LUBECK - Charles Beagle and John Wikle, who served together in the U.S. Army in Vietnam, recently reunited after not seeing each other for about 40 years.
From 1970 to 1971, the two were members of 1st Battalion, 5th Division, Co. E, 1st Cavalry in a mortar platoon, but when they returned to the U.S. they were sent to Fort Riley, Kan., and then went their separate ways.
Wikle said they had about three months left in their tours with the military at that time. At Fort Riley they were in the 1st Division.
John Wikle, left, and Charles Beagle, right, were reunited recently. They had not seen each other since 1971, although they reestablished contact about eight years ago. (Photo by Jeffrey Saulton)
Beagle moved to Parkersburg where he worked for Ormet Corp., where he had worked before he was drafted, as a mechanic and later at Tri-State Roofing and Sheet Metal as a HVAC technician. Wikle went back to Clarksville, Ga., where he worked at a number of jobs, finally retiring from the Georgia Department of Corrections.
Wikle said the first time they had any contact after their discharge was about eight years ago.
"My oldest son is in the military and he was asking me questions about my service in Vietnam," he said. "One thing led to another and we started doing some searches on Google and we came up with Charles and others. We located two or three friends through Google."
Beagle said he had not searched for anyone from his Army days, but Wikle said he started looking due to society's changing attitude toward Vietnam veterans.
"For years you never knew a Vietnam veteran was a veteran," he said. "You never wore any clothing to demonstrate it but since 9/11 there has been more patriotism and people are now showing they are more thankful for our service in Vietnam."
Wikle said he now wears a cap about his service and people come up to him and want to shake his hand. He said 10 years ago that would have been unthinkable.
"I wouldn't have worn a patch or anything," he said. "My son has a tour in Iraq and Afghanistan and that has brought out my patriotism more to the forefront too. As you get older you start to think more about your mortality."
During their time in Vietnam, Wikle said they were based in Bien Hoa.
"We were there only a couple of times," he said. "We were mostly in two corps or three corps most of the time. I got there just after the U.S. pulled out of Cambodia. We were at Firebase Exodus, which was one of the first they built after they pulled out."
Wikle said after he started to reconnect with the others he began to recall more things about that time. Wikle said the outfit they were part of has a reunion but he has never attended. He said it takes place in different places each year.
Wikle and Beagle said the soldiers sent overseas now are in a situation they never had to face.
"They keep sending them back," he said. "I can't imagine what it would have been like to serve a year in Vietnam and then come home for nine months or so and then they'd tell me to go back again. I can't imagine what it's like for the soldiers now."
Beagle and Wikle said it took time for them to readjust to civilian life. Wikle said it took time for him to realize he was very different for the first four to five years.
"My first son was born just before I went and it was hard for me to settle," he said. "I think it's the same for the soldiers now; the ones not staying are seeing many of the same issues. Of course the VA is making an initiative to help them find jobs."
Beagle said he had a similar experience readjusting.
"You come back and then a lack of work made it hard," he said.
Beagle went to Vietnam at 19 and did not marry until he was 28, while Wikle was 22 at the time. In Vietnam the average age of a U.S. soldier was 19.
Beagle and Wikle said most of their time in Vietnam was spent in the jungles where it rained for six months and would then be dry for six months. Regardless, they said heat was constant for them.
"You crawl out of the tent in the morning and it would have been raining all night and then dry out and then go back and in the monsoon season you were wet again," Beagle said.
Wikle said they were attached to an artillery unit.
"They would drop 500 pound bombs and clear a space for us; they'd drop us in there and we never stayed in one place more than a week or two," he said.
Wikle said they rarely took any fire and their constant movement kept the North Vietnamese from getting a fix on their position. He said they were responsible for shooting at what the artillery could not reach.
When they were fired on, Beagle said they were back at the larger bases.
Wikle said the food was an issue there. He said the C-rations were bad and weight loss was common among soldiers. He said he was drafted at 160 pounds and when he came back he was 32 pounds lighter.
Wikle said they ate a lot on the charter flights, called Freedom Birds, back home.
Wikle and Beagle said they were exposed to Agent Orange while in Vietnam.
Wikle said he believes his heart attack at 36 was linked to the chemical. Wikle said Vietnam veterans are starting to die in large numbers as they reach their 60s and 70s, making it important to reconnect.