Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Ties That Bind

This past weekend, Labor Day, a friendship that began 40 years ago was rekindled. Eleven of us, who lived and served together in Germany during our stint as infantry officers and wives, gathered in Chicago for a reunion. We've been meeting fairly regularly since the early 70s. And we've hardly changed since then. Well, not the essence of who we are. Sure, we're all a little gray and I've developed something of a paunch, but none seem to mind.

This reunion was an occasion for me to give some thought to the factors that make for such an enduring friendship. Here are just a few thoughts.

First, for the 18 months we lived together we were a family. All of us were young, most were married, some had children. But all of us were thousands of miles away from our extended family back in the states. We naturally gravitated toward one another. From the time each of us arrived, we had a connection. For one thing, we each had a couple who "sponsored" us, showing us around, making us feel at home, helping us settle in. We very quickly began to hang out together: at the officer's club, at one another's apartment playing spades and bridge, in the back yard of our complex playing volleyball (jungle rules).

Not only did we hang out together as families, but every couple of months we officers spent 30 days in the field training with our entire battalion. We bonded as we served together at Grafenwoehr or Hohenfels. And while in the field we met regularly in the officers' mess hall in the evening to play cards and talk about the day's activity. In addition to the junior officers who served as mechanized infantry platoon leaders, and those of us in headquarters company who commanded recon and mortar platoons, there were other officers who joined in - company commanders and executive officers, and battalion officers such as our battalion commander and his executive. I credit much of this to our battalion commander, LTC Eugene Cocke. He was a leader in every sense of the word, and he worked at making sure that we lieutenants not only knew our stuff, but that we melded into a unit, which was essential for effectiveness in such an environment.

While we were in the field, our wives were getting together for various social activities. They became fast friends as well.

If there is such a thing as an idyllic military experience, I think ours came close. So, is it any wonder that we continue to get together in what we hope will increasingly become a regular, annual gathering.

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