Vietnam War Veterans Honor Fallen Battalion Members At SLC Reunion
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – It’s no secret that the coronavirus pandemic has interrupted our lives in a big way. We can’t attend weddings or graduations; we can’t travel as freely as we once did or drop in and see friends and relatives. For now, everything is on hold.
But before the days of social distancing and face masks, members of the U.S. Army’s 34th Engineer Battalion that fought in the Vietnam War held a reunion to reconnect and honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
“These are all our brothers, only people here who actually know Vietnam, as soon as I met them, I knew them forever,” said Bill Brisby, who was in the unit.
A few months ago, Brisby and dozens of members of the 34th held the reunion in Salt Lake City, along with their wives and other family members.
They’ve held the reunion in different parts of the country for nearly 30 years now. People who had relatives or knew of someone in the 34th would host and organize the event.
“I was a company clerk in this engineer battalion. Accounting clerk was my main job — in a war, you do lots of things,” Brisby said. Sort of like Radar O’Reilly from the old “M*A*S*H” TV show.
It’s a fun time for everyone to gather and reminisce about the good times and even some not-so-good times, as was the case often during the war.
“These fellows right here, were our casualties, the ones that didn’t come home with us,” said Harold Woodward as he looked through old photos. “They came home before us in body bags. The earliest one was around 1968.”
Woodard, who’s from Louisiana, started attending the reunions about five years ago and said these events have helped him cope.
“Got a lot of memories that we need to deal with. I’m like everyone else, when I came home from Vietnam, people didn’t care too much about, for what we did,” he said. “I put all of my Vietnam stuff in the closet, locked the door and forgot about it.”
During their three-day visit to Utah, members of the 34th toured some of the state’s major attractions: Temple Square, watched the Tabernacle Choir rehearse, took trolley rides through downtown and visited Park City.
The reunion changes from year to year. New members join, while others are too ill to attend or pass away. Everyone here looked at the gatherings the same as getting together with family.
“It’s sharing memories. We sit around, we tell stories, we remind each other what we did and there’s always something new that comes out of that,” Brisby said. “We share pictures we’ve taken.”
And each time the 34th gets together, they always hold a special memorial service to honor those who have passed on or never came home.
“The belief is (that) some of those guys are remembered only by us,” Brisby said. “Their parents are probably gone by now. Their other relatives are probably gone by now. We may be the only ones who remember those guys and the sacrifice they made for our country.”
The United States ended its military presence in Vietnam on March 29th, 1973. More than 58,000 soldiers died. Members of the 34th Engineer Battalion hope we never forget.
As Woodard put it: “I would want them to know we do this for these guys, as a memorial to them. And it’s good for us as well.”
The 34th will hold its next reunion in Branson, Missouri, in September.
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