BRANSON, Mo. – Returning home from Vietnam wasn’t easy for Gary Gilliam. He says for many years, he couldn’t emotionally heal.
But thirty years later, everything changed.
2005 is the year the Charlie Company formed.
It’s a group that brings Vietnam vets together, honors fallen soldiers, and provides comfort to the families of the deceased.
Gilliam says it was one phone call that led to this idea.
“A phone call from our company commander back in 1971 saying that he had been setting wreaths at Arlington for our men ever since he returned home and I should be there with him,” Gilliam said.
It was an offer Gilliam says he couldn’t refuse.
“I flew to Washington, we laid the first wreath, we started talking and he says, ‘You think we can find more of our men,'” Gilliam said.
And they did.
“Through the years we’ve been able to gather 60, 80 names,” Gilliam said.
Finding those names required help from other veterans.
“We’ve been having reunions starting in 2006, I think we had seven, eight guys, this year we’ll have around 31, 32,” Gilliam said.
Every year Vietnam vets meet at a cemetery to honor a fallen soldier.
And sometimes, it’s not just the veterans who show up.
“We would wind up meeting family,” Gilliam
Gilliam says he hopes to do one thing when meeting with a family.
“Tell the family about their loved one,” Gilliam said. “That he wasn’t alone, he didn’t die alone, that he was surrounded by men that cared enough for him that they would’ve died for him and some did.”
And that conversation isn’t a one-time thing.
“We maintain contact with all the families that we’ve visited,” Gilliam said. “We’ve visited 18 gravesites in 12 states since September of 2015.”
What Gilliam says is most meaningful to him is talking to his fellow soldiers.
“Nobody understands like your brother that was with you,” Gilliam said. “As we started getting together, we realized that we brought clarity to the past. We started finding some healing.”
Gilliam gets together with Vietnam rifleman Bob Lister every reunion.
Lister says to this day he’s still surprised he’s a Charlie Company brother.
“I felt like a weak link and so I didn’t go for four years,” Lister said. “My first wife passed away and I remarried and my next wife said ‘You gotta go. These guys keep calling you and it’s only for a good reason.”
So when he finally went to a reunion.
“It was very very emotional,” Lister said. “And it’s the best thing I ever did in my life. And I never miss another one.”
Lister encourages other Vietnam veterans struggling in silence to seek help.
“It’s a big step to take but you’ll be so glad that you did,” Lister said.
The Charlie Company’s next reunion is tomorrow, Nov. 10 at 10 a.m.
The group will hold a memorial at College of the Ozarks to honor late Seargent Guy Shannon.
At the memorial, they will have a Soldiers Reflection, Guy’s story and more.