101st Airborne, 327th Infantry Regiment Vietnam Veterans Web Site
How it Came About
Reunions for “COBRA” Company started in 1983, but the article below was taken from the “Fauquier Life” newspaper, July 26, 1995, when they did a story called “A Time For Healing”.
Charles Davidson, right,
whose father was killed in Vietnam, is comforted by Terry Whitpan of Wyoming, left
and Bill Fowler of Georgia
A Time For Healing Bristersburg Home Is Site For Vietnam Veterans To Reunite And Mend Wounds By SANDY HUME, Times-Democrat Writer
They came last week to Bristersburg from far-flung places like Wyoming, Maine, Florida, South Dakota and Colorado, much like they had converged on Vietnam from different corners of the United States more than three decades ago.
Then a group of gung-ho kids, some only 17 and 18 years old and all of them volunteers, they were given the singular directive to wage war.
Their mission, at a 30th reunion of the 327th Regiment July 15, was one of healing. Their weapons were smiles, laughs, handshakes, hugs, tears – each one providing an incremental advance in the life-long quest to make sense of, and peace with, their common battlefield experience.
Their story goes back to the earliest stages of the Vietnam War. They were, in a sense the chips with which President Johnson upped America’s ante; the 327th Infantry, from the Army’s 101st Airborne Division’s First Brigade was part of the massive infusion of troops, which landed in the summer of 1965.
Almost from the moment they stepped ashore, soldiers in the 327th began to fight. Rapidly deployed and nomadic in nature, they stayed in the field straight through Thanksgiving.
Lewis Percy of Auburn, N.Y. and Richard Kirk of San Antonio, Texas pay tribute to fallen comrades.
“No other unit covered as much ground as we did, or spent more days in the field,” recalled Dave Cook, a 53-year old history teacher from Maine who had been a mortar-man in the 327th’s “C” Company. “We set the standard for field efficiency.”
They fought into 1966 through some returned early with injuries. And some never returned at all.
The names came up as the stories came out, 30-plus veterans of the 327th telling and retelling their tales seated at picnic tables outside the home of county resident Ken Ihle. There were tents and coolers filled with beer – frequently visited on this hottest day of 1995.
The air, thick with humidity, was also charged with emotion. A listener is uncertain whether a story will end with guffaws or quiet sobs.
“I remember betting Fred Johnson twenty bucks on the seventh game of the (1965) World Series,” remembered Jack Lockner, a platoon leader from Minnesota whose money was on the Twins. “Drysdale beat them and Johnson called us in off patrol. He said, “Give me the $20 now. You might not make it back and I don’t want to get tied up in any estate dealings.”
A handful of vets roared with laughter.
Some names seemed to come up over and over in the reminiscences, like Sgt. Davidson. A platoon leader uniformly described as one of the most popular and respected men in the 327th. Davidson was killed in action on March 9, 1966.
“He was probably the finest human being I’d ever known,” said Robert Morton, a 53-year old school superintendent from Henin, Ala., with a shake of his head.
“Everybody kind of leaned on Sgt. Dave. It was a real shock to everyone when he was killed,” recalled Cook.
What was remembered only with a little prodding were not the stories of field maneuvers nor the occasional light moments amid the heavy task of war, but the scarring struggles that began upon their return stateside.
It stands as one of the worst blemishes in American history, the self-righteous scorn and indifference heaped upon the wounded and confused soldiers returning from Vietnam. Their country had asked – and later ordered – them to serve. They answered the call, enduring often unspeakable agonies while retaining all the while their pride in their uniforms, their mission and their nation.
And when they made it home they encountered the further trauma of fellow Americans dismissing their service as ignoble and – particularly in the early phases – as trivial.
“I was treated mostly like I’d been on a Boy Scout camping trip,” said Cook. “No one understood where you went or what you’d been through. I didn’t expect a parade but I didn’t expect total neglect. We just felt so used and abused, like we were dropped off at the end of a brutal ride, like, OK, that’s it.”
Cook found the Army to be of little solace, and veterans’ groups to be of none at all. He did not join the American Legion, he said, and never will.
“I just felt that when we needed the support of them the most, they didn’t want us to join – or even made fun of us. I felt my military experience was valid, and to be put down by some guy who folded blankets during World War II in some place like South Carolina?
“I suppose,” he said, cracking a thin smile, “that’s one of the bitter things I let myself hold on to.
“In search of support, many tried to track down their buddies, which proved a more difficult task than they expected. Addresses were hard to find, as was cooperation from the military establishment.
But for the 327th, a “critical mass” of eight to 10 men persevered. They tapped whatever channels they could, relying on a military database here and word of mouth there. The result was the first reunion in 1983, and they have grown in size every year since.
