The Return of Delta Co.
By Geoff Belcher
Jun 17, 2014, 20:22
Vietnam veterans from the Delta Co. of the 1st Battalion, 6th Marines, reunite at the Bay St. Louis home of Jim Mallini.
Members of Delta Co. of the 1st Battalion, 6th Marines, made their sixth annual pilgrimage to Bay St. Louis last week to reunite, reminisce and, hopefully, heal a little bit more at the home of their one-time drill sergeant and surrogate father, Jim Mallini.
"It's a great group of guys," Mallini – better known to the locals as the long-time proprietor of Mallini Insurance Co. – said at the last reunion. "They went on ambushes every night. I was the company gunny (gunnery sergeant), so I made the assignments.
"I put a lot of this company in body bags. I put a lot more of 'em in medi-vac helicopters. I'm thankful to them because they kept my ass alive."
Unfortunately, illness sidelined Mallini this year, so he missed most of the reunion even though it happened at his own home.
Mallini both trained and served with Delta Company which fought some of the bloodiest battles in Vietnam from March 1966 until April 1970.
Mallini served in the USMC from June 1954 until March 1976.
Mallini is aided in his hosting efforts each year by neighbors like Dr. Andrew Martinolich, who opens spare bedrooms to the veterans; and Ed Bunol, who cooks for Delta Co. all weekend long.
Platoon Sgt. Robert Long hosted the reunions until he died seven years ago. Mallini has hosted them ever since, but a small shrine to Long is on display at every reunion. The shrine grew last year after the untimely death of one of Delta's comrades, Ermal Hunt; and this year, after the death of Wendell Wells.
Thirteen vets made the trip back this year, including Robert "Doc" Whitman, a U.S. Navy corpsman who served as Delta Company's medic. Whitman missed last year's reunion due to illness.
He and Delta Co. Lt. Art Sammons both suffer from cancer caused by exposure to Agent Orange.
"Feeling healthy," Whitmann said Saturday.
Sammons also seemed in good health and spirits, reuniting with old friends Larry Gillentine of Tupelo and David Scheckel, a semi-retired dairy farmer.
It was Scheckel's first trip to Mallini's "Safe Harbor."
"I don't get off the farm much," Scheckel said.
He and Gillentine teased Sammons about not having been able to tease him when they were all back in 'Nam together, since he was a higher-ranking officer.
Also new to the reunion this year were Charlie Catron, of Delaware, who had met Mallini a couple of years ago at a staff sergeants' reunion; and George Crawford of Oklahoma City, Ok.
"There are five generations of Delta Co. here today," Crawford said. "Delta Co. served in Vietnam from 1966-1970 ... all the way from Danang to Khe Sahn.
"Probably about 90 percent of the give generations have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)."
Crawford said all of Delta used to meet until a few years back, when they split up.
""This group here is the mild-mannered group," he said. "People with sensibilities and responsibilities. They care about each other very deeply."