Hosted by Norm & Ollie Forsythe
Clarksville, Tennessee

 45 people from 15 states 

Norm wearing his mamasan hat in Nam

Reunion '95 host Norm Forsythe 'hams it up'
during one of his three tours in Vietnam. Is
that Swafford enjoying a laugh with him?


by Gary D. Harrington

Have your thoughts ever wandered back to your days in the military? Maybe on the 4th of July, when the smell of gunpowder is thick in the air and you can remember your old sergeant yelling, "Bring up more ammo, and keep your head down!"

Have you ever noticed those lists of Army units, ships' names, Marine Corps divisions and Air Force wings listed in the back of veterans' magazines: units announcing reunions, a chance for those that once served together to gather and rehash old stories and renew old friendships?

My interest in reunions began with my father's outfit. He served with the 99th Infantry Division in World War II.

The 99th had trained together, shipped overseas together and fought together in the Battle of the Bulge, crossed the bridge at Remagen and into the Rhineland, and those that survived came home together.

Each year since the end of the war, they have held a reunion. I remember attending one of these reunions as a child; and again in 1992, I accompanied my father to the 45th reunion in Orlando, Florida. It was interesting to see the comradeship of these "old guys" as they recalled, in great detail, events that occurred nearly fifty years ago. It was also inspiring to watch as they passed on the ceremonial bottle of cognac that is to be opened by the last surviving member of the unit, so that he might salute his fallen comrades. It was also enjoyable watching the old folks dance the jitterbug to the sounds of the big bands so popular during World War II, and it was heart wrenching to see the tears in the eyes of the old soldiers as they parted, many of whom would never meet again.

Imagine my surprise when 1 scanned the reunion section of the May edition of DAV Magazine (Disabled American Veterans) and came across, "7th Bn. 15th Artillery (Vietnam 1967-71). Clarksville, Tennessee July 6 - 9, 1995. Contact Norm Forsythe."

My unit was planning a reunion!

The 7/15th was a heavy artillery unit, assigned to the 41st Artillery Group, First Field Force Vietnam. It was made up of M110, 8-inch howitzers and M107, 175mm guns, both types self-propelled.

The unit served mainly in the II Corps area, with Headquarters at Phu Cat, then An Khe, and Pleiku.

I immediately sat down and wrote a short letter to Norm Forsythe explaining to him that I had served with Battery B from December 1968, until December 1969, and that I would be interested in attending the reunion.

A week or so passed and one day, when I had just pulled in the driveway after a hard day of work, my wife came running out the back door with the cordless phone. "It's the guy from the reunion," she explained, handing me the phone.

Norm had been the top sergeant, and had brought the battalion over on a ship; he had set it up and made it into a fighting force.

I had been little more than a buck private and back then, this man would have struck the fear of God in me.

But the years had melted this all away and now we were just two guys who had been in a similar situation, and had done the best we could with what we had to work with.

We immediately became the best of friends.

Norm explained that the reunion would be held at the Holiday Inn in Clarksville. He had arranged a bus trip to Fort Donnelson, the site of a Civil War battle, and a tour of Fort Campbell, a local army base, plus a dinner after the tour.

On Saturday, we would have a brunch and meeting in the Holiday Inn's Cumberland Room. He had also reserved two rooms to be used as hospitality rooms, a place for us to meet. All this for $50.00, plus my room. I told him, "I'm looking forward to it." He agreed to send me the information.

Norm's packet arrived a couple of days later. I filled it out and made my reservations at the Holiday Inn. I then arranged for vacation time from work, and started looking forward to the reunion.

There were several ways I could plan my transportation: first, I could arrange for air travel and rent a car, or perhaps take a bus; then of course, I could drive, using the Interstate system. I chose to drive.

If you plan to drive, it is best to plan your trip with a road map. Detailed information can be obtained from organizations like AAA (American Automobile Association). Even computerized programs will give you a detailed analysis of distance, road conditions, speed limits and the best time to pass through large cities to avoid rush hour traffic.

Then I remembered my father's reunion. They had what was called the "War Room", in which they exhibited memorabilia: those things you keep in a drawer or up in the attic like photos, books, old uniforms, orders, letters or anything that could possibly be of interest. At these reunions, there is always someone writing a book, looking for a lost friend or just wanting to touch a part of the past. The trip was pleasant; there is much to enjoy of this great country of ours along the Interstate system and I arrived at the Holiday Inn with plenty of time to check in, clean up and relax a bit before joining the old crowd.

