“There really is a Mayberry.”
That was a general consensus of many members of Bravo Company, who served together in Vietnam and Cambodia in 1969 and 1970 and are the subject of Eric Poole’s 2015 book, “Company of Heroes.”
That assessment came from the group while it was assembling for a group photo in front of Mount Airy’s War Memorial on Saturday.
“Photo mission!” yelled out Mount Airy resident Ben Currin, the member of Bravo Company who had invited his comrades in arms to town for a ‘Mayberry Midsummer Break.’
Company commander Capt. Jim Waybright picked up the signal, yelling out “photo mission,” and the men, their wives and girlfriends, along with the widows and families of the company’s men who were killed in action or have since passed away gathered together to have their photo made.
“We love your town. They’ve been so nice to us,” Waybright said.
The men of Bravo Company have not always received such a warm welcome.
“When we came back, people were ashamed of us,” said platoon leader Teb Stocks. “When we came back, you had to change into civilian clothes. If you wore your uniform, people would spit on you and call you a baby killer. All the people who got killed, what a waste… The sacrifice they made left no mark on history. Today’s veterans are treated better. We make sure they’re not mistreated. We understand the stress of it.”
During a bad stretch in 2010, while dealing with some PTSD-related problems, Rick Clanton created a website to begin searching out the men he had served with.
“The only people I could talk to were these guys,” he said. “It started with my platoon and then extended to the whole company. It’s a good support group.”
“Rick Brown has done a good job of finding KIA (killed in action) families and reaching out to them,” said Capt. Waybright. “Several of them are here this weekend. Medal of honor awardee Les Sabo’s brother and sister-in-law are here. Part of the best healing is having the survivors of these people with us. Their survivors were quick to forgive. No one held us responsible.”
“It allows them to have some closure to know their loved one was with someone who loved them and continues to love them to this day,” said Clanton. “A lot of them were given misinformation by the army. One widow was way off base about how her husband died.”
Rick Scarboro, brother of Lt. Tom Scarboro, who was killed in action, said, “I don’t have any story but that these guys are heroes. They saved my life. Rick and Ben came to my mom and dad’s house when I was 18 and told us what happened to Tommy. I was much too young and much too upset to understand. I carried a lot of guilt that I never served. Then out of the blue, years later they contacted me and started the healing process.”
Paula Ferrell and Sandy Metz joined Bravo Company for their Mayberry weekend. Their brother Gary Weekley was killed in action on April 4, 1970.
Medal of honor awardee Les Sabo’s brother, George Sabo and his wife Olga Sabo, attended the reunion. “Les used to babysit my kids before he got drafted, and we lost our babysitter.”
A.J. Moore was still in high school when his brother Ernie Moore went into the army and was killed in action. In 2006, he attended a 3rd of 506th battalion reunion on his birthday with his brother’s widow.
“I didn’t know if I was going to go. It was very emotional,” said Moore.
But he and Candy Moore did attend.
“That’s where we first met these guys,” he said.
Everyone associated with Bravo Company insists the group is a big extended family. Sometimes, those relationships become a little less extended. In 2007, Ernie Moore’s widow Candy met Bravo Company’s Rick Brown at a reunion in Kansas City. One thing led to another and they were married in 2014.
Jack Brickey earned the nickname ‘Target’ due to his propensity for getting shot, according to platoon leader Stocks. He was shot four times in one day — not all at once.
Jerry Nash, the medic who saved Brickey’s life, said, “We had gone up to get bodies from a company that had been ambushed. We found one body, and then we walked into an ambush, and he (Brickey) was shot twice. Then, while dragging him over a rock, he took another bullet. And then, going over another rock, he was shot again. At first, we thought it was friendly fire.”
The gunfire sounded like American weapons, which they turned out to be, explained Brickey and Nash. An ambush of Delta Company had put the weapons in enemy hands. The company lost four men in addition to the wounded before taking cover in a bomb crater.
“The first medivac helo got shot down,” continued Nash. “The door gunner was shot on the second one. The third was taking rounds, and we only had four. Dennis (Patterson) was a gunship pilot. If he hadn’t got him (Brickey), he would have bled to death.”
The gunship pilot, Dennis Patterson, said, “forty years later, he called me up, and I’ve been coming ever since. It’s like finding your family.”
Nash nods his head, “We’re all brothers from different mothers.”
“Everybody wanted to put Target on the helicopter,” said Teb Stocks. “But somebody had to stay back and give support. Jack got wounded because he ignored the gunfire. He was more worried about our safety. But he felt guilty because others were put at risk putting him on the helicopter because he was wounded. They would rather have died than to not go.”
“Teb (Stocks) got a crease in his helmet,” said Capt. Waybright.
Rick Clanton added, “He was shot with an AK through a tree. It pushed his helmet down on his head, and he looked like a turtle with big eyes. His helmet got a purple heart.”
Waybright, Clanton and Stocks laugh heartily at Stocks’ near miss.
The veterans seemed to talk about their close calls with a sense of humor. “we have to have a sense of humor,” Clanton said.
“It’s funny now. It wasn’t funny then,” added Stocks.
Rick Brown went back to Vietnam in 2011. So far, he is the only one of the group to return.
“I wanted to find the place we got ambushed,” he said. “I was able to find the ambush site, Hill 474, where we lost four guys in our platoon in January 1970. I brought a bunch of rocks back and handed them out to the other guys who were there.”
Brown said he recognized the huge rocks which are still there despite vegetation having grown back in the intervening 41 years. In 1970, it had been burned off from Napalm. They’ve planted coffee trees there now.
“One-third of the guys here were wounded,” said Waybright. On May 10, 1970 alone, eight men were killed and 41 were wounded. “We had to bring in artillery fire on top of us to break the siege.”
Rick Brown added, “the reason some of us came home was because Capt. Jim called in the artillery.”
As the extended Bravo family walked away from the War Memorial and headed down Main Street to check out the July car show dedicated to honoring veterans, Ben Currin said, “some of us are talking about doing this every year.”
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.