How We Started
During the summer of 1989, six members of Alpha Company 1966-67 miraculously reunited after 22 years of separation: Ray Strohl, Al Rooney, Bob Young, Gerry Anderson, Bob Bruder, and George Neville. We found each other by luck and perhaps a little help from a higher power. We arranged to meet, spending a wonderful August weekend at the Crown Plaza Hotel in Rockville, Maryland. The time flew past and we devoted a moment to silently leaving a few tears on the ground beneath the Wall. We also visited the Iwo Jima Memorial, Marine barracks 8th & I, and the Marine Corps Historical Center. When we were not touring the Washington area, we sat around the hotel, spreading out our tattered documents and photo’s from Vietnam. We talked about that time, reflected on our experience and our memories, and tried to put our lives after Vietnam into perspective.
Our wives came with us, curious about the bond remaining between us Recon vets after more than two decades. They saw how friendships forged in Vietnam endured the test of time and geography as if Vietnam occurred only yesterday. Our loyalty to each other reminded them of the strength of character they already knew that we possessed in abundance.
During the weekend, we decided to locate more of our brothers. Our initial methods were crude and amateurish. We called information operators, guessing that former Reconners may still reside in hometowns vaguely remembered from our past. We were hesitant and apprehensive, wondering how our message would be received. We were apprehensive about the unknown, and feared rejection from brothers who may not want to revisit their past. We pushed on, though; convinced that unifying our common history by placing it in the present was a worthy mission, one that was necessary to accomplish. At the time, we had no idea what the coming months would reveal.
By a similar circumstance, a small group of men from Bravo Company 1968-69 stumbled upon each other. One of these men, a man previously unknown to me, quickly became a very close friend. His name was Floyd Nagler, a former Reconner of remarkable energy and personality. We joined forces and our dream of reuniting our Recon family became a reality. Floyd became the catalyst for our efforts, and through him, things began falling into place.
We decided that any man located would be contacted by telephone before any attempt was made to correspond with him. These calls typically resulted in a poignant, rewarding experience and each had a strikingly similar characteristic.
The man called was stunned that a Recon brother contacted him. Some thought it was a cruel joke. Others were incredulous. The majority of former Recon Marines contacted had not been in of touch with teammates and friends since their tours ended. Most had given up hope of reuniting with the men with whom they served. Some cried, some telephone receivers hit to the floor, while other Recon Marines said: "Hold on a minute while I sit down and compose myself enough to talk."
There was no doubt that a spiritual rekindling and awakening of emotions from the past revived friendships and a deep sense of brotherhood. Those feelings, and the memories of heartache and sorrow for our teammates that fell in Vietnam. Many of us began a long deferred grieving process.
After a time, there was a consensus among those Reconners in contact with each other that an association of former members of the 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion was an extremely beneficial endeavor worthy of maximum effort.
By the January 1990, we had located approximately 125 men who had served in the battalion. We generally felt that meeting was to everyone’s advantage, and decided that Las Vegas would be a wonderful venue in which to gather. The reunion was set for 27-29 April 1990. Since we did not have an association or treasury we booked into a small hotel called the El Rancho. Fifty-five men and their families were able to attend on short notice. It was a festive and productive weekend. Everyone shared their desires on the nature and composition of 3rd Recon Association, and discussed how we would go about the task of locating the 3,500 men who served in the battalion during the Vietnam War. Bylaws were proposed, meticulously considered, and implemented. Officers were nominated and unanimously elected to lead the Association during its formation and to set course for the coming years.
Plans were made to initiate an investigative process attempting to locate everyone that served. This was a project never attempted by members of a former combat unit, and the problems seemed insurmountable. I never dreamed we would be so successful. However, with a dozen or so dedicated and tireless people we were able to accomplish a small miracle. We didn’t find everyone, but we made one hell of a dent in the battalion rosters we requested and received from the Marine Corps Historical Center.
Because of Vegas ‘90, the Association applied for recognition of a Tax Exempt Organization, under Section 501-(c) (19), on 25 May 1990. After plowing through many tiers of the IRS, we received Tax Exempt status on 15 March 1991. We qualified as a War Veterans Organization so donations to the association would be tax deductible. Not many Veterans groups have that distinction.
The next few years were some of the most rewarding of my life. So many men were reunited. The healing effects of knowing you still had a teammate or fellow Recon Marine to talk with, seeing men wipe tears of joy from their eyes after meeting a brother long lost, were immediately and obviously apparent. Some last saw their brothers on a MEDEVAC helicopter, or in an evacuation hospital. Others said their good-byes on a dusty airstrip knowing there was little chance of seeing each other again. The scene of men who cared for each other so much, only to be separated by fate and then re-united is not easily described. Suffice it to say it was a scene not easily depicted except by the phrase "Band of Brothers." It is rare unity, and a precious commodity in the society in which we live today.
The years passed quickly. We have had glorious reunions- Vegas 90, Hilton Head 91, San Diego 94, and Vegas 98 – along with scores of smaller gatherings between teams, platoons, and companies or just a few Marines taking some time to be with each other for a few hours or a few days. Our number has grown to where we have located 2,800 of those that served in the 3rd Recon Battalion during the Vietnam War.
As I close this small insight to the association history, I remember a note I received after Hilton Head 91. It was directed to the association and said:
" Again many thanks for your work to pull together a beautiful weekend. The barmaid from the Mariners Inn looked strangely at me when I hugged Andy goodbye. That bothered me so I asked if she ever seen one man hug another? Not until this weekend was her response. It was not a sarcastic reply but rather one of respect and one that said much about the weekend."
Gerry Anderson Aug 1989
Bob Young, Ray Strohl, Al Rooney at Iwo Jima Memorial-Aug 1989
Al Rooney, Ray Strohl, Bob Young- Vegas 90