The hospitality room was on the ground floor, facing the courtyard. There was a sign on the door that read, "7/15 Red Legs", I knocked, somebody pulled back the shades, looked, then opened the door. Everybody was talking at once, but they all stopped and looked up at me.

"Welcome!" A big man exclaimed from the far side of the room as he walked toward me with his hand reaching out to shake mine. "I'm Norm Forsythe, but everybody calls me Big Daddy, he said, firmly grabbing my hand. "Gary Harrington, B Battery", I replied. "You're the guy I talked to for so long on the phone".

Giving me a big bear hug, the kind Vietnam veterans give each other, Norm continued, "Let me show you around. This is Don Walters, Survey platoon, Chuck Alexander and his wife Susie, and Paul Hunter. Paul, you were with B Battery, weren't you"?

"Yes, I commanded B Battery the end of 1968 and the beginning of 1969", said the big man, standing up to shake my hand.

"I remember, you're the guy that used to pay me." I seemed to remember one of the few times I ever came in contact with my commanding officer. I could recall standing before his desk reporting, as he doled out my monthly supply of Military Payment Certificates, known as MPC's,. which was what we used for money in those days.

I took a beer from the cooler and found a seat by the window next to the man who had opened the door for me.

He introduced himself as Domingo Hernandez. He had been assigned to the ammo section. I recalled the trucks loaded with artillery rounds and powder that would come in to resupply us after those long fire missions, and always felt, "What a dangerous job that is, traveling at all hours in those trucks full of explosives, always exposed to sniper fire and ambush."

Domingo and I became fast friends as he told me that he now worked as a printer in Cedar Hill, Texas and liked to work on old VW's in his spare time. He had made the long trip by himself in hopes of meeting up with his old friend and mentor, Sergeant Tate.

Big Daddy announced that it was time to tour the local winery, a little side trip he had planned to a place where everyone could sample local wines and if they liked, could buy some at discount prices. Domingo and I agreed to stay behind in case others came along and would like to check in.

It wasn't long after the others had gone that two ladies came by. The older lady pointed to the sign on the door and asked if this was the reunion of the 15th Artillery. I told them the others had gone and would be back in an hour or so, and handed them the sign-in sheet. They signed in and agreed to be back soon. Then an older gentleman come by. He introduced himself as Norman Barnes; he had been the executive officer and had brought the unit over. I told him Big Daddy had taken the others to a winery, he smiled and said, "That sounds like Big Daddy." He signed in and said he would be back.

Things slowed down and I decided it was time to bring in my box of memorabilia. So Domingo and I went to my car and brought the old foot locker in. We decided I to make the adjoining room into the war room and as we displayed war relics, Domingo commented on how he had saved nothing and wished he had at least saved his Airborne Jump wings so he would have something to pass on to his grandchildren.

Before long, everybody started coming back and as Domingo and I sat in the hospitality room sipping on a cold beer, we were delighted by the excitement of the others as they found the treasures left for them in the War Room. I could hear voices call out, "You gotta see this stuff', and, "I remember this!"

Big Daddy came out and, with a bit of a tear in his eyes, asked, "Did you bring all this stuff?" Then he gave me a big Vietnam veterans hug.. That was my first big thrill. My second came later that night. As I stood outside talking to a couple of the guys, a familiar face walked up. I knew him, but I just couldn't put my finger on who he was. So I stopped him and asked, "Were you with B Battery?" "Yes, gun 3, 1969-70, Robert Payton."

"Oh, I remember, you were on my gun crew. I'm Gary Harrington."

"Oh yea! You were our driver", the short man from Ohio replied and, remembering all those nights we pulled guard duty, K.P. and filled sandbags together in the rain, we gave each other a big Vietnam veterans hug. Then I took him inside to reunite him with Paul Hunter, our Battery commander .

The rest of the night was filled with camaraderie and war stories that went on until the wee hours of the morning.

The next morning, I slept a little late, then went out and had breakfast. When I returned to my room, I was going through some papers when the phone rang. It was Domingo. "Hey, Man! You gotta get down here. There's some guy that says he knows you." I told him I'd be right there and hung up the phone.

The hospitality room was full and everybody was talking at once. I found a seat across from the sofa, where I noticed a woman sitting by herself. She had a name tag that read, "Suzy Griffin". Then it came to me; my gun sergeant was a guy named Tom Griffin.

Sergeant Griffin was all army, but in a good way. I remember sitting around the gun pit, and he would go on about how the Army had saved him from an otherwise destitute life and how he had met his wife while serving in Korea, and the love he had for her and his children.

