At the annual Veteran’s Day memorial in Atascadero Sunday, a group of Vietnam veterans who reunited on the Central Coast after doing battle together laid a wreath at the foot of the fallen soldier memorial.
“These are my brothers, they will always be until the day I die,” Hugh Crooks, a Vietnam veteran, said of his fellow soldiers, Robert, David and Niles.
It’s a brotherhood born out of war.
“We’re pretty close,” Robert Ryan said. “We were drafted just about the same day, served the same unit through Vietnam. We flew together, did search and destroy.”
Their bond, which developed through battle, didn’t end with the war.
“One gentleman I met the day I was inducted into the army and that’s been my brother ever since,” Crooks said. “And the other gentleman, I hadn’t seen in 50 years.”
The third of this foursome replaced Crooks when he was transferred, so they didn’t officially meet for many years after the war.
Years after they all returned home from Vietnam, David Black gave an interview with a local newspaper about his service. It didn’t take long for his phone to ring.
“Within 5 minutes of getting the paper, Robert Ryan called me,” Black said.
After reading Black’s story and seeing so many similarities to his own service, Ryan called Black, skeptical of his claims.
Black and Ryan shared names of fellow soldiers they served alongside and realized they had both served in Vietnam in the same squadrant and even the same platoon. They must’ve missed each other by weeks, maybe even days.
“Turns out David took my place when I got hit the second time,” Ryan said.
Ever since making the connection on the Central Coast, these four veterans have reunited not only to reminisce, but to remember fallen soldiers with commemorative bricks and the laying of the wreath.
Three of four in this group are purple heart recipients, recognized for shedding blood on the battlefield. Today, they still bleed together, voluntarily, with blood donations they’ve done together over the past 20 years.
Their unbreakable bond is strengthened with each reminder of their service and sacrifice.
“Even siblings through blood aren’t the same as those born through battle,” Crooks said.