Authored by Steve Hopper, 3rd Platoon, Charlie Company, 4th /47th , 9th Infantry Division
It is with great pleasure and an honor to provide some background and experiences about William (Bill) L Reynolds. Bill was one of those few people you meet in life with which you simply connect with, you enjoy one another’s company and in doing so, you give thanks to our Lord for putting someone like him in your life. He became a treasured and valued friend and a brother. Please allow me to set the stage on how we met, circumstances in our lives that brought two total strangers together and all this developing into best friends.
Bill and I first met as draftees in Fort Riley Kansas in June 1966 when the 9 th Infantry Division was reactivated for Vietnam. We survived the 6 months of extensive Infantry training followed by the 19-day journey to Vietnam on the USS General John Pope with the rest of our brigade. While I could write more of our tour of 12 months in Vietnam, it is all captured in a book “The Boys of 67” written by Dr. Andrew Wiest and those experiences are such a major part of how we became brothers, friends to the end and developed a lifetime of respect for one another. We went to Nam as 18–19-year-old boys and left as 19–20-year-old men. You see, on any given day each one of us witnessed success, death, tragedy, and tears. When we arrived in January 1967, our Charlie Company was 160 strong and in October 1967, just 10 months later, only 30 of the originals remained. We had experienced an 80% casualty rate with 106 fellow soldiers wounded and 27 killed in action. I remember Bill Reynolds once stating, “In the beginning you were scared. You then realized none of us were going to make it home and you were no longer scared. But then, as our time grew shorter in country and you were still alive, you became scared again because, you realized you might make it home.” That was my first 18 months of knowing Bill Reynolds and those 18 months made such an impression on me, an impression that would be treasured the rest of my life.
I am saddened to admit that after Vietnam, many of us lost touch with many of our fellow Veterans. Each of us came home with not so good memories of what we had just experienced as we dropped back into society. We got jobs, got married, got a mortgage, as we struggled with and dealt with our past, mostly in private. We became policemen, fathers, farmers, managers and after many years, we began finding one another again. Across the country there were small groups getting back together while the underlying thought and yearning was, let’s get Charlie Company back together and in 1989, we had our first Charlie Company Reunion. I will never forget the healing that took place as we gathered in Las Vegas for the first time in 21 years. It was absolutely a cherished moment for all of us to be in the company of those we fought beside and defended 21 years earlier.
A turning point for all. As we got reacquainted with our fellow brothers and wives, we took pictures, exchanged phone numbers, addresses, etc. as if we “now” understood how important each one of us was to the other. This was such a feeling which we wanted to continue. We had been missing that. After that first reunion in 1989 and several other reunions, Bill Reynolds and I seem to have been handed the torch to plan the next reunion, and the next one and the next one and in doing so, my friendship and respect for Bill grew. We frequently contacted each other as we planned the next reunion or to just check in on one another. Over the next 30 years, Bill and I planned and arranged many reunions in Washington DC, San Antonio, St Louis, Las Vegas, Atlanta, and New Orleans where our book “The Boys of 67” was released. At one such reunion in Washington DC, Charlie Company was honored to attend the Premier showing of our Documentary “Brothers In War” at National Geographic Corporate Headquarters. And, while in DC and as the good Lord continued to bless us, we laid one of our Lieutenants to rest at Arlington Cemetery. These moments of both celebration and loss enriched our lives and further strengthened the bond of all of us. Bonds so strong and cherished that Bill, his wife Meg, my wife Jennifer and I later traveled to meet in NYC to attend the Emmy Nomination Awards for our documentary “Brothers In War” in 2015.
These years after Vietnam, meaningful moments at reunions and getting back together were such a time of joy, laughter, smiles, hugs, and healing for everyone and Bill was such a vital part of this. Our reunions became a time to pay respects to our fallen as we read every name of Veterans we lost in Vietnam and, since returning home. Bill and I witnessed so many Veterans making peace with their past as they were able to let go of some of the baggage we each carried. And as Bill and I planned and schemed the next reunion, it became our goal to encourage our fellow brothers to attend and witness the love and happiness as we celebrated life and one another and helping everyone find that peace. I found it interesting, because of Bill’s reach, or, number of contacts within the 9 th Infantry Division of which he had maintained and nurtured, we found Veterans outside of Charlie Company asking to attend our reunions. While past reunions had pretty much been limited to Charlie Company Veterans, we both realized that anytime we could help a fellow Veteran heal by spending time with fellow Veterans, was not only sought after but it became our mission, our purpose. It was a privilege, a labor of love and honor to plan, execute, and be trusted to give leadership to so many successful reunions.