“It’s a healing process, another layer of scar tissue over the wound,” said Cook. “It’s a big catharsis – we spent 20 years butting out heads against things trying to get through. I think there are some guys who don’t want to come, who don’t want to stir it up, but they’d be a whole lot better off if they did.
“When you leave here you feel like some load has been lifted, like you have some peace. All we left Vietnam with was our friendships. It’s bad enough losing the war, but you don’t want to lose that.
“If you want to get touchyfeely,” he said, “we are our own support group.”
Morton, the Alabama school superintendent, remembered being contacted for the first time three years ago.
“They called me on Christmas Eve,” he said softly, looking down at the ground. “I just went out on the back porch and cried and cried and cried. My wife came out and said, ‘What’s wrong?’ And I told her , ‘Honey, I just got the best gift a person could ever ask for.’ ”
Attending his first reunion, Morton admitted to having felt some ambivalence. “You have mixed emotions. You want to see them so bad but it’s kind of painful,” he said. By Saturday, though, the uncertainty had evaporated.
“It was worth every mile I drove,” said Morton, smiling.
First Sgt. John “Russ” McDonald, a 26-year veteran who served in the Korean and Vietnam wars, was one of the 327th’s company commanders, a man who molded warriors out of enthusiastic, but inexperienced young men. He knows how some have tried to de-legitimize their service – “I’ve never been in a war, just police actions and conflicts,” he said with a wry grin.
And he knows how war memories can force themselves to the surface unexpectedly, like when he walked out of “Forrest Gump” as the Vietnam scenes began.
“It was just something I didn’t want to see,” he said.
He will also tell you how much it means to him to see the grown men whom he still considers his kids.
“I felt better about it all when I left here last year,” McDonald said.
His wife, Faye, estimated that their phone bill runs as high as $300 per month due to Russ’ attempts to track down his kids – and from the conversations that ensue when he does.
“It still bothers him because he lost so many troops. But he’s not one who believes in flashbacks, because he believes that you have to make peace with what you’ve seen and what you’ve done,” said Faye, whose Job it was during the war to visit the wives of men who’d been killed. “It’s very important for him to be here. There’s a closeness and a camaraderie that you won’t see in many outfits.”
For some, helping vets come to grips with their Vietnam experiences is a part-time job. Cook writes a column for a paratroopers ‘ newsletter in which he attempts to reunite long-Iost soldiers. “I’ve been pretty happy that I’ve been able to hook people up,” he said. “I’ve had guys call me in tears. As I see it, it’s the least I can do.”
For others, it is a full-time job. Mike Bishop, who served in the 327th’s sister battalion, takes vets on tours of Vietnam, revisiting the actual scenes of battles in the hopes of putting perspective on the memories that haunt so many minds.
“The war’s been built up in our whole culture,” he said, “but you get there and it’s not this mythical thing. It’s just this country, and the people are so friendly and so much hasn’t changed. It kind of dissipates the whole thing. It’s a real catharsis.”
There are, of course, others who did not fight in the war but had their lives deeply affected by the outcome of its battles. Ken IhIe ‘ s reunion offered support for them, too – people like Charlie Davidson Jr., the son of the popular company commander whose death stunned the kids of the 327th.
Davidson had been only 14 at the time of his father’s death. He thought he knew his Dad well, he said, but he learned much more about him by the end of the weekend.
“This gives me some kind of closure to it all,” said Davidson. “And it feels very good to hear all these kinds of things said about him.”
In a brief but poignant memorial service during the reunion, Davidson stepped to the stage to say a few words to the men who had tracked him down and invited him to Bristersburg. With soldiers holding their hats in their hands, their wives listening intently, Davidson recalled how he made his way to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., found his father’s name, and traced it onto a piece of paper.
“I thought at the time that for a man who had given his country so much, and loved his country so much, that he deserved more than this,” said Davidson, his voice strained.
“I know having met many of you and talked to you, and shared this weekend with you, that he did have much more,” he said. “Thank you.”
As you have read in the article posted above, the reunion touch a lot of lives and continues to do so each year because of our gracious hosts Ken & Angie Ihle.
Ken and Angie have strong family/friend support working to host the reunion every year. They make this a reunion to remember by the hard work, preparation for next year’s reunion begins at the end of this year’s reunion. Mary Lynn, Little Angie, Ray, Vince, John Nowlin and their families all chip in and has earn the love and gratitude of everyone that has attended the reunion.
Ken & Angie in the their new digs in Crossville, TN.
Many of us heard about the reunion in a column written by another “Cobra” David S. Cook which you can find every month in the Static Line paper, in addition to this column, Dave had compiled a 327th roster and a hard copy of the roster was mailed to anyone that requested a copy.
