Wayne (Butch) Abney, Jerry Miller, Andy Wahrenbrock, Robert Coulter
"Heroes don't wear capes, they wear dog tags." - Proud Army Sister
For forty years, it had seemed as though Eddy fell into a black hole and disappeared. In 1968, Vietnam seemed so far away and it felt like a black and white country, drab and dreary, because that's how it appeared on the TV news reports. I was 18 when the second story we were told (first was that he was missing) was that his entire platoon had blown up in a land mine. The third story never trickled down to me until 40 years later, at which time I discovered the adults in my family had learned of it back then. For 40 years, I felt that nobody in Vietnam remembered him or knew him.
Thanks to the internet, Andy Wahrenbrock found my family in 2008. He reached out to us and told us the entire story of Eddy's death. He had never been missing. He was killed in a firefight rather than a landmine; we learned the details when Andy brought his diary, maps, and military records to share with us. Andy had been the medic and Eddy was the radio man so they were side by side for most of the two months that Eddy was in Vietnam before his death.
It's a lifelong healing process for Vietnam vets who were in the thick of it, in the infantry, in the jungle, watching young men die before them and wondering at what moment it would happen to them, and at risk 24/7 from booby traps, and from Vietcong and NVA popping up out of the ground at any moment; the shadow of war looms over them. Over thirty years after the war, Andy began reaching out to others in his platoon, those he could locate, and they began to have reunions. I am forever grateful to be invited.
I was able to write about the March 4th, 1968 Hoc Mon battle that took the life of Edward A. Schultz, my young uncle, in my book, The Box, a Memoir, because I attended their 2012 reunion in New Mexico and learned their first-hand stories about that day.
Their reunions have taken place for 19 years now, but I was unable to attend again, until this year, just 3 weeks ago. I met up with them this time in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. The veterans present were Andy Wahrenbrock, Jerry Miller, Robert Coulter and Wayne (Butch) Abney. There were two missing from when I was there last time; one was Dave Glass, who passed away just over a year ago, but his wife, Kathy, was in attendance. His picture is in my book and I recounted things he had told me in my book. His presence was missed. The other was Jerry Counts, whom I had been looking forward to seeing. Jerry was right next to Eddy the moment he was killed.; he had carried Eddy's body to the helicopter. Jerry was unable to attend due to a sudden medical condition of his wife but we all had a chance to speak to him on the phone. Jerry's picture and his account of that day is also in my book.
Jerry Counts and Robert Coulter had been high school classmates in Irving, Texas, a small farming town. They got drafted together, sent to basic training together and shipped to the same location in Dau Tieng, Vietnam together. They became members of the 2nd platoon, Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry of the 25th Infantry Division, along with Andy, Jerry Miller, Wayne Abney, Eddy, and many others who have come to the reunion through the years. Of all those who came to their reunions, every one of them except one, received a Purple Heart. Andy says they average 1.75 per person.
In high school with Jerry and Robert was their friend, Dick Lowry. He's been attending their reunions in recent years, to act as their chef, although he did not go to Vietnam. This year, Chef Lowry did a special thing. He had made plaques for each of them, to honor them as TET survivors, as seen in the picture above. In honor of Eddy, he also had a plaque made for me, because though Eddy died a month later, he did survive the TET Offensive.
Andy learned that another 2/12 reunion was taking place in Gatlinburg at the same; they were also members of Charlie Company but from a different platoon, and also members of Alpha Company. We took a drive over to visit them for awhile. Arnold Krause, who began the 2/12 Warrior website (www.212warriors.com), was one of them. I met two others, Terry Corum from Alabama and Elmer Lightner from Pennsylvania. When talking with Terry, his story was an emotional one, and I suddenly felt emotional too; my eyes filled with tears when I told him how much it meant to me to meet the guys Eddy fought next to in Vietnam. Eddy was good to the core, and was like a brother to me. It was difficult to picture him in such a violent setting, so far from the home where he grew up in the idyllic setting on a farm on the central coast of California. Instead of feeling like Eddy fell into a black hole and just disappeared, it soothes that loss for me by meeting Andy and the others who were with him in his last days on this earth.