THIRD BATTALION, FOURTH MARINES ASSOCIATION
AUGUST 2015 NEWSLETTER
Another successful reunion has been completed, this one being the 15th!! For those who were able to attend, we hope that each of you had an enjoyable time. The weather did cooperate, for the most part, however, we experienced some abnormally hot and humid days while there. The old adage "it never rains in San Diego" and "it never gets hotter than 72 year 'round" was proven to be a misnomer as it poured rain one morning while we were having breakfast, and we had a few days in the upper 80's and lower 90's. Having completed boot camp at MCRD San Diego in 1965 I can not recall a single day when it rained while I was there (though I'm sure it must have) but I do remember it was HOT!
A tour of the bay area, via bus, was interesting as we passed many homes that were built in the 40's and 50's and were still pretty well maintained. Our tour guide explained that many of those older homes had cost about $35,000 to $50,000 back then and were now worth anywhere from $1.2 million to $3 million or more. Not the house, so much, but the small parcel of land they sat on is now where the real value lies. We later pushed on to Mt. Soledad Veteran's Memorial after lunch and from on atop that "mountain" there is a tremendous view of San Diego Bay and surrounding areas. There were three aircraft carriers (all nuclear powered) in port that week; as I recall they were the USS George Washington, USS Ronald Reagan; the USS Carl Vinson. The size of those carriers would dwarf the WWII carriers. They are unbelievably huge!
Speaking of MCRD, we went there Friday for a graduation ceremony. It was ninety degrees plus on the "Grinder". Those young Marines sure looked sharp, ramrod straight, and proud as they marched up and down the "Grinder" in formation. We all know just how proud they were to finally be called Marines and to be graduating after the arduous 12 weeks of boot camp. They were really "Gung Ho" and eager to move on in their Marine Corps career, wherever it takes them. We wish God speed to each of them and hope they do not have to go in harms way.
The Memorial Service was, again, a very solemn and thought provoking event. Chaplain Stan Beach, as always, did a excellent job of getting it arranged, and provided for a young Navy Chaplain (Dru Nelson) who had previously served with 3/4 as the Battalion Chaplain, to deliver part of the service. Also, former "Kilo" Company Commanding Officer, Colonel Robert J Modzrejewski (Retired), and recipient of the Medal of Honor, delivered the Commanding Officers remarks. Colonel Modzrejewski also attended the banquet on Saturday night and all of us who had served in Kilo Company when he was the C.O. enjoyed spending a few minutes with him. I had not seen him since he left Vietnam, almost 50 years ago, following Operation Hastings.
The Hospitality Suite was a popular place while we were "in the rear" and the hotel staff kept a steady flow of iced refreshments and snacks available. We had several meals there, as well, and the hotel food was really good. The service of the hotel staff was fantastic, always on time, helpful and very courteous. The Reception/PX room was fully staffed by Michael Madden (registering arriving attendee's and collecting dues; "SgtMajor" GraceFryzowicz handing out gift bags; Pam and John Brown providing each attendee with their name tags and event tickets. Travis and myself running interference when and wherever needed. There were several ladies (Kay Hecksher, Pat Delano and Teri Paddock) who jumped in and tackled the arduous task of setting up the PX tables with all of the many items to be sold. Once set up, they stayed there for hours, every day, selling those items and really did a bang up job of it! THANK YOU LADIES FOR DOING SUCH A GREAT JOB!!! Tracy "1stSgt" Fryzowicz made her way around the rooms selling raffle tickets to everyone, each day, as well as assisting wherever needed; Thank You Tracy. PK Richardson helped prepare the "goodie bags" and make the banquet table favors as well as selling tickets for the wine basket drawing. THANKS PK!!!! Phil Frigm, Bn Historian, set up the Archive Room for all the unit diaries and for those who brought their personal photo binders to share. THANKS, and good job Phil. A big thanks to Joe Fallon for stepping in to help out on many matters at hand when called upon. Travis and the SgtMajor seemed to be everywhere at once, directing "traffic", putting out fires, and helping anyone, and everyone, (Travis also picked Pam and I up at the airport and later spent several hours hauling me around to several Men's Shops so I could buy a dress shirt!!) all week long as well as spending some very long evenings entertaining those "die hard" party people in their room that just didn't want to go to bed (Sullie, Chuck, Gunney Heckshire to name a few)!! They both talked so much they each lost their voices and were relegated to speaking in a whisper for a couple of days! Never before have I known Travis to be so "quiet"! He was finally at a loss for words….or at least words we could hear!!! Next day, Grace was exactly the same. PK Richardson must have caught whatever ailed Travis and the SgtMajor as she lost her voice also. A lot of leaning close to hear them whisper as well as some sign language for the next couple of days was needed.
