Reunited after 30 Years
|from Larry Agee|
It was a time of happiness and sorrow in my life. It was Vietnam, August 1969, my time was up and I was on my way home, I had spent a year in this country by that time. Now I was going back to the real world. Land of the round-eyed women. But I was sad too, I was leaving my best friend Tom Huntley in that god awful country. We were in the 512th TC. 8th Gp. in the Chu Rang Valley on highway 19 in central Nam. We ran the road as a team, driving a 10 ton truck and mostly hauling new tanks to Pleiku, and the blown-up or disabled tanks back to De Long Pier in Qui Nhon to be sent back to the states for rebuilding or scrap.
I had only known Tom four or five months but we hit it off immediately. We discovered that we were both raised within thirty miles of each other in central Oregon. We were quite a pair. We did every thing together. We scrapped like brothers. Together we'd go to town and chase women. When we were on the road, we took turns driving. He could handle that 200,000 lb. rig as well as anyone I had ever knew, if not better. Believe me, I have known a lot of drivers in my time. Counting my eight an half years in the Army as a driver and driving the big rigs when I got out of the Army, I have a total of almost thirty years and close to three million miles over the road. He was one of the best.
I don't know why the VC never ambushed our 10 ton convoys very much. There was an ambush I remember the most. We were on our way back to the compound late one evening. It had been a beautiful day and we were about 10, maybe 15 miles out of camp. Tom and I were the second truck in the six truck convoy, not counting the Convoy Commander and the Gun Truck that were with us that day. I don't remember which Gun Truck it was , but all at once the first truck got hit and was disabled in the middle of the road. He was hauling a damaged tank and so was I. There was no way to get around him . I stopped the truck, Tom and I got out on the drivers side and for some dumb reason we got under the truck. To this day I still can't say why we did that. I guess we thought it was the safest place to be at the time. So there we were trying to hide from "Charlie" and both scared to death. We were under that truck for what seemed to be a life time, but in reality it was only a couple of minutes. We crawled out from under the truck and started to make our way back to the Gun Truck which was at the rear of the convoy. When we did reach it we found out the radio was not working and neither was one of the 60s on the truck. All of us drivers were huddled around the Gun Truck. Sarge yelled over the side of the truck to me, "Larry run back to the bridge, and get on the phone or radio there and see if we can get some help out here!" It did not sound like something I wanted to do, but without any hesitation I took off for the bridge. The bridge was maintained and secured by the Korean Army. As I am running towards the bridge all I can think about was how far it is and if my buddy might get hurt. It was only maybe a quarter or half a mile to the bridge, and for a guy that took almost 12 minutes to run the mile at the end of basic training, it might as well been five miles to the bridge. I thought I was giving it my all, until I heard the sound of the first bullet whisper past my right ear. It could've been a millionth of an inch or two miles from my ear. All I know is, that is a sound, I will never forget. I broke a record getting to that bridge that day.
When I did get there I tried to get the Koreans on the phone to help us. I think they would have helped us a whole lot sooner if I could have spoken Korean, or they could have spoken English. As I am trying to get help I see the Gun Truck backing down the highway towards the bridge with everyone in it except the convoy commander. About the time they got to the bridge two more Gun Trucks from the compound arrived to help us, and boy did they. They lit the countryside up in a heart beat and it was over just that fast. It seems that our radio was getting out but couldn't receive. The other Gun Trucks heard us from the compound and came running. I still to this day do not know what happened to the CC. I didn't seen him for a few weeks and then just in passing.
We had to leave the trucks on the road till the next day because it was getting dark, and the first truck that got hit was still blocking the road. It was going to have to be loaded up and hauled back to camp. Luckily, no one was hurt that day, at least as far as we were concerned. We didn't give a damm about "Charlie". My buddy was fine and so was I, and that was all that mattered. We managed to get through the next couple of months without getting hurt. We were ambushed a couple of more times, but we got through. Once we were in the front of the convoy, and the truck behind us got hit. We kept on going and stayed out of the Kill Zone and no one was hurt in either ambushes.
|From Left to right in the picture is Sgt. Rooffenner (NCOIC), Sp4 Hornley (driver), Sp4 Perry (Gunner), and myself Pfc Agee (Twin Gunner).|
Now it is time to leave Vietnam, Tom is staying. I have only been in the Army for a little over a year. I re-enlisted in 1970 and went back to Vietnam in 71-72, back to the 512th. This time I'm on a Gun Truck called "Devil Woman". I saw a few more ambushes but they were nothing like the ones in 68-69. Back then it seemed like the convoys were getting hit at least three or four times a week. I am not saying that I was in that many ambushes. I am saying the 8th Gp as a whole was hit a lot in 68-69. I think, while I was on "Devil Woman" in 71-72, we only got caught up in two ambushes, and both times we were in the back of the convoys, and by the time we worked our way up to the Kill Zone the other Gun Trucks had things pretty well taken care of.
I often wondered what ever happened to my best friend Tom. Over those years while I was still in the Army each time I took leave and could get to my grandma's, I would try and call all of the Huntley's in Prineville Ore. looking for him. I did get a hold of his mother once. She said that he had moved to central Calif. and was going to law school. After the Army I spent the next twenty years driving big rigs. Whenever I would get to central Oregon I would see if I could find him by calling someone in Prineville. I finally lost track of him altogether. The same would happen in California, when I would try and find him. No one had ever heard of him. Then my grandma moved out of Redmond, and the only time I would get there then was if I had a load of lumber, or something to deliver in Redmond or Prineville. If I had time and wasn't pressed to get my load down the road (which was not very often), I would try and look him up. Again, and again I failed to find him.
