Members of the 44th Medical Brigade, 66th Medical Group, 1st Medical Co. who served in Vietnam together met at the Holiday Inn in Mt. Juliet from Thursday through Sunday for a reunion.
The word got out at the Grand Ole Opry on Saturday night, and it was announced that the group was in the audience, which brought more than 4,000 people to their feet.
“They were really impressed and really surprised,” said Karen Richmond. “I think they were very touched.”
M.C. and Karen Richmond started the reunion with an initial turnout of four. This year, there were 20 veterans, many who brought wives and some with children. The Richmonds are parents to Debbie McVey and in-laws to Jim McVey, owners of Primary Mortgage in Mt. Juliet, one of the reunion’s sponsors.
In the large conference room at the hotel Friday night, laughter could be heard from the lobby. Men drifted in and out. Upon looking at the hundreds of photos, some would become silent; upon others, there would be riotous guffaws.
Also on Saturday, Mt. Juliet Commissioner Ray Justice and state Rep. Susan Lynn handed the group a certificate proclaiming Aug. 8, 2016 as 44th Medical Brigade, 66th Medical Group, 1st Medical Co. Day. The Mt. Juliet Board of Commissioners had proclaimed the day at a city commission meeting in early August.
Richmond and his buddies were stationed at Pleiku, a city in central Vietnam in the country’s central highland region and the capital of the Gia Lai Province.
Ron Koorsen, who came from Indiana, gave thanks to the wives, many who came with photos of their own and memorabilia to share amongst the group.
“That is why they are our sisters; they do all the work,” Koorsen said. “For 44 years, I had wondered where they were at. Then one day I got a letter, and I saw that it said ‘M.C. Richmond’ and I thought, ‘Wait a minute, they found me?’”
For the second reunion, a few more came, and those few made the trek from Virginia to the Vietnam Veteran Memorial wall in Washington D.C.
Mike and Carol Bundash traveled from Pennsylvania.
“We drove 11 hours; it’s 562 miles…Well, of course, we stopped three times,” Mike said. “We have been to three of these so far…All the wives have bonded.”
Bundash said when the phone rang a few years ago just before the first reunion, Carol answered it, and then she handed the phone to him telling him it was someone named M.C. Richmond.
“I said, ‘M.C.,” said Bundash. “He said, ‘You remember me.’”
Stories like that crisscrossed all across Friday evening with some children thanking the group through tears for getting their fathers home safely.
Lebanon resident Bob Curtis, also a Vietnam veteran, heard about the reunion in The Lebanon Democrat and decided to join the group.
“Well, I thought, I have never been to a reunion…and it’s been 50 years,” said Curtis who was in Vietnam from 1967-69.
Richmond served in Vietnam from 1966-67. Because he was a medic, that is where he and Karen began searching. Karen came across an old typed list of medics that military administration had put together
Andy Tartler, who came with his wife, Joanne, from St. Petersburg, Fla., both became licensed clinical social workers. Tartler was a young lieutenant when he first met the guys.
“I was one of the officers who took the unit over to Vietnam,” Tartler said. “We spent 25 days on a ship. I was a second lieutenant, a brand new officer at the time. We started out at Fort Knox, Ky. by train and took the train to Chicago and south all the way down through Texas and back up to San Francisco. We departed under the Golden Gate Bridge.”
Charles and Debbie Midkiff came from the “canoe capital” of Front Royal, Va. for the reunion.
«It’s been getting bigger every year because they keep finding more people,” Chuck said. “We already know that 30 of us are gone. There are four new ones this year. I am one of the younger ones here; I am still in my 60s.”
Richard Hurter, also from Pennsylvania, came with a Vietnam War flag his daughter made for the group. The flag will be signed by all the vets and will stay three months with one and then rotate around.
“The first reunion we had, it was like within 10 minutes, we were just the same,” Hurter said laughing. “It was like everybody had the exact same personality.”