Almost 49 years later, we are at our 15th, Third Battalion Fourth Marines Reunion, in San Diego, commemorating the 50th Anniversary of 3/4 deploying to Vietnam.
September 27, 1966 found 3/4, having just come off Operation Hastings, embroiled in heavy fighting on Operation Prairie. The next day, 9/28/66 Chaplain Stan Beach, being seriously wounded, while helping other Marines under fire, and eventually being med-evaced. He would ultimately lose his leg as a result of those wounds.
On Thursday afternoon something occurred, that those witnessing it, would say brought all of this back into focus, and reminds us why we yearn to seek each other out every two years. A gentleman walked into the 9th floor lobby and asked one of our members, Stan Delano, if he could help him. He explained that he hadn't signed up for the reunion ahead of time but wanted to know if he could still attend? Stan brought him into the reception room and introduced him to Michael Madden, as Michael was the "go to guy" for situations like this, to see what assistance could be given. His name was Richard "Rich" Lopez. He lives in Edmonds, Washington and is the brother of Augustine "Augie" Lopez Jr, Kilo Company, WIA Sept 27, 1966 on Hill 400, Operation Prairie. His brother lay in a coma on the USS Repose until passing away from his wounds on 2 November 1966.
He remembers as a 5 year old boy, the two Marines walking up to the front door of their home in Concord, CA, while he played in the front yard. He didn't fully understand what was happening at the time, but when the Marines returned about a month later, his world had been turned upside down. His "Big Brother", his parents told him, was dead.
The Lopez family soon moved back to their home in Edmonds , as his dad worked as a civilian employee for the Army and had been transferred to Concord, during that time frame.
Rich, who works in a grocery store, there in Edmonds, struck up a conversation with a customer earlier this year, that came into his store wearing a USMC hat. Over the next few weeks of talking to and getting to know this mans story, Rich shared the story of his brother with him. Rich would find out that his brother and this Veteran Marine, had been at MCRD San Diego at the same time and also in infantry training. He had also been sent to Vietnam in the same time frame. The man told Rich that units often have reunions and perhaps he should look up 3/4 on the internet and find out when their next reunion was going to be and, if possible, try to attend. There, he might be able to learn more about his brother by attending.
Rich looked up the 3/4 Association on our web-sight, and it just so happened our reunion was a month away and Rich had already taken a week of vacation the same week we were going to be in San Diego.
He did not contact anyone associated with the reunion, but did make reservations for the hotel for Thursday and Friday night, just in case.
As the reunion drew near, Rich couldn't decide whether or not to attend, but the week of the reunion he decided his family just had to know more about Augustine, and hoped that he would be welcomed and possibly meet someone who had known his brother.
Rich at this point took a HUGE leap of faith, and purchased an airplane ticket to San Diego, got a cab to the hotel and walked into the reception room. When Rich was brought to Michael he said, "Can you help me?". Michael said he would try and then Rich began to explain who he was and the circumstances of how he came to be at our reunion. Michael knew immediately they would do their best to help this young man. Then Michael reached out to Grace Fryzowicz, our reunion co-coordinator, to see if there was any chance we could get him on the bus to MCRD the next day and to our banquet and, why was was explained to her. Her eyes got big and she went to find her husband, Travis. Travis had been in that battle and had been shot and med-evaced the day after Augustine. When Travis returned, he was introduced to Rich and started talking with him about the battles on Hill 400 during that time.