In April 2016, Bill and I journeyed back to Vietnam as a guest of TGGF (The Greatest Generations Foundation). Bill had been contacted by TGGF and he contacted me asking if I would be one of the four Veterans from Charlie Company on this inaugural program by TGGF. I thought to myself, if I were to return to Vietnam, I could not choose better partners to be with than Bill Reynolds, Larry Lilley, and Gary Maibach. During our 10 days in Vietnam, we laughed, we cried, and we prayed as we revisited many former areas of operation back in 1967. One such place revisited was our June 19, 1967 battlefield in Ap Bac in the Mekong Delta. It was there that Alpha, Bravo and Charlie Companies lost 43 men killed in action with countless wounded. As we revisited this place 49 years later, we planted a cross in the ground in memory of those killed and we said a prayer of reconciliation after we read the 43 names. As we stood, we then met a man who had been a VC or Viet Cong and we learned this man fought against us on June 19, 1967. As he fought against us that day, we learned we had wounded him during the battle. Upon learning this Bill removed his cap, looked at me and pointed to a miniature Purple Heart pinned to his cap. Bill never said a word and didn’t need to as I knew exactly what he was thinking. I said to “Bill, we’ve got to do this”. At that point Bill removed the Purple Heart from his cap, we explained the significance of this award to our interpreter. and he presented it to our former enemy. Our good Lord could not have scripted a more perfect moment of reconciliation, forgiveness and understanding. This was a beautiful moment which brought peace to each of us.
After our inaugural trip in April 2016, Bill and I were honored to become Ambassadors of TGGF and in June 2017, we hosted 17 other Veterans back to Nam. We revisited many of the same areas and in fact returned to the June 19, 1967 battlefield exactly 50 years later to the day, June 19, 2017. Our experience was nothing short of “outstanding” as Bill, Larry, Gary, and I became shoulders for these 17 Veterans to lean on as they too unloaded some heavy baggage after so many years. Healing took place and demons were let go.
Bill Reynolds was just one of the catalysts to make this happen. In November 2017, President Donald Trump was to be in DaNang Vietnam on Veteran’s Day. As luck would have it, Bill Reynolds, 4 other veterans and I were flown to DaNang to be with President Trump where he recognized and celebrated the Vietnam Veteran on Veteran’s Day and signed a commemorative document of the war having occurred 50 years earlier. I have never seen Bill Reynolds so excited. After President Trump spoke, we were given an opportunity to speak. Bill and I spoke with pride and smiles on are faces as all of us were so excited and honored to be a part of this unforgettable and historical opportunity.
As I conclude my remarks about my treasured friend Bill Reynolds, I have taken the lead on planning another reunion in Las Vegas on June 13 – 14, 2023 but, without the assistance of Bill Reynolds. I regret to say we will be reading Bill’s name on June 14th. You see, Bill passed away on January 11, 2021, and we will proudly remember and honor him as one of our fallen. At the same time, I am pleased to see we have 96 attendees at this reunion of which 46 are Veterans. Of those 46, 21 are Veterans from other companies. Bill Reynolds would be proud to see we are maintaining our mission and purpose to include others and “Let the healing begin”.
In conclusion, Bill served as our “Sparkplug” for so many occasions for Charlie Company, his local “Signal” newspaper where he interviewed Veterans to tell their stories, and throughout his community where he gave leadership to so many Veteran projects, Memorials, etc. Bill is the guy that will forever be missed and talked about. He was a devoted Veteran who loved his country and was a champion for all Veterans. He was a devoted father and husband and friend like no other. I am so honored to know him, to have fought beside him, to have walked beside him and will cherish this man and what he stood for until I join him. Bill Reynolds touched so many lives and enriched each one he touched. I once read that Hero’s die, but Legends live on. Bill would fall into the latter. Rest In Peace Brother.
3rd Platoon, Charlie Company, 4th /47th , 9th Infantry Division