like to locate 1st Cav. Troopers who served in Cos. B and C,
5/7 Cav., Jan. 1966 to Aug. 67. Please write Bernie Grady.
Ad, The VVA Veteran, July 1991
They met in the
fall of 1965 - a handful of Army officers, non-coms and nearly
800 draftees stepping from buses at Fort Carson, Colorado. The
draftees knew little about the Army except that they were in
it. They began their basic training as members of the 1st
Battalion (Mechanized) 11th Infantry. But the First Cavalry
Division (Airmobile) had deployed to Vietnam with eight
maneuver battalions instead of the standard nine. The Cav was
authorized another battalion. In April 1966, the draftees at
Fort Carson became the 5th Battalion of the 7th Cavalry.
together until the summer of 1966. Initially bound for Germany
when they first came to Fort Carson, they left for Vietnam in
July as a unit. They had lived and worked together for nine
months, forging a bond that would prove to be a double-edged
sword - they knew each other's
strengths and capabilities, they knew what to expect of one
another; but many would suffer and die in the combat that
Friendship and familiarity removed anonymity. They would have
no emotional anesthetic to dull the pain of loss.
after they came home and went their separate ways, one of
their officers, Bernie Grady, who lived in Pennsylvania, put a
Locator ad in The VVA Veteran. Unbeknownst to him, another 5/7
trooper - Jasper Catanzaro - had done the same thing in the same
edition of the paper.
Catanzaro lived in Detroit, where he
was an official with the United Auto Workers union. He had
thought about trying to contact members of the 5/7 in previous
years and knew a number of them lived in the Detroit area. He
saw some of them at a wedding in 1969, two years after he came
home from Vietnam. He remembered three of them had lost legs
in the war.
After the ads ran,
Catanzaro got a call from one of the 5/7's NCOs, George Porod,
who lived in northern Michigan. The sergeant called Grady,
"That was the
spark," Catanzaro said.
Not long after the
phone calls, Catanzaro traveled to Washington for a Labor Day
union parade. He made a side trip to visit Grady in
Pennsylvania. (Grady died last year.) Grady, who in 1994
published a book about the 5/7 in Vietnam - "On the Tiger's
Back" - said
he would track down the officers; Catanzaro would try to find
"Then we just
started looking up people," Catanzaro said.
He went to the
library to check out-of-town phone books. He read his old
letters written when he was Vietnam. A self-described "pack
he had kept them all - 270 letters to his girlfriend and 140
letters to his parents. Some spoke of feeling alone. He wrote
that his friends had been wounded and killed. He didn't think
he was going to make it home alive.
contained an eerily prescient note. In 1966, he wrote to his
mother: "This war is going to end the same way the Korean War
did - 50,000 dead and we don't gain anything."
Every time he
stopped moving in Vietnam, he pulled out a pad and wrote,
creating a virtual diary of his time in the war. In some of
the letters, he included sets of orders, which now contained
exactly what he was looking for - names.
"From the orders,
I started building a list of people in the battalion,"
he said. "As we heard from the other guys, they started
sending in orders with lists of names. Bill Purdy from Ohio is
with the steelworkers union and he moves around the country
the way I move around the country. Bill was finding all kinds
of guys, too. Pretty soon we started compiling a database." Today the database
stands at around 4,000 names with approximately 1,400 active
names and addresses.
They decided to
hold a reunion in Detroit in 1992. Catanzaro and Purdy signed
the $7,500 hotel contract with some trepidation. They didn't
have a clue about how many people would show up. "We had about 120
guys come from around the country," Catanzaro, now the association's
treasurer, said. "It was the 25th anniversary of the original
group. Most of us came back in ' 67
some time. Severely wounded guys might have come home in ' 66.
So 120 guys came, including the battalion commander, Col. Swett."
The contract wasn't
the only source of nerves for Catanzaro. He had worked for
months to make the reunion a reality, but as it drew closer,
he wondered what might happen when he saw so many faces from
the distant past.
"I guess I was
nervous to see these guys after all the years,"
he said. "I don't
really know what it was but a few days before I really didn't
think I would go. But as soon as the guys started coming in,
it was a fantastic feeling. We had gone to Vietnam as a
battalion, came home, and we had a great reunion. From that we
decided to include all members of the 5th Battalion 7th
Cavalry in future reunions. We opened it up to those who were
our replacements during our time there and those who came
The unit was
deactivated in 1971. In the years it served in Vietnam, 302
men were killed in action; five were listed as MIA. Four 5/7
troopers won the Medal of Honor, three posthumously. Seven
members of its officer corps went on to become Army generals;
around 30 of its non-commissioned officers retired as Command
In the introduction
to Bernie Grady's
book about the 5/7, former battalion commander Col. Trevor
(Ted) Swett wrote: "I had the privilege of getting to know
these fine young citizen soldiers, many of them draftees,
practically from the moment they entered the service. I was
fortunate to be designated the first commander of the 5/7 Cav."
At their first
reunion, he found his good fortune still holding.
"None of us had an
idea of what would happen,"
he said. "And what happened was a tremendous bonding. Like
me, the troopers who attended it probably had some misgivings.
Will there be bitterness somehow? Soldiers weren't
very much appreciated when they got home from Vietnam. There
were a lot of questions going into the reunion, but from the
minute we got there, those questions evaporated."
