POWHATAN – Former local members of the Virginia National Guard recently decided they wanted to stop waiting for funerals to bring them back together.
Men who served in the 176th Heavy Mortar Company and 276th Engineer Battalion gathered on Oct. 12 at the War Memorial Cultural Arts and Community Center for a special reunion. In all, 101 former guardsmen gathered to catch up, reminisce about old times, and remember those they served with through the years, said David Bradley, one of the organizers and a member of the 276th from 1970 to 1990.
“It was great seeing them. Some of us didn’t recognize each other so much time had passed,” Bradley said. “When you serve with guys, you sleep next to them, eat with them and do everything with them. You get a bond you don’t get in another workplace. You are going through quite a bit and you have top experience.”
The idea for holding a reunion came at the end of 2018, when a fellow guardsman, Bobby Richards, died, and they attended his funeral, Bradley said. The night of his wake, they had a good time sharing memories of their late friend and all of their time together.
“The idea hit us why are we waiting until a funeral to get back together? Why don’t we get together so we can see each other while we are living,” Bradley said.
Some of the members began planning the event in April 2019, he said. They contacted 192 former members and had a mix of responses. But they were pleased to have 101 alumni attend the reunion that day and are already talking about meeting again.
Dennis Stokes was stationed with A Company, 276th Engineer Battalion for all 20 years he served in the Virginia National Guard, from 1975 to 1995. He said Company A had never done a reunion and he thought it was an excellent idea. When Bradley asked him to help organize it, he saw it as a privilege and a chance to help put together an event to honor his fellow guardsmen. It was a “chance to get together with the fellows I served with and some that I did not and to remember those that had passed on.”
He said it was also a chance to see friends he had not seen for years and some he may not see again. When asked about memories from his years of service, he said he could talk for days about his experiences –“a few bad but without a doubt mostly good.”
“Whether digging a foxhole or building a bridge or even doing KP, the camaraderie and commitment to each other that develops when you serve with someone is beyond description,” Stokes said.
The reunion had countless conversations starting with “Do you remember the time” or “oh my gosh I haven’t seen you since,” he said. It was a chance to laugh and remember and make a few more memories, which are more valuable as they get older and see each other less, he added.
“My only regret is not being able to see and share those memories with those who left us too soon – Cecil Snider, Bobby Richards, Charlie Green, and many others, although, many of those fellows were the subject and center of a great many laughs and conversations that day,” he said.
Bradley said he read a letter from retired Brigadier General Stephen Huxtable, assistant adjutant general of the Virginia Army National Guard, at the event. Huxtable was a previous commander of Company A 276th Engineer Battalion but could not make it to the reunion.
He said in a letter that it was an honor and privilege to “be associated with the best soldiers in the Virginia National Guard.”
“Your dedication to duty and strong desire to work hard led this Company to many awards over many years. Over my many years with the Company, I remember many good – and not so good – events that made us strong, resilient and hard to beat.”
Company A’s accomplishments and milestones through the years are too many to name, but it served people all across the state in severe weather conditions such as hurricanes and flooding. Company A was deployed to Iraq from December 2003 to March 2005.
Frank Flannagan, who served with the 276th Engineer Battalion from 1971 to 1997, said the tasks he was most proud of involved serving the citizens of Virginia.
“In 1972 we had Hurricane Agnes. The entire battalion was deployed. Alpha Company from Powhatan went to Richmond and we stayed there about 10 to 14 days. … We also did snow removal in Virginia Beach. We did flood duty in Warrenton, Virginia, and flood duty in Madison County and Orange County when they had some severe flooding,” he said. “To me, that was the most important thing – we helped the citizens of Virginia. That is what the Guard does unless they get federally deployed; then they are on the big picture of the United States.”
Flannagan said holding a reunion was a great idea and something they needed to do for a long time. He said his fellow guardsmen are “more like brothers instead of soldiers.”
“We worked hard, we played hard. But we also knew when we were in our uniforms and we had a mission to do, always the mission was the most important thing,” he said.
Laura McFarland may be reached at Lmcfarland@powhatantoday.com.