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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Area Vietnam vets still mustering up

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Around two folding tables pushed together sit 15 men.

Together, they banter playfully, giving each other a hard time about events that happened some 40 years ago. The words "Remember when ..." rise often above the voices of men swapping stories.

Individually, each has his own memories about war and service to his country. But most prefer to talk about the camaraderie they and hundreds of men shared as members of the 2nd Battalion Mechanized, 133rd Infantry, Iowa Army National Guard.

"We went through a lot together," said Ray Ramirez of Sioux City. Recently, the men remembered the 40th anniversary of their mobilization during the Vietnam War.

They mustered a long time ago, but it sure doesn't seem like it. The anniversary surprised Gary Stafford, a Sioux City native now living in Los Angeles.

"I didn't think about the 40-year thing," he said.

Stafford, whose father owned a Texaco station on Nebraska Street downtown, makes a point of hitting the monthly meeting whenever he returns to Sioux City to visit his children.

On that sunny day 40 years ago, 863 men from Northwest Iowa reported for duty. In the days that followed, they left Sioux City for Fort Carson, Colo. Many were later sent to Vietnam, where they were scattered, inserted into other units as replacement soldiers.

They began returning home in November 1969, and ultimately were deactivated together in December 1969.

Their friendships remained.

"I've known these guys all my life," Ramirez said. "We all just got to be friends. It helps keep you in touch with old times."

"We talk mostly about the funny things that happened," said Jim Lalley, a major when the 133rd was activated. "We become more heroic as time passes," he said, laughing.

Many of the men seated at the table are heroes.

Lalley will tell you Ramirez was regarded as one of the Army's best platoon leaders serving in the A Shau Valley. The back window of Stafford's pickup truck sports decals depicting the Purple Hearts he was awarded for wounds suffered during ambushes of enemy soldiers along the Mekong River near the Vietnam-Cambodia border.

Though the 133rd's colors were retired more than a decade ago, the unit's spirit lives on through the laughs, memories and pride in the service to their country.

Each man has gone his own way during the past 40 years, but once a month their paths cross over coffee and doughnuts. They help each other.

They'll continue to do so, said Larry "Tommy" Thompson, who grew up in the Anthon/Moville area.

"We're a band of brothers that still get together," he said.

And nothing, except time, will break that bond.

* Twelve members of the 2nd Battalion Mechanized, 133rd Infantry, Iowa Army National Guard, were killed in Vietnam in 1969, inluding Pfc. John Platt, 20, Early.

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