Day One | Day Two | Day Three | Day Four | Day Five
On March 6-7, 2009, Mike Belford, Will Chaney, and I got together. We met at Fogo de Chao, a Brazilian barbeque restaurant located by the scenic Baltimore Inner Harbor. Mike was doing business in Pennsylvania and he knew that both Will and I live in the Baltimore area. After dinner and drinks, we walked to the ESPN Zone for more drinks. We reminisced about old times. After years of saying how we ought to have an 81s platoon 2/2 reunion, we decided it was time. The reunion would take place on the weekend closest to the Marine Corps Birthday in 2009, near the area where Will and I live.
Day One, Friday, November 6, 2009
Will Chaney and Anthony "Mate" Mathis checked in at the Holiday Inn Express near the Baltimore Washington International (BWI) Airport. The motel was less than 2 miles from my house which made it easy to hook up. They spent part of the afternoon looking for Dave and Busters at the Arundel Mills Mall but never found it.
I picked them up and we went to dinner at the Ellicott Mills Brewing Company in Historic Ellicott City. The town was founded in 1772. According to Wikipedia - Ellicott City:
Ellicott City is listed amongst America's most affluent communities and is located in Howard County, the third wealthiest county in the United States according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Hence, Will, Mate, and I fit right in...and no, Will and I don't live in Howard County.
Bill Pastino, one of the Howard County Marine Corps League officers, is part owner of the Brewing Company. Unfortunately, he wasn't there when we visited. But we saw his Mameluke Sword hanging above the bar. Bill is a former infantry platoon commander from 1/1. His restaurant/bar is an old restored hardware store. With an assortment of foods like venison, buffalo, and alligator, along with several home brews, it was a nice place for a bunch of old Marines to visit.
After dinner, Will, Mate, and I walked around town. The sky was clear but it was as cold at a well digger's ass. Much different than Mate's Atlanta weather.
Our next stop was the Rumor Mill Restaurant and Fusion Bar. We stopped for drinks but I think Mate and I were just as eager to just go in and warm up. That place (and many of the places on that side of the street), was built on top of a creek...one that flows into the Patapsco River.
We called Mike and found out that his plane was on time, and he was on his way up from the Reagan National Airport in Washington D.C. Though BWI is much closer to my place and Baltimore, Mike scored the mother of all airline deals: two Delta Airlines round trip tickets from San Francisco for $321!
Will, Mate, and I drove to my local grocery store to pick up items for tomorrow's breakfast. Just as we pulled onto my street, Mike and his girlfriend, Suzanne, were walking up my driveway. Perfect timing!
Mike and Suzanne hadn't eaten so we all went to TGI Fridays in my town. We talked about old times. Though we were all in the same platoon, Mike was the only one who knew us all. Will and Mate left the unit shortly before I arrived, hence, I was hearing some of their stories for the first time. Will made me laugh until I cried. I honestly can't remember the last time I laughed that hard. Suzanne never met Will, Mate, or me so this was all new for her. If nothing else, I'm sure we kept her entertained.
Will and Mate went back to their motel. Mike and Suzanne slept in my basement. Had I known our numbers would be so small and that I'd have one housemate move out a week prior with the other out for the weekend, I would have invited everyone to crash at my house. More reunion attendees would have been nice but like Mike says, a small unit is more mobile. At only 4, we decided we should call ourselved the "Advance Party."
We needed our rest...we had big plans for tomorrow.
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Day Two, Saturday, November 7, 2009
Will and Mate showed up at my place at 0900. Motivated Mate wore a jersey with the number "81" in big letters to show his enthusiasm.
The two of them along with Mike, Suzanne, and I ate a pancake, egg, and sausage breakfast that I prepared. See first photo at left.
I put out my photo album of Gulf War photos along with the 2/2 Gulf War book given to those of us who stuck around a bit after returning from Kuwait. They brought back memories (see second photo). Too see my Gulf War photos, go to USMC - Saki.
With our bellies full, we went to the National Museum of the Marine Corps near Quantico, Virginia. The weather was clear so photo ops on the building as well as out in front were easy. In the third photo from left to right are Will, Mate, Mike, and me. The building was designed to resemble the famous flag raising at Mount Suribachi. See the fourth photo. Interestingly, the construction company Mate works for built the museum. I told him he should use the weekend as a tax writeoff.
