The Muskegon Chronicle, Tuesday, October 21, 1997
Vietnam War buddies reunite in big way
By Loretta Robinson CHRONICLE STAFF WRITER
Dennis Hayes is a Vietnam veteran who's flying high these days. A former Marine, Hayes will reunite this week for the second time since May with war buddy Keith Kohlmann of Chicago after a 30-year separation.
The two men will travel to Washington, D.C., Thursday to be with other war veterans visiting the Wall at the Vietnam Memorial.
Hayes also will participate in the Marine Marathon Sunday that will begin and end at the Iwo Jima (Marine Corps) Statue.
Hayes and Kohlmann's agenda includes a stop at the Wall and the 26- mile race where Hayes will be joined by friend and former Whitehall runner John Vihtelic of Maryland.
Vihtelic lost part of his left leg in a 1976 car accident in the mountainous region of Washington and is known for his participation in local and national runs, the AXA World Ride 95 and efforts to promote awareness of disabled athletes.
Hayes isn't sure what will be the highlight of his trip because so many plans have been made, but he knows it's all the result of a modern technology.
"I knew he (Kohlmann) had survived the battle but when we returned home (soon after the rescue on the hill), we lost contact," Hayes said. "He found me on the Internet this year."
"He contacted me just prior to Memorial Day. He came up here during the holiday weekend, his wife and him, and we started making plans for this run."
Hayes had been looking for Kohlmann for years but searching under an incorrect spelling of his buddy's name.
Hayes enlisted into the service in1966 at age 21. He was in Vietnam for 14 months, serving seven months with Kohlmann in the Mike Company, Third Battalion, Seventh Marine Division.
An artillery assault that stormed Dineen Hill outside of Da Nang, Vietnam, on Nov. 3, 1967, saved his life and the lives of his entrapped platoon, including Kohlmann, as the North Vietnamese Army closed in around them.
"The Huey (Puff the Magic Dragon) Gunship came in, walked the hill twice and that was it," Hayes said. Only 25 Marines from the 56-man unit survived the battle that night.
"I survived because I was with the guy in control of calling the artillery and air control there," he said. "I just happened to be in the right place."
"He's still a wonderful fellow," Hayes said of Kohlmann after their first meeting in Muskegon this spring. "I couldn't have made it without him. We were real close. We helped each other out to get through the bad times, the mosquitoes, bullets, everything."
For Hayes, it will be his first trip to the Wall and his first marathon.
He physically and mentally prepared for the race under the training of local runner Tim Bloomberg, who also will travel with Hayes and Kohlmann to Washington, D.C., and participate in the Marine Marathon.
Hayes believes his journey east might serve as a closure to some of his war memories.
"It's one of those emotional things for us guys who were over there," he said. "It was hard when everyone was against it (the war), and we were over there. I lost a lot of good friends for a stupid cause in a lot of ways. It was a political war. It was a war that was never meant to be won. We didn't fight it that way."