They built the
reunion around families. They didn't
want it to be a bunch of guys drinking beer and swapping war
stories. They didn't
want guys just coming to the reunion alone. They wanted
something of value to everyone, something that would last and
that families could take home when they left. Swett said they
apparent to me and virtually everyone there that this reunion
had become a major healing project,"
he said. "There were a lot of people who had kept it all
inside and much of that 'all'
was bitterness, a refusal to talk about it with their
families. After that reunion, I got several letters from wives
saying 'I think you may have saved my marriage by getting this
thing organized because he talks about it now and I
received letters, too.
"I got some that
made me cry,"
he said. "Wives would write me letters that thanked us and
said they finally understood what all of us had gone through
in Vietnam. I swear to God, some of those letters moved me to
tears. Over the years, I'll
gotten 20 letters like that. I've
had probably 50 wives come up to me during reunions and tell
me the same thing."
The first reunion
lasted four days. They held a banquet and barbecue; they had
company meetings and battalion meetings. They decided to form
an association and named former commander Ted Swett its first
president; the former C Company First Sergeant, Command
Sergeant Major Haskell (Wes) Westmoreland was named vice
his native West Virginia at 17 to join the Army. His career
spanned 23 years and when the draftees met him in 1965, he was
not the most popular man in the outfit. He drove them hard,
knowing anything less would compromise their survival.
"He was a pain in
the ass and we all hated him and he saved our lives,"
Karl Haartz said.
three tours of duty in Vietnam, two of them with the 5/7. He
said that since he retired in 1977, he hadn't
gone near an Army post or anything else connected to the
military. He joked about his reunion qualms.
"I got up to that
reunion and I didn't
know whether I was gonna get whipped or they was going to
shake my hand,"
he said. "All the guys treated me real good. I saw one guy I didn't
recognize, and I was standing over by the bar, and he was
looking at me, and I was looking at him, and at my age (64) you
can tell when somebody's
thinking about kicking your butt. I walked over, and I said, 'Do I know you or do you know me?'
He said, 'Well, how in the hell could anybody ever forget you?'
Having made the
decision to form an association, they set about the business
of finding people to belong to it. For six years they worked
primarily through the telephone - find a name, call
information, make cold calls until they tracked someone down.
When the Internet blossomed, tracking became easier. E-mail
and search engines helped to turn up 4,000 names.
When the 1991
edition of The VVA Veteran arrived in Karl Haartz's
New Hampshire home, he followed his habit of reading the
Locator ads first. When he saw the 5/7 Cav ad, he sat down to
make a list.
"I wrote down 15
to 18 names and hometowns that I had just from memory,"
he said. "I had them in my head."
a hand in finding people, too. Haartz knew a guy who lived in
Crystal Lake, Illinois, but he couldn't
get a phone number or address for him. So he wrote a letter
with only the man's
name and the town on the envelope.
"It turned out he
worked in the post office," Haartz said. "They were getting ready to return the letter to
me because it didn't
have an address and one of the guys in the post office said to
him, 'Hey, we got a letter addressed to you from a guy in New
Hampshire. You know anybody in New Hampshire?'
He said he did. That's
how we found him."
But not everyone
wanted to be found, and in at least one case, family members
thought it best that someone be protected. Haartz had located
a 5/7 veteran who lived only 35 miles from his home. Haartz
called. A relative of the 5/7 vet said the man had died. Last January,
Haartz received an e-mail from the "dead"
"On the tailgate
of my pickup, in 4-inch letters, I've
got - "5th Battalion 7th Cav, Vietnam 1966-71" -
and our website - www.cav57.org, Haartz said.
seen it at the mall, went to our website and found the e-mail
address of a guy in Hawaii he was RTO (Radio Telephone
Operator) for in Vietnam. He gave him my e-mail address and
now we e-mail back and forth."
friend remains steadfast in his refusal to have anything to do
with the association.
go near it," Haartz said. "He doesn't
want to talk about it. He was in the 5/7 and I see him once
every six months. He lives 12 miles away and he just doesn't
want to loosen up. He's still got it wrapped up inside of him.
found the trigger yet to get him to crack. He doesn't
want to remember a thing about 'Nam
and I think it bothers him a lot."
tells of the other side of the coin, a moment when the group
provided a release for what had been bottled up for so long.
"We had one squad
leader who got shot on Thanksgiving Day,"
Westmoreland said. "Well, when he got out of the Army, he was
about the same as me. He didn't
go to anything that had anything to do with the military. It
took him two and a half days to drive to our first reunion and
when he got there and started talking to all these people he
knew, it just relieved him of all those bad feelings about what
happened in Vietnam. These guys stick together good. They went
through a tough time, a very tough time. But we were blessed
with good people, good troops, good young Americans from all
walks of life."
They hold a reunion
every two years. The next will be in July in St. Louis. They
still look for more men to come. "Every time I get
together with these guys, I feel better about where I've
been and what I've
Karl Haartz said. "We went through basic training together,
infantry training, unit training. We'd been together for 18
months. The camaraderie developed through being an infantry
soldier and watching each other's
back is a lifelong thing. You don't
forget these guys."
commander, Ted Swett, said he didn't
want to overstate the matter, but used the word "family"
sort of like of having a family kind of relationship,"
he said. "The main value is that there is a healing to those
who need it most. It's
the value of getting together and realizing they have something
in common and something they can be proud of. It's
tinged with sadness because some of them didn't come home, but
there is a feeling that we have something special and it comes
across in what they say when we're
together, not only to me, but to each other."