As more than 200,000 young Americans were drafted into the Vietnam War in 1965, several Hastings graduates wound up in the same unit, Charlie Company, 3rd Battalion, 12th Infantry, 4th Infantry Division.
The 4th Infantry Division encountered heavy combat, including a series of battles in May 1967 near the Vietnam-Cambodia border that garnered three Congressional Medals of Honor. The battles are detailed in the 2017 book “Nine Days in May” by Warren K. Wilkins.
Now 52 years after getting out of the Army, the men of Charlie Company continue to hold regular reunions. This year the meeting is in Hastings at the home of Tom and Lisa Radke.
That same weekend, Hastings American Legion Post 47 will honor Charlie Company and all Vietnam War veterans with a program Saturday, Sept. 7.
It kicks off with a noon social hour, followed at 1 p.m. by a program featuring speakers, memorabilia displays and a VFW Honor Guard and 21-gun salute. Mayor Mary Fasbender will deliver opening remarks and former Mayor Paul Hicks will serve as master of ceremonies.
The event is being spearheaded by Dan McGinnis and Ed Riveness with the American Legion. Post 47 Commander Jim Lehmann, coming home from a deployment in September, will be in attendance as well. The group wished to thank Heidi Husman for designing the event's poster.
The program is open to the public and all Vietnam veterans are encouraged to attend. The American Legion is at 50 Sibley St.
Meeting with fellow veterans provides an opportunity to talk about war experiences with people who understand what it was like, Tom Radke said.
“A lot of this stuff you just don’t want to share with anyone,” he said. “But when you’re with your comrades, your brothers, knowing that they’ll never leave you behind, it’s an altogether different story.”
He said he was reluctant at first to reconnect with Charlie Company. It took two decades and convincing by his wife to finally attend a reunion.
“I had to make him go to the 20-year (reunion),” Lisa Radke said.
The reunions are held every couple years. Many Charlie Company veterans live in the Midwest, around Hastings, Kenosha, Wisconsin and in southern Illinois, though some travel from as far away as Hawaii.
There’s a first-timer at just about every meeting, Tom Radke said.
John Sobaski of Hastings said he was reluctant to attend the reunions, too.
“Sometimes you just don’t want to bring things up,” Sobaski said. “But then after I started going, I got comfortable and I was glad to see the guys.”
His message for Vietnam veterans who haven’t reached out the veterans’ community:
“I would tell them ‘welcome home’ for one thing, because we never did get a good welcome home. I would ask them how they’re doing, how’s their health and, if they have any problems, I’d tell them to get out to a VA hospital and start talking to somebody.”
Sobaski said the reunions also benefit the wives of Charlie Company — whom the group call “Charlie’s Angels” — and give them an opportunity to share updates and concerns.
“If it wasn’t for the ladies, these reunions would never happen,” Tom Radke added. “The ladies kept it going.”