When a Marine or former Marine enters the museum for the first time, they are often awestruck. Mate and Will looked like two kids in a candy store (fifth photo).
We started in the boot camp section where Will and Mate stood on the yellow footprints (sixth photo) and I sat in the barber's chair (seventh photo)...when's the last time I sat in one of those? We saw the new internal frame packs and got to stand in a booth that has speakers all around so one can get the feel of having drill instructors yelling from all sides.
A tour wasn't scheduled to start for awhile but we managed to finagle one by talking to docent Bill Peters. All the docents are former Marines and love it when reunion groups come to the museum. He introduced us to Frank Matthews, a former Marine who was part of the Iwo Jima invasion. In the eighth photo, see Bill, Mike, Frank, Mate, Will, and me. It was an honor to meet Frank (ninth photo) and tell him that 2/2 was the first unit to do a landing at the island since the original invasion. Our personalized tour was better than a regular tour because Bill tailored things to our level of knowledge. Most of the groups are full of civilians so rather than focus on what it takes to be a Marine, he spoke to us about things that we might not know.
For example, in the Korean War gallery (tenth photo) there was a Toosie Roll wrapper lying in the fake snow by one of the Marine manequins. Bill told us that "Tootsie Roll" was used as the radio code word when requesting 60mm mortar shells, in order to prevent the Chinese from knowing when the American troops were low on ammunition. One such message, however, was translated literally and cases of Tootsie Rolls were airdropped to the Marines battling their way out of the Chosin Reservoir in the winter of 1950. This proved to be a blessing in disguise as the Marines soon discovered that Toosie Rolls were the only food they could thaw in the 30 below zero temperatures. They could tuck the candy in their uniforms and it would stay soft enough to eat. The sugar gave them energy and the chewing satisfied their hunger. While fighting their way out of the reservoir, there were literally thousands of Tootsie Roll wrappers scattered over North Korea.
We watched a film about the Marine Corps at a little movie theater in the museum. One of the featured Marines in the film is Retired Colonel Wesley L. Fox. The Colonel spoke to my class at NCO School in Quantico.
Lieutenant Wesley L. Fox led Company A, 9th Marines, in fierce fighting near Lang Ha on 22 February 1969. His Marines collided with an entrenced NVA force protecting a major munitions stockpile. Because dense foliage and bad weather limited air and artillery support, Company A destroyed its foe the old fashioned way, using small arms and grenades to kill more than 100 NVA regulars. Though twice wounded, Fox remained in command. He received the Medal of Honor.
- from museum sign
It would be an understatement to say that the place is huge. One could easily spend hours there and take photos until your camera shooting finger is sore.
Eleventh photo: Marines taking the beach via amphibious landing.
Twelfth photo: Our "advance party" ready to debark.
Thirteenth photo: The Vietnam War section.
Fourteenth photo: Getting ready for gun drills. "Half load...fire!"
Fifteenth photo: Marines taking the ground from above.
Sixteenth photo: Paintings of Marines struck down in the prime of their life while serving abroad.
In the museum store, I saw a replica of the famous Iwo Jima flag raising...but made out of Legos! See seventeenth photo. Some memorabilia was purchased...including something that would later save Mate from an angry mob.
We took a walk upstairs and looked at some of the Norman Rockwell artwork from the WWII era. Taking the high ground gave us a good vantage point for some of the displays either hanging or down below.
Eighteenth photo: A bird's eye view of an amphibious landing.
Nineteenth photo: Old Corps plane.
Twentieth photo: Don't piss off this airwinger.
The museum has a cafeteria and a bar called Tun Tavern, which Mike points out in the twenty-first photo. We wondered why nobody has built a Tun Tavern in Philadelphia. It seems like it would get a lot of business from old, salty jarheads. According to Wikipedia - Tun Tavern, the original burned down in 1781 and in addition to being recognized as the birthplace of the Marine Corps, it is also regarded as the "birthplace of Masonic teachings in America."
