Four local Vietnam Vets meet for the first time in over four decades
by Bill Mardis Commonwealth Journal
Three former members of the U.S. Marine Corps and buddies in Vietnam met Tuesday morning for the first time in 45 years in the parking lot at Cracker Barrel restaurant.
“Bear” is the big one. His name is Larry Cain. He lives near Yosemite in Casey County.
“Slick,” a/k/a Otis Byers, was born and reared in Albany but now lives in Park City near Mammoth Cave.
“We just have one stop light,” he grinned.
“Scratch” is Jay Adams, owner of Adams Grocery at Ano in eastern Pulaski County. “Scratch” got his nickname because his buddies say he was always scratching. Adams Grocery is best known for photographs of trophy rattlesnakes killed at nearby Rattlesnake Crossing.
The former Marines have lived within 65 to 75 miles of each other for the past 45 years without being aware of it.
“We were like brothers over there ... if one of us had a dime all of us had a few pennies,” Cain related.
Nancy resident Bob Bryant, a friend of “Bear” from their days working at Sun Chemical in Cincinnati after the war, informed the Commonwealth Journal the three Marine buddies would gather at 10 a.m. Tuesday at the Cracker Barrel in Somerset. A reporter got there moments after the reunion began.
It was a glorious time! Slapping each other on the back. Telling jokes. Laughing. Remembering old times.
Leaning against a pickup in the restaurant parking lot, the three old Marines could well have been in a barracks. They seemed totally oblivious to their surroundings.
Despite the hilarity of the moment, it was a time for reflection. Their minds would wander back to the jungles of Vietnam. You could see it in their faces. Their conversations were sprinkled with DeNang, Hue, Saigon and the Viet Cong. They’ve been there, done that.
The Vietnam War was a prolonged struggle between nationalist forces attempting to unify the country of Vietnam under a communist government and the United States (with the aid of the South Vietnamese) attempting to prevent the spread of communism.
Adams, Cain and Byers know they are among the lucky ones who returned. From 1965 to 1975, more than 3 million Americans fought in the Vietnam War. Nearly 60,000 American combatants were killed, and more than 150,000 wounded.
Memories of those frightful years are disconcerting flashbacks, but those who survived are not apt to talk about the horrors of war. They prefer to remember the good times. “And there were some good times,” said Byers.
Byers and Cain had gotten together a few months ago, but at the time didn’t know where Adams lived. It had been nearly a half century since they were together.
“I was driving over around Casey County and saw Yosemite on a sign,” Byers recalled. Byers has a greenhouse and was looking for some plants.
“I recalled that my buddy ‘Bear’ lived in a Kentucky community by the name Yosemite,” reflected Byers.
“I stopped and asked at two or three places and at the last place I stopped they knew Cain and told me he lived right down here on 501,” said Byers.
After turning up a wrong road or two, Byers finally drove in Cain’s driveway. “I saw a Purple Heart insignia on a car in his driveway and I knew it was him.”
Byers said he knocked on the door and Cain’s wife answered. Turned out, Cain was in Danville that day. Cain and Byers later got together at Golden Corral in Somerset. They couldn’t figure out where Adams lived. They didn’t know if he were dead or alive.
By chance, Byers’ son, David, stopped by Adams Grocery. When Adams found out David’s last name was Byers and that he lived in Albany, he asked him if he knew an Otis Byers.
Matter of fact, David did. Otis is his father. This information eventually led to Tuesday morning’s meeting of all three Vietnam veterans in the parking lot at Cracker Barrel.
Adams, Byers and Cain all were drafted into the military. They spent about 13 months in Vietnam, and all three were discharged in 1968.
The conversation in the restaurant parking lot was lighthearted, but it was evident all three Marines experienced some tough and dangerous times in Vietnam.
“Did you have any close calls?” a reporter wondered.
Byers, who could well front for a stand-up comedian, started laughing.
“The closest call I had was when a member of the Viet Cong cut my hair,” he grinned.
It happened. Apparently some war prisoners were doubling as barbers and one of them cut Byers’ hair.
“I made some remarks about the Viet Cong while I was getting my hair cut,” Byers shuddered. “I didn’t know he was the enemy.”
Adams’ rank was corporal and Byers and Cain were lance corporals. All three were combat engineers.
“Basically, we all had the same schooling, the same training,” said Adams.
All three were discharged from the Marines in 1968 and went their separate ways.
Adams got a job in Indianapolis and was there for 13 years. Some 10 years ago, he and his wife, Brenda, came back to Pulaski County and bought the grocery store at Ano.
Byers said he piddled around for awhile in livestock and farming and then went to work in the oil fields.
Cain was in Indianapolis for about a year and then worked at Sun Chemicals in Cincinnati. It was here he met Bryant and they have been close friends for 40 years.
Adams and Cain are 66. Byers is 67.
A reporter suggested a good photograph would be the three former Marines sitting in the rocking chairs on the porch at Cracker Barrel.
“Oh no, we’re not that far along,” Byers retorted. They posed beside the pickup.