Vietnam vets from USS Biddle meet in N.Y. reunion
Watertown Daily Times
NORWOOD, N.Y. — Some of the USS Biddle’s crew members meet every year to continue friendships formed in the waters of Vietnam. They come from Dallas and Minneapolis, Alabama and Canton to catch up and remember their time in the Navy.
This year, seven of them met Thursday in Norwood, home of former Biddle crew members Ronald L. Clark and Gerald A. Pieprzyk. A third, David Dox, lives in Canton.
All of them worked in the engineering department of the missile cruiser that served throughout the Vietnam War. They grew close during their time together; in the ship’s cramped quarters they had no choice.
“You couldn’t get any closer unless you were in the same blanket,” Mr. Clark said.
Mr. Clark retrieved a cruise book from their 1969 deployment, and the group looked at pictures from service days.
“Who’s that good-looking guy?” joked Phillip C. Pink, Minneapolis, pointing to a picture of a young man in a naval uniform. “Oh, that’s me.”
The ship traveled 55,000 miles during its 1969 deployment, departing from Norfolk, Va. The ship stopped in Hawaii on its way to the Gulf of Tonkin, Vietnam, where it served as a carrier escort during the war. On the way back to the United States, the crew visited Hong Kong, Japan and Manila.
Each of them served during two deployments.
The experiences were especially jarring for Kenneth R. Ford, a country boy from Eastaboga, Ala., who grew up in a home with no plumbing. He had his first slice of pizza while stationed in Boston.
Mr. Ford remembers the USO coming on board to entertain the crew, especially a performance by Maureen Reagan, daughter of future President Ronald Reagan. The men left the service in the early 1970s, returning to their homes to start new lives and new families. Some used the mechanical skills they learned in the Navy to find employment.
In 1980, a few of them found each other and met to catch up and discuss old times. The reunions have become an annual event. As technology improved, it became easier for the Biddle’s crew members to find one another and the reunions grew.
“The Internet put a lot of us together. It’s lucky that we got together,” Mr. Ford said.
The reunions take place in a different location every year. This year is the crew’s first time meeting in St. Lawrence County, and they plan to take in nearby landmarks such as Boldt Castle and Lake Placid during the weekend.
Their wives come along for the trip and often make plans of their own.
“We’ll have a women’s day and we’ll go do something crazy,” said Mr. Ford’s wife, Nora H. Ford.
Over the years the women have grown just as close as their husbands.
“It’s like getting to see your sister every year,” said Mr. Pink’s wife, Barbara J. Pink.
The reunions let the Biddle’s members see how much things have changed and how much they have stayed the same.
“You haven’t really changed, except you got a little grayer, a little bigger around the waist,” Mr. Clark said.
The group used to get together, crack open a beer and shoot the breeze. Things haven’t changed all that much, they say, although these days they bring their wives along, and their conversations turn to topics such as Social Security or their children’s and grandchildren’s exploits.
The bonds they made have been unbreakable. They will often call other crew members who couldn’t make it to the reunion to catch up long distance.
“Over 40 years, we’re still friends,” Mr. Clark said.