Our next stop was the Globe and Laurel Restaurant (twenty-second photo) where we had drinks and appetizers. I found the bacon cheese waffle fries delicious. It is the perfect hangout for a bunch former devil dogs. See twenty-third photo.
We met the proprietor, retired Marine Major Rick Spooner (twenty-fourth photo). The Major served in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. In WWII, he fought in Saipan and Okinawa. His memoirs are documented in The Spirit of Semper Fidelis: Reflections From the Bottom of an Old Canteen Cup. Both the museum and the restaurant sell his book, which he is happy to autograph.
Playing the piano at the bar was a familiar face from the museum...Iwo Jima veteran Frank Matthews, see twenty-fifth photo.
Mike, Suzanne, and I went back to my place while Will and Mate did their own thing. My girlfriend, Norma came over, then the 4 of us went to dinner in Annapolis. We ate at Carrol's Creek Waterfront Restaurant, one of my favorite places to eat.
Next, we took the water taxi across the river to the historic side of Annapolis. We walked near the Naval Academy then to Middleton Tavern, a bar and restaurant that was built in 1750. We drank upstairs while a pianist played tunes from the 1970s. Mike and I would sometimes sing along as we often sang during the Gulf War in the Humvee or around the fire once the war ended.
Mike, Suzanne, Norma, and I walked around Annapolis and saw the state capitol building. According to Wikipedia - Annapolis, Annapolis was incorporated as a city in 1708. From 1783 to 1784, it was the capitol of the United States.
Mike and I talked about a phenomena known as "pee shivers" (aka "piss quivers"). It is something I'd never known of by name but have experienced. According to an old website that describes post-micturition convulsion syndrome, 83% of males and 58% of females have experienced it too.
The water taxi quit running by the time we were ready to leave so we walked about a mile back to the car. Our little stroll would be a good warmup for tomorrow.
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Day Three, Sunday, November 8, 2009
Will and Mate drove to New York to visit Courtney Brooks, a fellow Marine from 81s. They met him at his place of work then drove him home, catching up on old times. Upon leaving, they caught some heavy NYC traffic. They drove to Philadelphia to see the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys play football. There were several fist fights. Mate wore his Dallas Cowboys jersey but also his new USMC knit cap (purchased at the museum store the day prior) which he claims kept the crazy Eagles fans at bay. To their delight, Dallas won.
Mike, Suzanne, Norma, and I did a little hike. It is one I've led before which I call the Tri-State Hike.
Starting in Virginia, we crossed over the 383 mile long Potomac River which separates Virginia from Maryland (first photo). Who actually controls the river?
For 400 years Maryland and Virginia have disputed control of the Potomac and its North Branch, since both states' original colonial charters grant the entire river rather than half of it as is normally the case with boundary rivers.
A Special Master appointed by Supreme Court to investigate recommended the case be settled in favor of Virginia, citing the language in the 1785 Compact and the 1877 Award. On December 9, 2003, the Court agreed in a 7-2 decision.
- from Wikipedia - Potomac River
We saw some kayakers. This section of the Potomac is known for having some fairly easy whitewater sections. See second photo. Notice how short the boat is? That's what we call a "play boat" since it turns on a time and can be rolled easily.
We walked on part of the 184.5 mile long Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Towpath. This path was created along with an adjacent canal so that horses could pull barges from Washington D.C. to Ohio. The Marine Band played at the opening of the canal on July 4, 1828, attended by John Quincy Adams. But the project only made it to Cumberland, Maryland before it was deemed obsolete by a relatively new invention for the day...the railroad.
The 4 of us climbed to Maryland Heights (third photo) where I pointed out features in the valley below, fourth photo. We could see the mighty Potomac River which flows from the northwest (fifth photo). This part separates Maryland from West Virginia. Behind Norma and I lies the historic town of Harpers Ferry (sixth photo). The 180 degree view almost certainly makes the overlook from the Heights one of the most photographed parts of Maryland. See Mike and Suzanne in the seventh and eighth photos. I don't know how long people have made the journey to this vista but it has been since at least 1861 as some graffiti carved in stone indicates (ninth photo).
The trails on which we walked were some of the same that Civil War troops once humped so they could position their big guns to protect the nearby armory. One such artillery piece was the 9-inch Dahlgren gun weighing 9700 pounds and capable of hurling a 100-pound shell over two miles. By comparison, our 81mm mortars seemed tiny.
