's been a great experience," she said. "We now get together and go to the Marine Corps dinner."
Following the reunion, the five Marine veterans planned to visit Palmer's grave site, honoring the lone friend who died tragically so long ago that they never left behind, that they've never forgotten.
Contact Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233