Madden went out into the reception area to contact those who he needed to help him make things happen for Rich to attend and to locate any other Kilo Marines from the same time frame and contacted Michael Berru, as well as notifying me of what was happening. Berru had left Kilo shortly before September 27, but he recalled the name sounded familiar. He went to where our 3/4 Archives were set up and was able to find the casualty sheets and synopsis of that action. He then came back and took Rich to see those documents.
When Rich and Berru returned, Travis started talking with him again, while Berru went to find other Kilo Marines that would have known Augustine. Travis, remembering a story Chaplain Beach had oft told him about over the years, about trying to find a particular Marine from that time frame to see what had happened to him, contacted Chaplain Beach, who immediately came to the reception area. Upon his arrival, he was introduced to and listened to Rich's story. As it turned out, Rich's brother, Augustine, had been shot near the base of Hill 400 (Operation Prairie). He was still alive , but was in an exposed position where rescue was going to be difficult. After an hour, or more, Chaplain Beach and Corpsman Doc Cook made their way down the hill to "Augie" and began the physically tough effort of pulling him cup the hill to safety. Chaplain Beach knew this Marine personally at this time. There was a very large tree that had fallen over the trail, and crawling over it would have meant certain death to all of them, as the NVA were firing a machine gun into that area, so they pulled him under it and crawled their way to a safer position. The Chaplain then hoisted Augie over his shoulder and carried him off the hill to an evacuation position. Eventually he was med-evaced to the USS REPOSE where he died a little more than a month later.
As the story unfolded between Rich and Chaplain Beach there were a lot of tears that flowed and heartfelt hugs for both their loss. Chaplain Beach remembered this event very clearly and provided Rich with many details of what happened, that he and his family never knew before that day. Many questions were answered for his family and he relayed the information home between meeting other Marines who had served with Augie as well, and remembered who he was.
Forty-nine years of unanswered questions about the young Marine Chaplain Beach had carried out and was subsequently awarded the Bronze Star as a result of his actions, and the quest of a 5 year old boy to find out what had happened to his brother, came to fruition because Rich had the courage to take a leap of faith to find answers. He landed in good hands.
Lima Company Marines took Rich out to dinner with them that night so he would have a support network around him to help him absorb what had taken place after he arrived at the 3/4 reunion earlier in the day. The Battalion spent that short 1-1/2 days with Rich, making him part of our family and the Murphy clan rolled him into their family to comfort him during our Memorial Service at the MCRD Chapel on Friday. Again, he landed in good hands.
As Rich was not going to be able to stay for our Saturday evening banquet, and be introduced to the membership, we altered our Memorial Service a little and told his story at the Chapel, before the service. When he was introduced and asked to stand, his tears were not the only ones flowing freely. There wasn't a dry eye in the Chapel.
His "new" "older brothers" ensured that he was included in the remaining events and had some memento's of his first reunion to take home with him, before he had to leave Saturday to get back to work. He promised to stay in touch with us and to attend the next reunion. He is now our newest Gold Star Family Member and we welcomed him with open arms and made him a part of us. I spent some time talking with him, explaining that I remembered Augie, but had not know him real well. I found Rich to be extremely polite, very sincere, absolutely down to earth and very forthcoming about wanting to be involved with the GSF members at future reunions. Rich, we look forward to spending more time with you, and being able to someday meet the rest of your family. Thank you for your family's sacrifice of your brothers service.
