October 11, 2016 --
Veteran Marine officers gather for their first reunion after 51 years
Fifty one years after graduating from The Basic School in December 1965, 120 members of TBS class 1-66 gathered at Marine Corps Base Quantico for their very first reunion.
Planning the reunion took organizers five years and some super sleuthing.
“Typically in that era, Marines joined, got trained, were deployed, left active duty, got scattered and lost contact,” said George Ward, of Falls Church, Virginia, the group’s treasurer and a former ambassador to Namibia. “There was no e-mail or Facebook so it wasn’t easy to stay in touch. The only thing we had was a roster with everyone’s last names and first initials, which doesn’t help much, especially if the last name is Smith or something.”
The class consisted of two companies, Alpha and Bravo, for a total of 385 officers. The reunion organizers divided the roster into platoons and took to the Internet. They conducted Google searches, used subscription address location services, called university alumni offices and didn’t neglect word-of- mouth. They narrowed down the results by age and then picked up the phone to make cold calls.
In the end, Ward said that he was able to track down every member but three from his platoon of 48 men. The organizers found that 300 of the TBS 1-66 graduates were still living. Of those, 40 percent attended the reunion aboard Quantico Oct. 2-5.
Most of the Marines went to Vietnam soon after graduating and 20 were killed in action there. Then-Capt. Laurence Friese, who attended the reunion, coming from his home in Monterey, California, spent five years and one month as a prisoner of war at the Hanoi Hilton.
“We got a lot of Purple Hearts,” said Anthony Zinni, retired Marine Corps general and former commander-in-chief of United States Central Command.
“It’s great being here with my comrades who fought in Vietnam,” said William Huff, of Columbus, Georgia, who spent three years on active duty (13 months of that in Vietnam) and went on to become what he describes as “the only combat-decorated Marine Corps officer-interior decorator in the world.”
“We’re a lot fatter, we don’t have as much hair and it’s not the same color, but we’re still the same guys,” he continued.
“We look a lot older but we’re still pretty studly,” Zinni said.
The veterans toured Officer Candidates School, The Basic School and Camp Upshur. They agreed that while the base and the Marine Corps have changed a lot, they found the changes to be positive.
“The Marines were impressive, both the males and the females,” said Friese, who flew combat missions for the Marine Corps in the 1960s and went on to retire from the Navy after being repatriated from his time as a POW. “They still have that Semper Fi attitude.”
“The female Marines were lovely and articulate and also, you don’t mess with them!” Ward said.
While most of the veterans did not make a career out of the Marine Corps, they all carry their Marine Corps service close to their hearts.
“I think about it every day of my life,” Huff said. “I’m very proud to say that I served with the very best. Heroes wear dog tags, not football pads.”
“Being a Marine has taught me about patriotism, solidarity, camaraderie,” Friese said. “I’m so appreciative of the Navy/Marine Corps team, which for 241 years has been the world’s finest fighting machine.”
When asked what being a Marine has meant to him, Ward’s eyes grew teary.
“Everything,” he answered.