Pleiku Pals Gathering in O'Fallon, IL in May, 2012 Print

Some years back I joined a group of folks who had served in Pleiku, Vietnam.  We come from all branches of the military, some of them from Australia.  All who served in Pleiku are welcome.  We don't care what sort of service was involved--infantry, signal corps, flight ops, artillery, whatever--we just take comfort in knowing that we were there and we did something while we were there. 

The Pals have a gathering just about every year somewhere.  I had never been to one until 2012 and I decided it was time to meet the folks who would show up at the next one.  I had gotten to know some pretty well through email and/or Facebook and I made an adventure out of it.



_jfp0430 group at 500

The gathering took place in O'Fallon, IL which is across the river and only 15 miles from downtown St. Louis.  I hadn't been to St. Louis in years and it seemed natural to spend an extra night there so I could photograph the Gateway Arch.  Also, it gave me a chance to spend part of a day with Wendell Beck, who worked with me in AACOC at the 43rd Signal Battalion.  As luck would have it, my good friend Charlie Vos and his wife Linda drove down from Burlington, WI to join Wendell and me for lunch.  Charlie and I were very close in Vietnam and still are--I went to his wedding, a year later he was an usher at my wedding, I have visited him a number of times (sometimes with Sue), and he was out to visit me with his daughter Kristin not long ago.  Made for a great day.

The gathering headquarters was the Drury Inn and Suites in O'Fallon and they did a great job for the group.  We had a meeting room to ourselves for three days where we could eat breakfast and shoot the breeze, and in the afternoon and evening have cocktails, eat dinner and shoot the breeze.  Whole lotta shootin' the breeze going on, but there was plenty to talk about.

I finally gave up the idea of scanning all my slides on my own.  I have a great slide scanner (a Nikon Cool Scan IV) but it takes about four minutes per slide and with 120 or so slides to scan, I elected to take them to my favorite camera store, Paul's Photo, so they could do it for me.  Well worth the money and they did a great job.

I picked 45 of them to share with the Pals and printed 8x10s, which I put in an album along with a few photos of my family to share with Wendell, Charlie and Linda.  The photos of Vietnam, and of the Pals gathering, are available for viewing on a Shutterfly site that fellow Pal Ed Gregory set up for us.  Those of the gathering (but not Vietnam) will also be included in the slide show at the end of this article.

And, by the way, if you haven't read my Vietnam diary and have time to waste, it's here.

As always when I travel, MacGyver registered his concern by sitting in my suitcase while I packed.


After changing planes in Denver I arrived without incident in St. Louis and picked up a rental car, then plugged my Garmin in and had it tell me how to get to the Drury Inn.  Once there, I noticed that my luggage tag, which I bought at the Crazy Shirts store in Koloa Town on Kauai in 2008, was showing definite signs of wear and determined that we need to go back there so I can buy another.


I unpacked and proceeded downstairs so I could meet these folks with whom I had been corresponding for years but had never met.  After meeting Doug Bulen, who has been moderating the group since its inception (a special experience) and Nell Bynum (special Facebook friend), I settled at Doug's table to get better acquainted.  I met Tabitha, Dexter Thornberry's granddaughter, the youngest member of the Pals.


After dinner and more chat, I went to bed early to prepared for my drive the next day--I was having lunch with Wendell and Charlie and it was 175 miles to Colchester.

I programmed the Garmin and it did a marvelous job of taking me north through Illinois farm country to Colchester.  It was a beautiful drive--farms all around, small towns here and there, and almost no one on the road but moi.  I left at 7:30 a.m. and arrived in Colchester at 11:45, not long after Charlie and Linda.  Wendell took us inside Beck's Snack Bar, and we spent several hours talking over lunch.


I took some more photos in Colchester with my D800 and you can see them in a slideshow by clicking the thumbnail below.



It would have been nice to stay and continue talking but I had another 175 miles to drive to O'Fallon so I left at 2:30 and drove back south.  I had dinner with the Pals again and talked a bunch more.  Over the course of the next two days I got to know many of the Pals (and some of their wives) much better and, as they all have in years past, slipped into a comfortable, conversational state of mind.  It was mildly cathartic and just plain nice to be with them.  I believe I might do it again.  Harvey Fowler, who was in the 43rd shortly before I got there, was having fun when I got back from Colchester.


  I took a group photo and a bunch of head shots;  as always, I missed a few folks and will have to make that up another time.  Good excuse to see them again.  The photos I took with my D800, besides being on the Shutterfly site, can be seen in a slideshow by clicking this thumbnail:



Monday, as the gathering wrapped up, I drove into St. Louis and checked into the St. Louis Union Station Marriott for a night.  It's a beautiful place;  the lobby takes over the entire former passenger concourse of the station.


I had a great lunch at the hotel grill and caught a cab to the Gateway Arch.  The weather was great but was changing rapidly, with thunderstorms moving in, so I was there before ideal light.  But, I was there and able to take photos.  Until, that is, a sudden gust (and I mean a GUST) of wind blew my glasses off my face.  They went skittering down the ramp to the visitor center and I managed to retrieve them just before an elderly couple could step on them.  Lots of scratches and pits on the lenses but at least I could see. 

Memo to self:  smart to take your spare pair of glasses, as you did.  Not smart to leave them in your suitcase.  Pack them in your camera bag from now on.

I took photos for an hour or so, switching between my walk-around 24-120mm lens and my ultra wide 14-24mm, and taking the occasional iPhone photo.


That night, I had a fabulous dinner in the hotel restaurant and retired to read another book while listening to, and watching, the thunder and lightning.  A slideshow of the photos from my D800 of the Gateway Arch is in the thumbnail below.