After climbing down from Maryland Heights, we walked again on the towpath, passing an old fashioned big front wheeled bicycle near one of the canal locks (tenth photo). Again we crossed the Potomac River, venturing into Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. Harpers Ferry is where the Marines fought against abolitionist John Brown in his attempt to take the town armory on October 18, 1859. Do you remember John Brown? If not, dust off and look at the covers of your old Kansas albums. Brown took hostages, who were later freed when the Marines stormed the Harpers Ferry firehouse. Eighty-six Marines under First Lieutenant Israel Green and Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Lee eventually captured Brown who was later hung for treason against the state of Virginia, the murder of five proslavery Southerners, and inciting a slave insurrection. This was one of the events that sparked the Civil War.
Having worked up an appetite, we caught a late lunch at a the Armory Pub, 109 Potomac Street, then walked around the town a bit, passing Saint Peter's Roman Catholic Church (built in 1833).
We walked on the Appalachian Trail, actually, we walked the entire section that runs through West Virginia, stopping along the way at Jefferson Rock, where Thomas Jefferson once stood in 1783.
Crossing over the Shenandoah River, we returned to Virginia. Continuing along the Appalachian Trail, Norma took us on an 800 foot climb. It was getting dark. Time to put on the night vision goggles...oh, I forgot to bring them.
Bidding farewell to the Appalachian Trail, we walked on the Loudoun Heights Trail which took us to Loudoun Heights, another scenic overlook. It was now quite dark and we could clearly see the lights from Harpers Ferry below.
A little further and we were back where we started, having completed a 10.14 mile loop through three states.
It was a fantastic day to be outside. The weather was sunny with highs in the 70s. Not typical for Maryland at this time of year.
Since Mike and Suzanne didn't arrive until late on Friday, I decided to take them to the place Will, Mate, and I ate on Friday...Ellicott Mills Brewing Company. This time Bill Pastino was there. After dinner, he bought us drinks.
We walked around the historic area. It was cool but nowhere near as cold as Friday night.
After an active day, I was asleep as soon as I hit the rack.
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Day Four, Monday, November 9, 2009
The forecast called for another day of sunny weather with highs in the 70s. It seems like Mike and Suzanne brought a piece of California with them. It was a great day to be outside so Mike drove Suzanne and me to the Arlington National Cemetery.
Over 320,000 servicemen and their family members rest on the 624 acres of Virginia land across the Potomac River from the Lincoln Memorial.
- from Arlington National Cemetery flyer
The 3 of us visited the Kennedy graves. Then we saw the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, first photo. Walking around the area and seeing the thousands of tombstones helped me appreciate the sacrifices made by our fellow servicemen.
Second photo: Washington, D.C. late fall colors.
Third photo: Tombstones stand in formation as once did the men whose names they now carry.
Fourth photo: Here on hallowed grounds, our nation's fallen rest for as far as the eye can see.
Fifth photo: While most of the tombstones looked alike, some were unique. We believe this one might have been carved from a stone that was already there or nearby. Notice how it looks like a flag draped over a rock.
We saw the graves of several Medal of Honor recipients though none that were familiar. Additionally, we saw the following:
The headstone of President William H. Taft.
The mast of the USS Maine which was sunk in the Havana harbor.
A memorial to the crew of the space shuttle Challenger/Columbia.
The Iran Rescue Mission Memorial for servicemen killed in the hostage rescue attempt.
Saving the best for last, we made a stop at the Marine Corps War Memorial, aka the Iwo Jima monument.
According to a sign at the Marine Corps War Memorial,
The memorial, designed by Horace W. Peaslee [and completed by Felix de Weldon and his assistants], was officially dedicated by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on November 10, 1954. The entire cost of the memorial was $850,000 - all donated by Marines, Naval Service members and friends. The 32-foot high bronze figures are shown erecting a 60-foot flagpole at the top of Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima. Burnished in gold on the Swedish granite are the names and dates of principal Marine Corps engagements since the founding of the Corps.
Sixth photo: "Our flag's unfurled to every breeze from dawn to setting sun."
