Local vet gathers with war buddies

Published 10:20 am Sunday, April 12, 2015

Bonds formed 45 years ago when they served as soldiers in the Vietnam Conflict remain as strong today as when they were forged.

Bogalusa’s Alton Smith, Minnesota’s Dennis “Juicer” Dahl, California’s Don “Doc” Cox and New York native Joe Land all saw action in the bush. They were members of the U.S. Army’s Co. A, 1st BN, 12th CAV.

The Company’s first reunion was in 2008. Seventeen veterans attended the first reunion, which was held in Columbus, Ohio.

“The reunion was an unbelievable event in our hearts to reignite the bond. When we got together, we felt like we were 18, 19 and 20-year-olds again,” Dahl said.

During the war, Dahl was a point man while Cox was a medic. Smith was a rifleman and Land a machine gunner.

Dahl said life was tough as a grunt in Vietnam.

“We lived in the jungle, and everything we owned we carried on our back,” Dahl said. “When you were over there, you developed an unconditional friendship. Unless you experienced it, it’s hard for the average person to grasp. It’s a bond.”

After Vietnam, Dahl became a bar and restaurant owner.

“It was a bond forged in blood,” said Land, who worked as a paint contractor after the war. “When we left Vietnam, all we wanted to do was get back home. When we got home, we weren’t heroes. We were scorned. We stood out like a sore thumb.”

On Tuesday, Dahl, Cox and Land all flew into New Orleans, where Smith met them. They left later that day to swing through Florida for reunions with platoon members Bill Greathead in Titusville and Tommy Grant in Cape Coral. From there, they went to Fitzgerald, Ga., to meet their former commander, Lt. Frank Field.

Land said he had his problems adjusting after the war.

“I didn’t learn the word ‘future’ until I was 40 years old,” the 65-year-old Land said. “I fell off many a bar stool late at night. Finally, when I was close to 40, I sought out help. I got a therapist and talked it all out. I didn’t think I’d live to see 40.”

Cox, who worked in an emergency room and was an X-ray technician after the war, said he was fortunate not have such problems.

“I came home to a stable family and had my friends from high school,” Cox said.

All four recalled the horrific battle of Bu Gia Map, an ambush that decimated their platoon. For the battle, Cox earned the Silver Star, while Smith earned the Bronze Star.

“All three of these guys had no fear,” Land said. “Smitty is amazing.”

Dahl said Smith had the platoon’s respect.

“Smitty was the man everybody looked up to,” Dahl said.

Smith was employed at the Bogalusa Mill for 35 years. He is now 65.

“All I can say is that I’m blessed to have friends like these guys,” Smith said. “I met them in Vietnam between 1969 and 1970. God brought us back from Vietnam in one piece. It’s great to have friends like these.”