I was about to introduce myself when Tom came into the room carrying a copy of my book (A Time of Innocence: A Time of Confidences: Dixie Press 1990). He was trying to explain to Suzy who I was and that he remembered me. I tapped him on the shoulder and our eyes met. It was like yesterday, though we were older, we were still the same. All those years and we still knew each other. A big Vietnam veterans hug.

Tom completed an illustrious army career and now he and Suzy live in Weston, Ohio, where they enjoy the company of their grandchildren. Tom's son, Tom, Jr., followed in his father's footsteps and is now assigned to the Artillery at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

The boys of Battery B continue to report in.

A little later, while standing outside chatting with some folks, a man approached, carrying a box full of bright red hats (for those of you that don't know, red is the color of the Artillery, as blue is for Infantry and yellow is for Cavalry). The hats had crossed cannons and the numbers 7/15, and read: "Big Guns are Ready". I stopped and asked about the hats and the man said they were $10.00, with the money going to support the 7/15 Artillery Association.

I, like most veterans, love a hat, so I bought one, then we got to talking.

His name was Bob Donnan, from McMurray, Pennsylvania. He was the one who started the whole thing.

The way he had first started was finding his old address book, the kind we all kept with the names and addresses of buddies we promised to keep in touch with, but never did. He found that many of these addresses and phone numbers were still good; the addresses and numbers belonging to parents, who would know how to contact the veterans, and those he found could contact others.

There are also vet-find programs, military and veteran newsletters and magazines that can aid in finding someone.

Bob found that once he compiled a list of names, a newsletter of his own maintained enthusiasm and informed the others. This is what made the whole thing work.

The bus trip began sharply at 13:00 hours. Sergeant Griffin and Suzy sat across from me and Captain Hunter and his wife in the seat in front of them. We told war stories and reminisced as the bus made its way through the beautiful hills and valleys of northern Tennessee.

Our first stop was Fort Donnelson. It had been a stronghold of the Confederacy along the Cumberland River during the American Civil War. The Confederate forces held valiantly until overcome by the Union forces, led by Ulysses S. Grant, in the cold winter of 1862.

Mostly, I felt a kinship with these men, the Confederates meeting with defeat and led off to prison camps, the Yankees savoring their hard won victory then marching off to fight again.

In the end there are no winners, no losers, just those that survived.

Then it was back on the bus.

Our next stop was Fort Campbell. Fort Campbell is the home of the 101st Airborne Division. To relate to my father's division, the 99th, the 101st also fought in the Battle of the Bulge. When surrounded in the town of Bastogne and asked to surrender by the Germans, the Commanding General, Anthony McAuliffe, simply replied, "Nuts", and the unit held.

At the museum, we were greeted by the young service men and women of today. The exhibit consisted of artifacts and displays from World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam and today's Army. It was strange to see artifacts from my own war, so much time has passed, but it feels good to be part of history.

We stood, once again as a group, in front of the museum as the women snapped photos for remembrances.

As we stood posing in our bright red hats, I realized that next time, it would not be just us men standing here, but the women too.

Our last stop was the Sportsman Lodge for dinner .

We sat at long tables and were served generous portions of Wiener Schnitzel with onion gravy, German coleslaw, rolls and large glasses of iced tea to wash it all down.

After dinner, a few of us stepped out front to enjoy the scenery. The lodge overlooked a bend in the river, and as we sat, several deer ran through the woods along the bank. We were amazed at their beauty, but came to realize that none of us, since the war, had felt the urge to hunt.

After a nap, I returned to the hospitality room, and that's where I met Dan Gillotti. Dan is a retired Master Sergeant who had started his career in the 7/15th.

Later, I noticed the two ladies that Domingo and I had I signed-in the day before. The older lady introduced herself as Barbara Penn from El Paso, Texas.

She explained that her husband, LTC Raymond B. Penn, Jr. had commanded the 7/15th until his death in a fiery helicopter crash on December 1, 1970. The crash also claimed the life of SMAJ Laverne D. Coyle, the battalion's top sergeant, along with the pilot WO Stephen C. Sellett and the Personnel Officer, CWO Kenneth E. Crayne Their names appear in order on the Wall in Washington, D.C.

Mrs. Penn had brought her daughter, Marsha, to meet some of the men that had served with her husband, and her son, Mark, would be joining them on Sunday. Some others wanted to talk to Mrs. Penn, so I turned to Marsha.

