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08-14-06, 05:17 AM
Marine colleagues reunite
Novi meeting is 38 years after Vietnam


August 14, 2006

After the Vietnam War ended, the soldiers of the 3rd Battalion, 9th Marine regiment never imagined that, 38 years later, they would be together again and talking about their war experience like boyhood memories.

Wearing shorts and T-shirts, and eating pretzels and chips, the old friends reminisced and joked about their adventures.

The reunion on Saturday at the Novi Sheraton Hotel ballroom never would have happened if not for 57-year-old Bob Citron's determination to find his fellow soldiers.

"A lot of these guys are dying and we're all getting older, so for selfish reasons, I wanted to see everyone again," Citron said, his voice cracking slightly.

Citron was a lance corporal in Vietnam. The Southfield resident works at a Post Office in Livonia and organized the reunion for 18 months. He did four mailings, put ads in Leatherneck magazine -- a publication for Marines -- and on the Vietnam Veterans memorial wall Web site and in the VFW magazine. He tracked some down individually.

"I'm so happy that God granted me a chance to get to see them at least one more time," said 75-year-old Colorado Springs, Colo., resident Bob O'Donnell, a first sergeant during the war. "It's like coming to your family. We were very close. It's like coming home."

Citron found 24 men from Lima 3/9, including Roger Magerman of Pontiac, the only other metro Detroit attendee. The men hail from 14 states; the farthest traveler came from California. Forty people, attended the reunion, including wives and relatives. Among the attendees were a company commander, company executive officer, a battalion sergeant and two or three corpsman.

"For 99% of the guys, it's the first reunion they've ever heard of or been to," said Citron. He attended his first reunion in February mostly to get the word out about the one he was planning.

The February reunion in Las Vegas was for Marines who were in Lima 3/9 during 1969.

Unlike today, when entire battalions circulate in and out of combat as a unit, men rotated in and out individually at different times in the Vietnam war. Citron was in Vietnam from December 1967 until January '69.

Saturday's event reunited veterans who were stationed with the Third Marine Division along the demilitarized zone, the dividing area between warring North and South Vietnam in 1968.

A few men were missing because of prior engagements and illnesses.

"We're older, fatter, more wrinkled, but personalities are the same," Dewey Mauldin, a 57-year-old Arlington, Va., resident, said lightheartedly.

The veterans mused over pictures from wartime days and chatted about their lives for the past 38 years.

"You start talking and it feels like you're back in the unit," Citron said. "It's very healing."

Many of the attendees sported white T-shirts with the Marine Corps logo on the front and a cutout image of Vietnam next to the words "Lima 3/9" on the back.

The shirts were ordered just for the reunion along with bumper stickers, red, white and blue wristbands and "We support our troops" pins.

Looking at the war in Iraq, Citron sees numerous similarities with the Vietnam War.

"If you look at it, it's the same thing," he said. "We thought we'd go in and be hailed as liberators. We'd thought it would be real quick, but we got stuck in a war that we don't know how to get out of."

He said people now realize that if they oppose the fighting, that opposition should be expressed against the war, and not those who fight.

The Vietnam War, from 1961 to '75, was the longest military conflict in the history of the United States. More than 58,000 servicemen died in the southeast Asia country.

The war was distinctive not only for its length but for the fact that it was the first war seen on nightly newscasts, as television beamed vivid images into Americans' living rooms.

The public protests often enveloped the servicemen and women who served in Vietnam. Many returning vets felt abandoned by the country.

"We weren't heroes when we came back ... used, abused and put aside,"' Citron said, explaining why they didn't seek one another out to relive those memories. But in the days before the reunion, he said he had been looking forward to it "more than anything."

Staff writer Kim Norris contributed to this report.