I ran the highways and byways of the US for twenty years driving big rigs. It finally got to me, all that good truckstop food, sleepless nights, and all of those overnight deliveries. East coast turnarounds from Idaho, Oregon to Philadelphia, Boston, and DC, anywhere on the east coast in four and half to five days, three or four times a month. I finally lost my health, and now I am medically retired, not by choice, believe me.
Now, I drive a computer(my first). I got last year, it goes wherever I want to go. Kind of the same as the big rig, visit a new place each day. I have spent a lot of time on this contraption and I started looking up people and phone numbers. Still looking for my friend Tom Huntley.I did find a couple of Huntley's in Prineville, Ore, so I called them. Neither of them knew of or had heard of my friend Tom, so I gave up on it again. About two weeks later I awoke to the phone which is at the head of the bed ringing off the hook in my ear. I grabbed it before it woke up my wife and the whole neighborhood. There was this old sounding voice of a man on the phone wanting to know, "Who in the hell was E.L Longnickel? He goes on to say that he doesn't remember anyone with that name from the 512th in Vietnam. "I asked, Who is this?" He said, "Tom Huntley". Well, after almost thirty years, I couldn't believe my ears. He told me that the guy I had called was a fifth cousin or something like that, and that he didn't even know him. This guy told someone, and they told someone else, and sooner or later it got to Tom. He said all the guy could remember was that I said I was in Vietnam with Tom in 68-69. He couldn't remember what my name was, but he had it on his caller ID and that's why Tom didn't know who it was. My phone is in my sister's name. So, after all this time thinking that Caller ID was nothing but a pain in the butt. You have got to get off your butt to see who is calling you and most of the time it says private name, or out of area so you still don't know who it is anyway till you pick up the damm phone and find out who is calling. Then you have the pleasure of paying for all this connivance. I can't complain about it now, it had actually played the key part in helping me find my buddy after thirty years of wondering what ever happen to him.
We talked for awhile. I found out that he had quit law school and went to work for a power company in California. He worked for them until he became disabled, after which he moved back to Prineville Ore. We talked on the phone several times and last August I went too see him. There he was looking like he did not have a gray hair in his head. Some in his whiskers, and just like me, twice as heavy. I could not believe he had all of his hair. Hell, I am almost bald now and he is three years older than I.
We reminisced that day about some of the stuff we pulled off in Nam. Like the day we started down An Khe pass with a M-88 tank retriever on the trailer. We were so heavy that we had to go down the pass in low gear. It would take about two and a half to three hours to get up the hill and a little less to get down the hill. We had just started down the hill where it was a straight for a ways. Tom decided to get his M-16 and sit out on the hood of the truck just like John Wayne. We were going so slow at that point, that the truck was holding itself at that speed. While Tom is playing John Wayne, I am driving. The road is flat, and the truck is going straight down the road. I hopped out of the truck and ran down in front of it. At first I thought that Tom was going to shoot me thinking that I was the Viet Cong. I would give anything to have a picture of the look that was on his face. He looked at me and then in the cab of the truck and then back at me.
He almost broke his neck trying to get off the hood and into the cab behind the wheel. After a while we got to the ambush that I've been telling about. For almost 30 years I've thought about that ambush, and what took place with Tom and myself. I finally find my best friend from Nam and wanted to talk about that day that has been a vivid memory to me all these years. Tom said, "I wasn't there with you on the day of that ambush. I was getting a new pair of glasses that day." Now in my mind, I find this possible. He wasn't there? I can't think of who else that it could've been in that truck with me that day. In fact he is the only person whose name and face go together at the same time that I can remember from that time and place. I can think of other guys' faces on the 10 tons and a few names, but none come together any more. We argued for a little while about it, I said he was there and he said he wasn't.
We left it like that. It has been three or four months ago since that meeting. It changed my life. After 30 years of believing something so vividly in my mind, just like it happened yesterday. Finding out that my best friend, that I thought was with me, wasn't. Now I question my sanity and sit around trying to remember the other faces and names and trying to think of who was with me in that ambush that day. My mind keeps coming up empty. I wonder why I can't remember? Could it be that you lose part of your soul and mind? That you chose to forget a lot of things that brought you to that proud moment. The moment of coming home, my head held high. I could see people out the window of the plane by the terminal they looked like they were cheering. I thought to myself is this my parade for fighting for my country. My pride was overwhelming until I got off that freedom bird and found that the country didn't give a damn about us or the war. This crowd of people, my age 19, 20 to 25 years old. Was not cheering and welcoming me home like I thought but yelling and calling me names. Names like baby killer and murderer.
The friendship of Tom was so strong that it carried me through the next thirty years with out fading. I went back to Vietnam in 71-72. Back to the same company the 512th TC. and drove the 10 ton trucks and was a gunner on a gun truck called "Devil Woman" and ran the same deadly roads again. Tom was not with me during that time, but he was in my heart and in my mind every trip. I can't remember the other drivers from my second tour there just a few crew members of the gun trucks. Tom had such a impact on my life as a friend the first time in country it was like he was still there the second time.
We call each other now about every other week just to say hi. Although our lives are completely different now. Our friendship over the last thirty years still has not withered.