Marsha, an attractive young lady, explained that she worked as a corporate lawyer for a major oil company in Houston, Texas. I guess the question she asked that haunted me most was, "Why?" Why had this wonderful, loving man, her father, have to go off to this horrible war and die? As a veteran, I have asked myself this same question many times. I guess we went for many reasons, but for most, we went because our country asked us to. And we ask, why did so many others die, but we didn't; and so many others were crippled or disabled, but we weren't. I guess this is a question that can only be answered by God.

Later, she revealed the story of the day they found out I that her father had died. She was just 12 years old at the time. She knew something was wrong, because the house was filled with family and friends; everyone was in a somber mood.

Her father was due to come home in a couple of weeks, about Christmas time. Her mother had ordered a new recliner chair for his homecoming, and the chair was being delivered when a group of officers arrived with the news of her father's death. Everyone was in tears.

She just wanted the chair to go away; she just wanted the man to take the chair and put it back on the truck and make it go away.

I guess Marsha and Mrs. Penn helped me realize that it was not just us, the soldiers, who had suffered alone, but the wives, children, sweethearts and loved ones that suffered as well.

This brought me to the next group I wanted to talk to: the wives.

I found them seated in a semi-circle, outside on the grassy courtyard, the bright Tennessee moon shining down on them. They talked of children, grandchildren, their homes and the best shopping around. But they also spoke of politics, religion and a better world for tomorrow.

When asked how they felt about coming to the reunion, they replied that it was part of a well-needed vacation, joining this with other points of interest along the way. Some had been Army wives and had been stationed at the same places as the others. They all shared an interest in their husbands and the sentimentality of how they felt and related to one another .They all agreed that, despite all the war stories, they were having a good time.

As the evening ended and I returned to my room, I felt an inner peace and kinship with these people that I had never felt before. I guess its just a way of knowing we were not alone out there.

Saturday morning, I had a nice, continental breakfast, then a swim in the pool and relaxed in the whirlpool and sauna, helped Big Daddy restock the beer in the hospitality room, then returned to dress for our brunch.

The brunch was held in the Cumberland room; you could have called it a dinner or just a meeting. Its a time when decisions are made, and those that brought this off were honored.

It began with a wonderful buffet with everything from scrambled eggs to biscuits and gravy.

After we ate, the meeting was called to order, with Big Daddy presiding. He introduced himself and his wife, Ollie, Bob Donnan and Dan Gillotti, then asked each of us to stand in turn, introduce ourselves and tell what part of the unit we served in and in what year. Then the hat was passed to support the Association. Some jokes and stories were told. We decided the next reunion would tentatively be held in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1998. You can get your name on the mailing list by writing Dave Holdorf.

Big Daddy and Bob Donnan were presented with 'The Honorable Order of St. Barbara' medals. St. Barbara is the patron saint of artillerymen. Both men richly deserved the honor.

The meeting was adjourned and we all went back to the hospitality room just to sit around and talk.

Later after dinner, we returned to the Cumberland Room to be entertained Nashville style by the Tennessee Highway Men. I gave a try at the twist, cowboy style, with Susie Alexander. I did the best I could, but I'm a bit rusty. Susie and her husband, Chuck, are hosting the next reunion in Louisville.

After that we mostly just sat and talked and reminisced.

I guess the conclusion we came to was that our Vietnam experiences were a time during which we never felt so alive and in all these years because of the nature of the war, we never spoke of those things. The reunion had given us the opportunity to do that.

In the morning, I packed. At 0900, we met at the hospitality room. Then we gathered in the courtyard. Mrs. Penn and the twins, Mark and Marsha at her side, led us in prayer. Then Big Daddy read the names of our fallen comrades, those that had died in the war; then those that had passed on since. After we hugged and said our goodbyes.

I promised Sergeant Griffin, Captain Hunter and Bob Payton that I'd keep in touch and that I'd see them at the next reunion, then I headed home.

As I stopped at the gas station to fill up, I ran into my friend, Domingo. He was off in search of his sergeant - the one that didn't come.

I told him I'd keep in touch; he said I probably wouldn't. I did. I sent him his paratrooper wings.

As I made my way home through the beautiful wooded hillsides of Tennessee, I remembered them all. They had become more than just part of my past. They had become part of my family. 

=the end=


Thanks to Andy Sanford and Ollie Forsythe
for sending most of these reunion photos!

click thumbnail photos to enlarge


Left side of the formation at Reunion '95 in Clarksville.  Hats were artillery red during this 2nd reunion (note the bright yellow hat from the 1st reunion).



Right side of the formation. Some members of the '95 reunion group didn't go along on the bus tour, when these group photos were taken.


Norm receiving his Honorable Order of St Barbara award

Two awards of the 'Honorable Order of Saint Barbara' were made. Norm Forsythe is shown here displaying his award certificate.


