A gathering of Marines

San Antonio Express-News:

He was a young Marine on a 1963 mission so secret that no one knew where they were going until after putting out to sea.

Rich Lantz was on the ground floor of the Vietnam War. He and his best friend, Lance Cpl. Dino Denardo, fought the Viet Cong while fellow Marines mapped beaches and inland areas off Highway 1.

They came home and lost contact, but Lantz, 65, of Fairmount City, Pa., still feels such love for Denardo that he broke down while talking about him recently.

“You get so damned tight, it's unbelievable,” he said. “When you can close your eyes and your buddy's guarding your back, you know what I'm saying? And you know that he can close his eyes and you're guarding his back.”

A band of Marine Corps veterans from World War II, Korea and Vietnam met last week in San Antonio. Don't call them ex-Marines. They fought different enemies over the years but share common experiences and core truths, the first being that war is a brotherhood forged in fear, anger and the fight for life.

...

And now, decades later, old wounds heal over beer and Tex-Mex at gatherings such as the 55th annual 3rd Marine Division Association Family Reunion.

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Retired quality control engineer Ron Smith served in a rifle company in Korea at 16 after lying about his age. He entered the University of Houston on the GI Bill after the war, but Korea shadowed him.

“There was a long time when I would go for a walk in a park or something and I'm looking. I'm looking where would be a possible ambush site,” said Smith, 74, of Houston.

...

I occasionally find myself looking at terrain the same way. It is something you learn rather quickly when it is a matter of life and death, but I don't see it as a problem. In fact, I have done a good job of avoiding ambushes ever since. There is something special about being around Marines who have experienced similar events.

I'm sorry I did not make it over to San Antonio to visit with these guys. The Tex-Mex alone would have been worth the trip. While other troops dreamed of eating ice cream, I used to dream of enchiladas.

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