COLUMBUS veteran George DeLay has put a lot of effort during the past two years into arranging a simple reunion with two friends he served with in Vietnam. Finding one of them occupied most of his time.
Working around the physical infirmities of both of them has taken up the rest.
Friends and family in Columbus have noted the extent to which the Cummins Inc. retiree has gone in his single-minded quest and more than a few have asked him why.
As far as George is concerned, the answer is simple.
“A buddy asked me,” he said.
DeLay, Michael Carlson and Randy Campbell followed different paths to their first meeting in 1967 at Fort Knox, Ky., where they were assigned to the same Army unit going through Advanced Individual Training. They met as strangers, but for the next two years they were practically inseparable.
“Went through the training at Fort Knox together, got some more training at the old Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis together and shipped out together to Vietnam on the same day, July 4, 1968,” George recalled last week. “We were in a finance unit, but we still had to go on guard duty and go out on patrols. We got shot at, maybe not as often as some of the other ground-pounders, but it was enough to scare us.”
The three friends were separated when their tours ended in Vietnam. Randy and Michael elected to go back to the United States, but George decided to stay on for an extra two months in Vietnam.
“My enlistment was up after that two-month period and extending that stay meant that I could be discharged as soon as I set foot on home soil,” he explained.
All three got on with their lives and eventually lost contact with each other. George took a job with what was then called Cummins Engine Co., where he worked for 40 years until his retirement in 2010.
It was in the first few months of his retirement that he decided to reconnect with his friends from the Army.
“Actually, my wife gets the credit for starting the search,” George said. “I brought up the time that we had spent together, and she just looked at me and told me that I should try to look them up.”
Finding Randy was relatively easy. A friend helped with a Web search and came across a newspaper article that had appeared in the Salisbury (N.C.) Post about his old Army buddy. He contacted Randy’s wife, Grace; and in 2011 he drove to North Carolina.
Things had changed in the 40 years the two men had been apart. Randy had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and was confined to a hospital bed in his home. Still, they were able to spend several days together.
That was the first of a number of visits George made to North Carolina. On a visit this past March, Randy asked George if he had heard from Michael.
“I told him that I had lost contact years earlier and didn’t have any idea on where he might be,” George said. “Then Randy said that he’d like to see him again and he asked if I would try to find him.”
George didn’t have any trouble with the answer.
“I already had that in mind,” he said. “When Randy put it that way, finding Michael became a personal mission for me.”
It was not an easy mission. George tried several avenues, but none of them had any results. Finally, a few months ago he contacted the Veterans of Foreign Wars and provided officials with the information he had about his wartime buddy.
That was enough for VFW officials to find an address for Michael’s brother in Kent, Ohio. Once again George’s friend who had helped find Randy came to his aid. An Internet search yielded the brother’s obituary report, which provided George with the name of Michael’s sister.
From the sister George obtained Michael’s address. That led to a visit to Ohio; but at the address, George’s knocks on the front door were unanswered, and he went back to the sister.
On meeting the sister George discovered why his knocks went unanswered. Michael had been deaf for several years. It took his sister to gain admittance to Michael’s house and alert him to his caller.
“We had a good visit because his hearing aids enabled him to make out a lot of what I was saying,” George said. “We talked about the old times, and I told him about Randy’s wish to get back in contact.”
Randy has been trying to get in touch with Michael through emails, but that has proved a difficult process.
It might not matter in the long run. George has something even better in mind.
Sometime early next year he is going to drive over to Kent, Ohio, and pick up Michael. Then the two of them will drive to Salisbury, N.C., to spend time with Randy.
All because a buddy asked.
Harry McCawley is associate editor of The Republic. He can be reached by phone at 379-5620 or email at email@example.com.