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Jim Daley was raised in Meade County and has spent almost all his life there.
Barry Adams was raised in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and has spent almost all his life there.
They met briefly a world away from home in Southeast Asia. Today, they plan to meet again for the first time in 43 years.
Daley and his wife, Shirley, are coordinating a Memorial Day weekend reunion for his former Army unit, the 2nd Brigade, 8th Infantry. A notice about the gathering on Page 52 of the March issue of VFW Magazine caught Adams’ attention.
Daley remembers their first telephone call vividly.
“He said, ‘I owe you 43 years of my life.’”
Adams said he’s driving seven hours from his Iowa home to meet Daley — the man who saved his life in Vietnam. He’s thought about Daley’s name frequently since they met briefly under heavy gunfire Oct. 28, 1969, in the central highlands of Vietnam.
Adams, who was assigned to the 69th Armor’s 1st Battalion, was traveling in a tank that struck a mine. He recalls being hurled by the explosion into a stand of rubber trees and bamboo. He describes the mangled body of a young lieutenant nearby and continual North Vietnamese gunfire.
A bullet whizzed by his ear so close the sound of its movement still echoes in his mind. He was struck in the shoulder and the shooting continued.
Adams admits to being frightened for his life.
His armor scouts were providing tank support for Daley’s group of personnel carriers. Daley, who was 24 at the time, remembers being under fire and seeing a fellow soldier injured and bleeding.
“I jumped down off that track vehicle. Guys were screaming and hollering at me saying, ‘Daley, leave him. Daley, get back here. He’s gone.”
That’s when Adams first heard Daley’s name. While he can’t recall Daley’s face or features, he remembers a soft, southern drawl and that name.
“For 43 years, I’ve thought of that name,” Adams said Wednesday.
Daley grabbed Adams and helped him onto his armored personnel carrier, which quickly moved toward a clearing where a medical evacuation helicopter was available.
“I knew we took him up to that chopper,” Daley said.
For him, that’s where the story ended. “I went on with my life.”
That is, until he received that telephone call from Adams.
Under the care of medical staff, Adams recovered quickly and completed his tour in Vietnam. He said he tried to locate Daley to say thanks.
“I kept trying to find him,” Adams said. “They were always in the field or away from camp. Then we moved base camp and I never found him.”
That thank you will be offered today at the Golden Manor Motel in Muldraugh where 18 members of Daley’s unit are gathering.
Daley said he decided to coordinate the reunion because his two years and 14 days in the military had become “a dark hole in my life ... and I wanted to fill that hole.”
Returning from the war was a confusing experience.
“At the time, I thought I did an outstanding thing for my country,” the Flaherty resident said. “I got home and I didn’t know any more. People didn’t like us very much.”
So he was quiet about his service. He worked at a concrete plant and later retired from AT&T. Now 67, he describes his blended family by saying, “We raised three kids, a couple nephews and a brother-in-law.”
He never had used a computer before deciding 18 months ago to search for some wartime buddies.
“I’ve had a good life. The Lord has been very good to me,” Daley said. “I wanted to see how good the Lord was to the other guys.”
A few connections led to reunion plans and the chance connection with Adams, who also now is retired from a company that manufacturers road paving equipment.
Returning to Iowa after the war, he met the daughter born during his Army service and later had a son. He became a master Mason, is a life member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and belongs to the Vietnam Veterans of America and the Purple Heart Association.
He has lived a full life.
When they first met in a Vietnam killing field, the two young men’s eyes reflected their fears. Today, Daley expects older eyes accompanied by tears.
“It gets to me when I tell my story,” he said.
Ben Sheroan can be reached at (270) 505-1764 or firstname.lastname@example.org.