WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Gathering to honor their fallen brothers, more than 10 of the remaining members of the 3rd Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment "Currahee," 101st Airborne Division met Feb. 19 at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C.
This day is specifically special to the men because on Feb. 19, 1968, eight fellow Soldiers from 1st platoon, Company A went out with them on a mission and were killed in an ambush. They gathered to honor those men and the 16 others they served with who lost their lives during their time in Vietnam.
Chris Adams, a former infantry sergeant with Co. A, 3-506th Inf. Regt., said that what happened and the results, why they get together, why they raise money to put flowers on the graves of 200-plus Soldiers is not about him or the individual action, but the sum of the actions.
"It's been a great journey for us, and some of us started the year the wall opened up, and some only came this year," said Adams, referencing Jackie Walker, a former corporal and Co. A infantry Soldier who made his first visit in 49 years.
Adams recalls John Harrison, a former captain and infantry officer with Co. A, dragging Jackie over a dike by his arm and Jackie ending up spending 18 months in a Veterans Affairs hospital for rehab.
Part of the reason behind the visit is the collective thoughts of Adams's fellow Soldiers and the memories they have about the men whose names are on the wall, he said.
"We weren't the only ones, because there were a half a million guys there, and we were only a small percentage of that 10 percent that was actually in the field," said Adams. "You never hear about that until you come back to a meeting or you come back to a reunion."
Al Thompson, a former specialist 5 and Co. A medic, said there were a couple of names on the wall that are particularly important: Sgt. James Bunn and Sgt. Chassion.
"They were real popular guys," said Thompson. "Those were the kind of guys that you hoped would make it home. I wanted to see them guys come home and they didn't, and it was real heartbreak."
Thompson was amazed at the statistics of how many they lost.
"I thought we had done an amazing job, but the enemy was doing that also," said Thompson said. "We fought our war and we won some."
Visiting the memorial wall with his fellow Vietnam veterans gives Thompson a feeling of closure.
"We went out and sweated, cussed and whatever else together," said Thompson. "We were shot at together and all that stuff, so it's an amazing bond."
Reagin Krawczyk, granddaughter of Mike Krawczyk, a former sergeant and the Co. A commander's radio transmission operator, was present at the gathering and was happy for the unique opportunity.
"It's actually pretty nice to learn more than how much I learn in school," Reagin said. "Going around and meeting all these people is fun. It makes me happy seeing him (Mike Krawczyk) with all his friends and them talking about all their experiences."
Edward Bassista, a former sergeant and Co. A, 3-506th Inf. Regt., infantry squad leader, went over when the unit was originally deployed.
The concept during Vietnam was not the same as the mission-first concept during World War II, reflected Bassista. He said that for him, his men always came first versus the mission.
"My goal was to bring everybody that was under me back to the states, which is what I did except for one man," said Bassista.
"When we first made contact, squad leaders ran the battle," said Bassista, discussing the different roles that leaders played while in combat during the Vietnam War. "I spent my whole year out there. I got wounded one time in my leg with a piece of shrapnel, and I refused to go to the rear because I didn't want to leave my men.
"Lieutenants we're only on the line -- if they didn't get wounded, shot or sick -- for only about six months. A lieutenant's job, a platoon leader's job, was to call in airstrikes and coordinate, and a platoon sergeant's job was to get resupply and medevac," Bassista continued.
Bassista recounted how he kept his own men safe as it got closer for him to leave. He said, it was around August and September and he only had about a month to go, and at that point, ambushes became their "forte."
"I would spring an ambush from the same site for about three days in a row," Bassista said, staring at the memorial. "Strictly claymores; my guys were never allowed to fire a weapon in an ambush unless we were getting overrun."
Now, 49 years later, Bassista meets with his men again but not to set up an ambush -- those days are behind him. Instead, there's a lot of reflection, memories and even laughter. They will never forget their fallen and never forget they are the lucky ones whose duty it is to honor the sacrifice.