Seventh photo: The uniform of the day...sunglasses, black shirts, and blue jeans.
Eighth photo: "Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave, O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave."
Having worked up an appetite, we drove to the Washington D.C. Mall and caught a bite to eat from a street vendor. I believe we sat on the wall around the Federal Reserve Building. See ninth photo.
Mike taught me a new word: proboscis. We made efforts to use it incorrectly and to create strange conjugations of it such as "proboscuity." Silliness in 8th squad tradition still lives on.
Soon, Will and Mate caught up with us. A motorcycle parked in front of Mike left so Mike moved his car to hold a spot for Will once he arrived.
Having linked up again, the 5 of us visited some of the monuments:
Vietnam Veterans Memorial: Two black granite walls that list the names of Americans killed during the Vietnam War. As of May 2007, there are 58,261 names. See tenth photo and the photo at the top left corner of this page.
The Three Soldiers: A bronze statue, unveiled on Veterans Day 1984. It commemorates those who served in the Vietnam War. See eleventh photo.
Vietnam Women's Memorial: Dedicated to the women of the United States who served in the Vietnam War. See twelfth photo. According to a sign at the memorial,
Over 265,000 American women served during the Vietnam era (1956 through 1975) and over 11,000 saw duty in Vietnam. The majority served as nurses, caring for thousands of wounded servicemen in the difficult conditions of crowded transports, harsh weather, difficult terrain, and long hours. Between 1964 and 1973, dedicated nurses tended to over 300,000 wounded, saving nearly 98 percent of those who eventually reached hospitals.
Lincoln Memorial: Built to honor our 16th President, Abraham Lincoln. See thirteenth and fourteenth photos. Also the site of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous "I Have a Dream" speech.
Korean War Veterans Memorial: Dedicated on July 27, 1995, the 42nd anniversary of the armistice that ended the war, by President Bill Clinton and Kim Young Sam (President of the Republic of Korea) to the men and women who served during the conflict that took the lives of 54,246 Americans and 628,833 United Nations troops. This is my personal favorite amongst the war memorials on the Mall because the statues and images seem to capture the struggles endured by those who fought so bravely. See fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth photos.
National World War II Memorial: Dedicated to Americans who served in the armed forces and as civilians during World War II. Included is the Freedom Wall which has 4,048 gold stars, each representing 100 Americans who died in the war. See eighteenth and ninteenth photos.
White House: Though we couldn't get close, we could see the home of our Commander-in-Chief. I think I saw Obama wave to me but Mate thinks Michelle was waving to him. See Mate with the White House in the distance in the twentieth photo.
Washington Monument: An obelisk built to commemorate President George Washington. The monument, made of marble, granite, and sandstone, is both the world's tallest stone structure and the world's tallest obelisk in height standing just over 555 feet 5 inches. See it from a distance in the twenty-first and twenty-second photos.
The monuments and memorials weren't the only things on the mall. An attractive and fit FBI woman was seen demonstrating the proper way to do Marine Corps pushups.
We left the mall and caught a taxi over to 8th and I. But where were the barracks? We walked one street over to where Norma works. She told us we were at the wrong 8th and I street, which I still don't quite understand. But she gave us good directions on how to get there by Metro subway.
Norma said she would join us for dinner after she got off work. It was a big day for her at the Goethe Institute, a German cultural center located in the heart of Chinatown (twenty-third photo). They were celebrating the 20th anniversary of the falling of the Berlin Wall with their own mock up wall (twenty-fourth photo). Naturally, this was a historic event throughout the world as for many, it marked the beginning of the end of the Cold War.
Mike, Suzanne, Will, Mate, and I made it through the Metro and found 8th and I, Marine Barracks, Washington, D.C., the oldest active post in the Marine Corps (twenty-fifth photo). We spoke to a Marine at the corner and walked around a bit.
Crossing the street, we caught happy hour at The Ugly Mug. We asked the waitress if the Marines hang out there. She said they do sometimes and have been known to start fights and even pulled the urinal out of the wall. We were pleased to hear that the Marines haven't changed much.
Norma caught up with us in time for dinner (twenty-sixth photo).
