Tigers thank their Veterans
In May of 1964 the lives of 29 men of the Stark High School senior class were about to change. Those young men would be over the next few years entering branches of the military and serving their country in a time of war.
Some would finish college first, some would enlist in the months following graduation, some would be drafted, some would serve stateside, some in Europe and other parts of the world and some would go to a place few at the time had heard of, Vietnam.
In the summer of 1964 there was an event in the Gulf of Tonkin involving the North Vietnamese and the USS Maddox. The Viet Cong attacked the Bien Hoa Air Base and the young men’s lives began to change. They would all become veterans of what would later be called the Vietnam Era”
For more than four decades those men and others like them would live with memories good and bad, with wounds physical and psychological, losses of comrades and the everyday life that followed.
At the reunion March 20, there was a special service of recognition held for the 29 men who have gotten a little older, grayer and perhaps a little heavier, but are still a special group to their longtime friends.
The first order of business for the planners was to identify the vets and to compile a list. The list eventually turned into a directory with pictures of the vets from their military service and a page that would allow each vet to share what they would feel free telling about their time in uniform.
Some stories are light-hearted, like Jerry Cotton relaying tidbits about his time as a military bartender.
Philip La Caze served six years active duty and was an Airborne Ranger with the 25th Infantry Division and saw some heavy combat.
Lloyd McDonald served 20 years and retired as a 1st sergeant. His time was spent as a chaplain assistant, recruiter and later instructor at the U.S. Army Chaplain School.
Charles “Mickey” Henges served a total of 24 years in the Air Force. He started his career as a navigator and bombardier on B-52’s flying from Guam to Vietnam and retired as a lieutenant colonel.
The highest ranking vet was Andy Kelly who retired as a captain in the Navy. Kelly had time in both the active Navy and reserves.
Some vets when asked about sharing memories of time in service had nothing to share. This is often the case with men who have been in heavy combat and seen the often brutal side of war.
No special events had greeted any of these men as they returned to civilian life. They were just expected to “move on” with their lives as if nothing had changed in the years they had been away. For the men that had been in Southeast Asia, much had changed. Life at home would never be as it had been before.
At the reunion master of ceremonies Delvis Story introduced Lloyd McDonald. McDonald had been the 1964 Orange Peel Spotlight Boys Choral member.
McDonald began a moving a capella rendition of “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again.” As part of the rendition he spoke of how their lives had changed and how their dreams had changed. McDonald spoke of loved ones left behind, how some men came back stronger and some men came back broken. They came back to a country strongly opposed to the war they had been part of.
“We served with pride and we never asked for medals or parades, we only asked for the country to say ’Thank You’ – just a simple ‘Thank You’,” said McDonald.
As a medley of the military hymns of each branch of the service was played, members of that branch stood and were recognized.
Jerry Gatch, an Army staff sergeant, told about a time in 1967 when he was in Na Trang South Vietnam. He was in a club with several other soldiers when someone said, “Hey check out the chick with that band.” Gatch looked across the room and told his friends he knew the girl. There was the usual round of disbelief and jeers when suddenly they heard the girl say “JERRY GATCH.”
The girl was Lila Withrow, now Lila Withrow Quilici. She was the manager for a band touring Vietnam doing shows for the troops. Withrow was a member of Gatch’s Class of 1964. She became the Pin-Up Girl for the vets.
Withrow had a story to tell about her time in Vietnam as well. She was shelled several times as her band went to the “front lines’ such as they were in that war.
Each of the vets was called to the front of the room and presented with a special pin from the Class of 1964. Withrow Quilici pinned the pin on the front of each vet as he came forward.
After the reunion and the directory went to press the military committee located Bill Montgomery and has been able to include his story in their records. Montgomery may be the highest decorated of the veterans, having been awarded the Silver Star. The committee also found that three veteran classmates are now deceased, they are; Larry Boehme, Charles Brock and Joe Molley.
It was a moving night with the veterans getting the thanks that they have deserved for so many years.
Vets of the class of 1964 are: Army Sgt. Herschel Humble, deceased; Air Force Sgt. Carl Leckband, deceased; Marine Sgt. James Gurnee, deceased; Air Force Lt, Col. Mike Ball; Army Reserve Specialist 4 Gene Beachley; Army Specialist Jerry Cotton; Army National Guard Specialist 5 John Croley; Army National Guard Sgt. Sam Dunn; Army Staff Sgt. Jerry Gatch; Army Specialist 5 Richard Hall; Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Clark Haynie; Air Force Lt. Col.Mickey Henges; Army Specialist 5 Mike Humphrey; Navy Capt. Andy Kelly; Army Capt. Sandy Kirkindall; Army Specialist 5 Philip La Caze; Army 1st Sgt. Lloyd McDonald; Army Specialist 5 Trudy Mosley; Army and Army National Guard Sgt. Robert Nelson; Army Sgt. Bill Rach; Army Specialist 5 Barry Randolph; Air Force Staff Sgt. Kelton Runnels; Marine Master Sgt. Jerry Sallier; Marine Corp. Tommy Vice; Army Specialist 5 Bill Williamson; Army Specialist 4 Larry Wylie; Air Force Sgt. Chuck Wilson; Army Specialist 5 Buddy Wyche.