Photo of Chaplain Stan Beach and Richard "Rich" Lopez
Saturday night brought us a great banquet. There were nearly 200 people there counting the reunion attendee's, the active duty Marines from 29 Palms, the Color Guard, and guests. Our Guest Speaker was former Battalion Commanding Officer LtCol Jeffrey Kenney. He was also the C.O. when 3/4 (Darkside) was de-commissioned last year. He is currently assigned to the Pentagon. His speech was informative and refreshing as he related where the Corps is today, and where it is headed. We also had 33 active duty Marines come from 29 Palms for banquet evening. LtCol Brian Middleton, is the new C.O. who is taking over the reigns when "Darkside" is reactivated on the 17th of September at MCAGCC, 29 Palms, CA. I spoke with him at length leading up to and including during the reunion and you can be assured the Battalion is in very good hands. He has a "Gung Ho" staff of Officers and Staff NCO's as well as the lower ranks of enlisted Marines. They are all eager to get back to the business of being the fine Infantry Battalion they have always been. LtCol Middleton, XO Major Kenney, Acting SgtMajor 1stSgt Robert Anderson as well as several of the Senior Staff NCO's expressed a keen interest in expressing to the incoming Marines how important the Association will be to them and will encourage them to become actively involved when their Marine Corps career ends. I overheard several of the PFC's and LCpl's present, discussing what a great time they were having and they would be telling their buddy's about us. Hopefully, having had them share time with us will result in getting many of them to eventually join the association. Before the evening came to an end, we brought out the "Thunder Mug" which the Battalion had shipped to us for safe keeping while they were in de-activated state. Once they learned they would be re-activated they were keen on getting the "Mug" back into their hands quickly. We asked to be able to hold onto it a bit longer because we wanted to have a "Thunder Mug" ceremony at the reunion. They agreed and we then arranged to get a large contingent of those Marines to the reunion banquet night and we all shared in the "Mug" ceremony together. Those young Marines thought that was great and made a lot of fanfare of drinking from the Mug! Joe Fallon, Travis Fryzowicz and Jim Conklin made the arrangements to get the "French 75" contents for the Mug! I have to admit, their concoction wasn't half bad. Much better than some I've had in the past.
As many of you know, our next reunion is currently scheduled to be in Chicago. The plan is to do something special for all our Navy Corpsmen at that reunion. It is in the Chicago area where they attended their schooling to become Corpsmen and we hope to have as many of our current and past Corpsmen attend as possible. SO, get the word out to those guys and let's get them to the reunion and show them how much we appreciate what they have done, and continue to do, for us and all Marines around the world!!
And finally, I have to give a BIG shout out to Travis and "SgtMajor" Grace Fryzowicz for all their hard work on coordinating the effort for this reunion. They have worked so very hard for several months to help plan and make sure that loose ends were tied up in order for the reunion to be successful. To say the least, they were exhausted by the end of the week. There were a couple of SNAFU's during the week (seems there always are) but in the end all that got worked out without much fanfare or delay. They took the next two weeks, leaving from San Diego, and went to Hawaii for some much needed "R&R". I hope they had a great time; they certainly deserved it.
P.S. Next time you see Travis and Grace be sure to inquire about the "Old Gray Mare" gig they performed in the Registration/PX room!!
For those who were unable to attend, we certainly missed having you in our midst. For those of you who were there, thank you for coming and I truly hope you had a good time.
I am attaching a few photo's taken by Russ Barber at some of our events to give you a bit of flavor for who was attending and some of the things that occurred.
CLICK ON THE PHOTOS TO SEE A LARGER IMAGE
Brian Murphy, two of the young Marines from 29Palms, and myself at Banquet night.
The good Chaplain Stan Beach at the Banquet. He just keeps going like an Ever Ready Battery.
Group photo of all the "Darkside" Marines who came down from 29Palms.
The Color Guard provided by Marines from MCRD San Diego.
Joe Fallon and Jim Conklin performing the MIA/POW ceremony.
L-R Retired Colonel Robert J Modzrejewski (Kilo Company C.O. 1966 & MOH recipient)
Mike Masterpool, Jim Conklin and Joe Fallon
Colonel Modrzejewski's wife, Diane.
The "Thunder Mug"
The "Jerry Can" we absconded to mix the "French 75" in before pouring into the "Mug". We sent it, along with the "Mug", with the Marines back to 29Palms.