It was exciting to meet up with Jeff. He had read the book, "We Were Soldiers Once" and was excited to be attending the reunion with us. I believe he said at one point that reading the book was a life changing experience. That would be exactly how I felt. We were all looking forward to attending the reunion functions and meeting the heroes of the battle.
Jeff had other plans that first night we arrived – so he dropped us at the Hampton Inn. After checking into our hotel room, which was very nice, Jesse and I headed down the street to the Hilton where the reunion was taking place. Not all of Uncle Bob’s crew had arrived and the rest had already eaten. We met some of the reunion vets including Hal Moore who called Jesse "my girl" (Jesse just swooned). Eventually, it got late, and Jesse and I were starving. We headed out on our first adventure – finding some place to eat. We found a Chili’s next door to the hotel. The place was packed, so they seated us in the bar area. There were all sorts of people there – military, business, veterans – we weren’t in Oklahoma any more. I could feel the excitement growing in Jesse. We were on our own, this was all going to be new stuff, and it was all to be enjoyed.
The next day we met up with the cousins and crew. Our first lesson of the day was how to ride the Metro. A very nice policeman gave us instructions and helped us buy our first tickets. We rode the Metro into the heart of things and got off near the White House. From there, we walked the rest of the day until our shoes were worn thin. It was a beautiful fall day. The White House looked great from the gate. It took us a while to walk toward the Mall area and up around the Capitol, but we were a big group with several kids. The boys loved running through the park and down the Mall. John put his son, Caleb, on his shoulders. Caleb loved dragging his hands through the leaves on the trees. I kept thinking, "Here we are in Washington DC, and we are playing in the park." It is funny what kids will be impressed with. The whole day was pretty much like that. Although Jesse and I had fun with the cousins, we were a little anxious to do some serious sight seeing. No offense, cousins.
We had to hurry back to the hotel that afternoon to get ready for the big Ia Drang Reunion banquet. Jesse and I had been preparing for this for weeks. We had shopped all over OK to find just the right dress. It is difficult to find a dress that is dressy, but does not look like a prom dress or something your grandmother would wear. She ended up borrowing a dress that was perfect, and she looked beautiful. Jeff picked us up wearing his dress blues and all his medals and ribbons. Not only were us hicks impressed, so were the old soldiers at the reunion. Jeff was swamped by the men asking about his medals and his military history. I don’t know who was having more fun; Jeff talking to the old soldiers, the old soldiers talking to him, or Jesse and I watching it all. At one point Joe Galloway asked Jeff to take a picture with him. Jeff complied of course, but he did not hear Joe say, "and your wife too" thinking that Jesse was Jeff’s wife. So, Jeff got into the picture with Joe Galloway, but left Jesse standing there. Some girls might have felt putout, but not Jesse. She got a real kick out of it. Who knows what Joe thought? If Jesse had felt more comfortable with Jeff, I’m sure she would have teased him right then.
The banquet was the highlight of the trip. It was a "life changing experience". From hearing the men sound off at each table, to hearing the speaker, and later getting autographs, it was just awesome. Jesse and Jeff were all over the place getting autographs in their books – there is just something about a man in his dress blues that commands attention. Jesse was smart to follow in Jeff’s wake. At one point Jeff was introduced to General Peterson (Joint Chief of Staffs) who was so impressed with Jeff that he took Jeff’s name and said, "You will work for me."
It was a long evening of meeting real heroes. It was very emotional. We also met the wives and children of the fallen soldiers. It is difficult to imagine the sacrifice these men made for their country, but they did it. At one point, Sheri looked at me with tears in her big eyes and said, "My father came home, but her father did not." This was a life changing experience.
Jeff walked us back to our hotel knowing that he would pick us up in a few hours for the sunrise service at the Vietnam Memorial Wall.