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February 17, 2016

In Search of My Father (Part 2)

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Guest blogger Ron Reyes’ continuing story of his search to discover more about his father who was killed in action at Khe Sanh on March 30, 1968.

“We weren’t in Khe Sanh.” I am wondering what he is talking about. “We were overlooking it on a hill. Well, Ron, it was a bad day; there were a lot of bad days. We were sharing the first beer we had had in a month. The beer was warm, but it might as well have been the finest wine. Tommy had just gotten up out of the trench to grab an ammo box when BAM, incoming. Tommy goes down and it is not good.”

Pete skips through the next sequence of events. I find out later that Pete jumped out of the trench to grab Tommy as mortar rounds were splashing all over the place. He carries Tommy and BOOM gets knocked down, picks up Tommy and, BAM, down again. One more time, and WHAM. This time he makes it to the trench. Those few yards must have seemed like a football field. Pete gets to the edge and my dad is the first one there to help out. They grab a stretcher, put Tommy in it, and away they go. The group gets moving, BOOM, they drop Tommy. This is not Tommy’s day. Get going again, and BLAM. Silence, or so it seemed. Everyone was hit. My dad was killed and Pete was hit badly. I talked to Pete for about an hour. “He was a good Marine,” he said. Wow, this has really come together. Pete gave me a phone number for a Bill Cassell and told me to call. I called as soon as I hung up.

The answering machine picks up. I figure I had better leave a message. “Hi, this is Ron Reyes. I am Ronnie Reyes’ son. Pete gave me your number.” The phone picks up, “Hello,” silence, Bill was trying to get over the shock. He didn’t go to the reunion and hadn’t talked to Eddie or Pete. He said he was staring at the answering machine while his wife was telling him to pick up the phone. Bill watched everything happen that day. He knew my dad was killed. He knew my dad was going to have a child. He knew he was from La Puente, California. For the next 30 years Bill would wonder what happened to me. Was I a boy or a girl? He would drive to La Puente a couple of times and try to find our family, but no luck, and now here I am on the phone. We talked for about an hour. “Your dad was a good Marine.”

Ron "Baby Sanh" Reyes posing in a mortar pit with a  60 mm mortar. Photo courtesy of Ron Reyes.

Ron “Baby Sanh” Reyes posing in a mortar emplacement with a 60 mm mortar tube. Photo courtesy of Ron Reyes.

At this point, I am still not sure what to tell my grandparents. I talk to my mother after each phone call. She is happy, sad, excited, and scared, not really sure what to do, except let me figure it out. I should explain a little about my mom. She raised me on her own, made sure I had everything I needed and just about everything I wanted. My mother made sure that I never lost contact with my grandparents and that I spent a lot of time with them.

Thursday night the phone rings.

This time I answer the phone. “Hello, I’m looking for Ronnie Reyes.” “This is Ron.” Silence. I am getting used to this now. “My name is Tommy, and I knew your Dad.” I can’t wait for the rest of the story, and then I get thrown for a loop. “It was a bad day, and I don’t remember much of it. I was hit and your dad was one of the guys who helped me.” I had just assumed that Tommy “T” Wallis had been killed. This was great news. It was in this moment that I realized that my father didn’t die in vain, but for a fellow Marine, a 1/9er, and a brother. We spoke for about an hour.

Now I have to tell my grandparents. I make the call. I start talking really fast. My grandparents aren’t sure what I am trying to say. I finally stop and say, “I just talked to some men who were with my father in Vietnam.” I can tell they don’t know what to do. “Grandma, would you like to talk to them?” She doesn’t hesitate and says, “Yes.” I think I gave her Pete’s number. They spoke to a couple of 1/9ers over the next few days. They were happy I made contact.

Ron "Baby Sanh" Reyes holding a M1911A1 .45 caliber pistol while relaxing in a bunker. Photo courtesy of Ron Reyes.

Ron “Baby Sanh” Reyes holding a M1911A1 .45 caliber pistol while relaxing in a bunker. Photo courtesy of Ron Reyes.

On October 25th, 1998, my own son Ronnie was born. It is fun listening to my mom say, “Aye, Ronnie, you’re just like your dad.”

January of 2000, Tommy calls and wants to know if I would like to get together with him and Pete and go fishing some time later in the year. I have to go. This is the moment I have been waiting for. “One last thing, don’t tell Pete.” What? “It is a surprise. I’m going to tell Pete we are going to drive out to California after the fishing trip and meet you for a day.” I talk with Pete on and off and arrange a date and time to meet him. I fly to Tommy’s hometown to meet Tommy at the airport. We stop in the bar to break the ice and have a beer. Ok, maybe a couple. We pick Pete up and I introduce myself as Eddie Martinez.

Tommy explains how he is going to drop me off on the way to their fishing trip. We drive for about an hour and a half and stop at a gas station. I have been having a conversation with Pete about how he is going to meet his friend’s son, Ron. He tells me he is about my age. We stop at a gas station to take a break, and Tommy says he wants to take a picture. “Hey, Eddie, hand him your card.” Ok, I hand Pete my business card, he looks at it and smiles, and turns back to the camera. “Read it, Pete.” Ok, Citibank. He turns back to the camera. “Read the whole thing!” Why is it such a big deal? He reads it out loud, “Ron Reyes,” turns back to the camera, pauses, then he turns back to me. “I am Ronnie Reyes’ son.” After we have a moment, we are on our way. We proceed to badger and laugh at Pete for a while.

We spent a few days in Mexico. Then we drove to MCRD San Diego for graduation. We saw the last of the Quonset huts. Then we drove up towards LA. We stopped by the cemetery where my father is buried. Then we met with my Mom and had dinner. The next day my grandparents and my aunt arrived, and we spent all day together.

This is where my story ends…or so I think…

Next week, Ron continues with his story about searching for clues about who his father was and his resultant journey.

Ron Reyes lives in Moorpark, California. He has been married to his wife Lori for 23 years and is the father of 2. His son Ronnie is a junior in high school. His daughter Danielle is a junior in college and lives just 2 blocks north of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC.

Ron "Baby Sanh" Reyes on the left. Unknown on the right. Relaxing. Photo courtesy of Ron Reyes.

Ron “Baby Sanh” Reyes on the left. Unknown on the right. Relaxing. Photo courtesy of Ron Reyes.

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