We spoke to a few jarheads. One bought us shots. We told him that he might be in our shoes in another 18 years and I told him to keep in touch with his fellow Marines. Later, we bid the Marines there a friendly Semper Fi then took a taxi back to the cars. Norma went her separate way.
Mike and Will had parking tickets. Mike's car was towed onto the curb to make way for rush hour traffic. Not sure why they didn't touch Will's Mercedes. But they both agreed it was a small price to pay for the day we had.
But the day wasn't over quite yet. Will, Mate, Mike, Suzanne, and I went back to the Marine Corps War Memorial to see the statue after dark. Here, the flag flies 24 hour a day. Hence, it is always illuminated. See twenty-seventh photo. This gave the monument a ghostly feel, as if part of the souls of each Marine went into making it. If there is a holy ground for Marines, this is it.
Mate and Will (twenty-eighth photo) said farewell. We would see each other at the next reunion...if not sooner.
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Day Five, Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Happy 234th Birthday USMC!
I went back to work and found a huge box of donuts and a sign displaying "Happy Birthday Marine Corps." I learned that day that one of my co-workers was an artilleryman during the Vietnam War.
Mike and Suzanne went back to the Marine Corps War Memorial for a third time, but this time it was for a wreath laying ceremony. The President's Own played a short concert. The Drum and Bugle Corps was there and Marines from 8th & I did a pass in review. Best of all, Mike got a chance to meet two very special Marines.
In the words of Mike:
The Guest of Honor at the wreath laying ceremony was introduced by the
Commandant [General James T. Conway in the first and second photos] as "the highest ranking Marine...ever." How's that for a cool
title? The Commandant said the Guest of Honor had served as the Chairman of
the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Therefore, he outranks the Commandant, even
though they both have 4 stars. Well, I shook the General's hand and said
Happy Birthday but I wasn't sure who he was [the Guest of Honor]. I got on
Wikipedia today and pulled up a list of Commandants. There I learned that
only one Commandant served as JCS Chairman. General Robert H. Barrow (who
looks somewhat similar to the General I met) was the Commandant prior to
P.X. Kelley. The ironic aspect I was heading for is that General Barrow is
the Marine depicted in the Chosin Reservoir exhibit at the National Marine
Corps Museum. Remember the chilly room we were in with the 60mm mortar? He
was the Captain calling for support while the Corpsman patched up his leg.
He was awarded the Navy Cross for his action holding the pass at Koto-Ri,
which they credit for making the "famous fighting withdrawal" possible.
However, General Barrow died October 2008, so he could not have been the
Marine I met.
It took me a while, but I finally realized my mistake. I had referred to a
list of Commandants. The General I met was never Commandant.
The General in the picture attached is General Peter Pace (ret.) [see third photo]. In fairness, he is tied
with one other Marine, General Barrow, for the claim of "highest ranking
Marine...ever". General Pace served as Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman under President George
W. Bush. Of course he did lots of things in the Corps, but the one he
referred to as "his command" is 2/5, when he served as the Platoon Leader of
2nd Platoon, Fox Company. One of his Marines from that platoon was at the
wreath laying ceremony, and it was truly moving to see them interact, it
seemed like the first time since.
One of the really cool things about being a Marine is the brotherhood. As a
Marine, you rate the honor of walking up to any other Marine and
acknowledging them, be they the Commandant, the "highest ranking Marine...
ever", or just another schmo like us. Lots of Marines were at the ceremony,
it was good to be in their midst and to give and receive acknowledgement. At
that moment I knew I was in the midst of good, tough men and that I belonged
in that place. We encountered hundreds of other Marines, present and past,
and we exchanged birthday wishes and vows to always be faithful (Semper Fi).
After the ceremony Suzanne and I went to old town Alexandria, per Saki's
suggestion. We exchanged warm greetings, birthday wishes, handshakes and
beer with Marines in Alexandria and at the airports in DC and Atlanta.
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Closing remarks from Mike:
As the founders of the 81s 2/2 reunions, it will be our duty and privilege
to lead our platoon mates to a setting where they also can experience the
warm embrace of our brotherhood. When we gather together we return to our
roots, celebrate our experiences, boresight our stories, accept each other's
travails since, and reaffirm our bonds. I can't think of a better way to
spend a few days every couple of years.