Norm with the St Barbara ribbon around his neck

Former 7/15 battalion executive officer Norm Barnes made the Saint Barbara award presentations during the group business meeting on Saturday.


Bob receiving the Honorable Order of St Barbara award

Bob Donnan displaying his 'Honorable Order of Saint Barbara' certificate.

"The order links field artillerymen of the past and present in a brotherhood of professionalism, selfless service and sacrifice symbolized by Saint Barbara"


Big Daddy and the ladies

Ernestine Suhler joins Ollie and Norm Forsythe at the Fort Donnelson Civil War historical site in Dover, TN, during the group bus tour.


Bus tour stop

Fort Donnelson gun emplacements


LTC Penn's family

LTC Raymond B. Penn, Jr.'s family, Mark, Barbara, and Marsha Penn attended the '95 reunion and conducted the Memorial Service on Sunday morning.


Sharing some memories

Norm Forsythe shares war stories with Norm Barnes. Each reunion participant took part in recording an audio cassette tape with recollections they had of the war.


Phil Maughan paying close attention to the proceedings

Phil Maughan watches the proceedings. Fearless leadership of the Commo Section in 1971 prepared him well for his present day banking career.


Taking in a picture show at Ft Campbell

The reunion group watches a movie at the Ft. Campbell museum during one stop on the bus tour.  Ft Campbell, Kentucky is home to the Army's 101st Airborne Division "Screaming Eagles"


Display at the Ft Campbell museum

Museum display case showing uniforms of the Vietnam War.
"No less than six different types of jungle fatigues were worn by Screaming Eagles"


Little did this couple (on the left) know they would be drafted into hosting the next reunion!

Chuck & Susie Alexander (left) of Kentucky and Paul & Birgit Hunter (right) of Washington state.


Behind every great historian is a great woman

15th Field Artillery Regiment Historian Dan Gillotti of Ohio attended his first 7/15th reunion with his wife Theresa.


Little did this man know he would someday be the editor of a famous newspaper

Mrs. Proctor keeps Gary Harrington company while he enjoys a cold one with his fellow 'redlegs.'


Gary Harrington's war collection

Gary Harrington used the second meeting room at the hotel to set up his large collection of Vietnam War artifacts.


Sitting around shooting the breeze....

Ken Suhler (right) enjoys a cold one while swapping tales with renowned storyteller Jack Boggs.


and the band played on...

The "Tennessee Trail Hands" get the group moving at the motel on Saturday night.


Norm 'cutting the rug' at Reunion '95

Is that 'Big Daddy' (Norm Forsythe) dancing with Susie Alexander? Susie and Chuck volunteered to host the next reunion (1998) in Louisville, Kentucky.


Tom and Suzy Griffin from Ohio

Suzy and Tom Griffin look over one of the many photo albums fellow veterans brought along with them.  It had been almost 30 years since Tom served with the battalion in Vietnam.


Domingo relaxing after stocking the cooler

Domingo Hernandez drove up from Texas to join some of his brothers from Battery B. Here he takes a well deserved break after stocking the coolers.


Ollie and Norm relax for a moment

The 'sparkplugs' behind this event were Ollie and Norm Forsythe. Everything went off without a hitch, and Norm credited Ollie with most of the accolades for the reunion's success.


Dan, Norm and Barbara reflect on the Vietnam War

15th Historian Dan Gillotti (left) studies a photo album with Norm Barnes and Barbara Penn. Dan served in battalion FDC during his tour with the 7/15th.


Another famous Texan attended the reunion too

Dennis Heidbreder volunteered to bring his computer to Reunion '98 to scan photos of the 7/15th's tour in Vietnam. Someday he plans to make the CD available to other veterans.


Marsha Penn enjoying the reunion

Marsha Penn joined her mother and one of her brothers at the reunion. Her father, LTC Raymond B. Penn, Jr. was close to the end of his tour as 7/15th Battalion Commander when he perished with 3 other members of the battalion in a helicopter crash.


...and this was that little Saigon Tea house in Phu Cat

Phil "Airborne" Maughan enjoys a lighter moment, while Dan Gillotti (left) displays his photo album.




15th Reunion Pages

  Reunion Homepage

  1992 Reunion - Pittsburgh, PA

  1995 Reunion - Clarksville, TN

  1998 Reunion - Louisville, KY

  7/15th Mini-Reunion - Kenosha, WI

  2001 Reunion - Ft. Sill, OK

  2/15th Reunions, Fort Wainwright

  2003 Reunion - Ft. Bragg, NC