Meg, Sarah and Dave at 2001 Reunion
Allen was the “Cobra” Company Commander in 1965, he created an electronic 327th roster using the information given to him by David S. Cook, this has become the 327th Roster you see on the web site today.
Click HERE to read a summary of the “Fourth Annual Reunion” by Allen DeGraw.
Allen and Elin
Russ and his wife Faye started attending the reunions in 1987 after Lew Percy found them in Texas. Since that time they have found more than a few of the troops that today enjoy the yearly trek to Crossville, TN., previously Catlett VA. In addition to that they assist with finding motel accommodations, map directions for first timers, caterers, and anything else that helps the reunion run smooth.
Faye and Top
Early Reunion Photos
Back L to R – Mary Lynn Ihle Gilbert, Faye McDonald, Kathy Percy, Lew Percy, Richard Kirk, Dave Cook, Russ McDonald and Stephanie Fowler.
Middle L to R – Renee Percy, Amy Percy and Amy Gilbert
Front L to R – William Fowler, Davis Self, Larry Evans, Pete Morgan, Heather McDonald and Allen DeGraw.
Ken Ihle & Pete Morgan
Memorial’s held yearly
This is a 2002 reunion photo in Crossville, TN.
From this reunion back in 2000 the Screaming Eagles 327th Vietnam web site was born.
My wife Cathy and I attended our first reunion in 1996, and like most we had those mixed emotions about opening up the past. I was a replacement troop in 1966 with “Cobra” and didn’t know if there would be anyone from that time period there, there wasn’t but it only took a minute after driving up the Ihle’s driveway to be welcomed home (my very first time ever, by John Nowlin) and to know this was the right decision.
David J. is the webmaster for the 1/327th side of the web site.
You can send information or material you’d like to see posted on the web site to: [email protected]
Cathy and Dave
Dave Cook and Ken Ihle picked me at Dulles International. As Ken drove us back to Catlett and he and Dave talked, I’m thinkin’, “wow, these are the guys that went over on the boat that were constantly in the shit and they’re picking my sorry ass up to take ME to a reunion made up of even more of these studs!” Needless to say, I was in awe and very intimidated as we pulled into the Cobra Campground. However, I was immediately welcomed and embraced by everyone there and within just a few minutes felt like I was finally “home” from Vietnam. It was a never before felt feeling, like an endorphin induced natural high and something I didn’t realize I had been missing over those past thirty some years. Thank you my brothers for bringing me home!
No Slack and Above The Rest!
Dale (Hannibal) is the webmaster for the 2/327th side of the web site.
You can send information or material you’d like to see posted on the web site to:
Ali and Dale
Having served with A Co. “No Slack”, I attended the Reunion for the first time in 2000. I remember the big, bear hug and the “Welcome Home Brother”, when I was introduced to Ken. This immediately set me at ease and prepared me for what was to become one of the most important weekends of my life. Surrounded by 327th Brothers, I soon realized that for the first time in thirty years I was not alone. All around me were men sharing similar feelings of healing for hurts long ago buried.
Yankee Jim takes care of communicating with the 327th Troops keeping them up to date with important information and also see to it that the troops get hooked up to the “Open Mike”.
Patti and Jim
That day in June of 2001, as we drove up to Ken’s place was every emotional for me. I had not been around Screaming Eagles in thirty-five years. The drive up the path passing you guys, with your boonie caps on, was very spiritual. I didn’t know what to do, so I just saluted you all and found a place to park. I’ll never forget it……
NS / ATR
Eli, is one of our technical consultants, being a web builder of his own site, he has helped out keeping us straight with hints, ideas and suggestions. He also assists Mouse & YJ in the Open Mike as Chatmaster (real time commo).
Louise and Eli
It’s hard to describe what I felt as I walked into what would at sometime in the near future be Ken and Angie’s back yard. I was experiencing apprehension, curiosity, and maybe some regret as I wondered if I should really be here. The area was full of guys standing around or sitting in lawn chairs talking and laughing and just having a good time together.
As I approached small groups, I was recognized right away as being a new face in the crowd. Someone in the group would introduce themselves and ask my name. A few of them would shake my hand, but some would grab me and hug me like a long lost relative.
This wasn’t like the previous “reunions” I had attended where I was just another vet. From the first introduction I felt like I was a part of this group, a part of a brotherhood. These guys had been there and done that. Without saying it, they gave me the feeling of being welcomed home. I did belong here.
Mouse, is also one of our technical consultants, he too is a web builder for his own site, his help has been invaluable with our site. Mouse also works with YJ on the “Open Mike”.
Judy and Marion