Theodore's World: Snipers In Vietnam and Now Ride Together in Rolling Thunder Second Time

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May 26, 2008

Snipers In Vietnam and Now Ride Together in Rolling Thunder Second Time

They were thrust together 41 years ago in the highlands of Vietnam, self-described misfits who went on to tally a remarkable legacy as members of the first U.S. Marine sniperscout platoon trained exclusively in a combat zone.

On Wednesday, May 23, 2007, they met again, older, grayer, wiser for the experiences at the Winchester home of the man who personally selected and trained them to become among the deadliest marksmen of the Vietnam War.

Dave Sehmel, who now owns a construction company in Dallas; Gary Reiter, a retired school teacher from Spokane, Washington; Ed Kugler, a business consultant and author who published an acclaimed book based on his two tours of duty as a sniper in Vietnam; and Walt Sides, owner of Winchester Exchange, and who, as a 25-year-old Marine Staff Sergeant, was tasked into molding his three now 60-ish charges and 30 other young Marines into the elite and highly skilled killing fraternity of sniper scouts.

“Picture what it was like, as a Marine sergeant, looking at these guys and knowing you have to train them,” Sides said Wednesday May 23, 2007, shortly after returning from Washington-Dulles International Airport, where he, Reiter and Sehmel went to reunite with Kugler, the first time the four had physically been together since their days in Phu Bai, Vietnam.

This weekend, the four, and an estimated 500,000 others, will participate in Rolling Thunder XX, a mass rally in support of prisoners of war and those who are missing in action. The ride is held annually in Washington, D.C. Sides is one of the original founders of the group, which was formed in 1986 when he and four other vets determined that something must be done to “never forget” those who were imprisoned or never accounted for in Vietnam.

On that Wednesday, however, the mood was purely one of remembering shared times and fallen comrades, and celebrating their lives in the four decades they’d been apart. The goggled over pictures, beers in hand, of the four together, reed-thin, shirtless, all in their early 20s, gathering around a roasting hog one of the snipers had taken for treat. Other pictures included comrades who never returned home.

Remembering their days in the bush, which at times amounted to months on end searching for targets of opportunity, Kugler recalled “we didn’t look much like Marines, with long hair and stuff."

Most of Wednesday’s conversation consisted of reminiscences that clearly tugged long-repressed heartstrings.As he had when he brought them together in Vietnam,Sides is still, and always will be, the man in charge; the hardearned respect forged decades ago is unmistakable even today.

Sides estimated the four men gathered on his lawn wereresponsible “for better than 300 confirmed kills.”Their unit, dubbed “The Rogues,” tallied hundreds of morelong-distance kills during the war.

“And that’s not counting God only knows how many waterbuffalo,” Sides said, launching peals of laughter.

Grouped around Sides’ customized, V-8 equipped “trike,”which will join an estimated 200,000 motorcyclists this weekend,Sides outlined the unique role of his mission.

“The Marines were training snipers down around DaNang, but this was the first ever sniper platoon completely trained in a combat zone,” Sides said.
“Now, you might find a Marine Corps historian that willdispute that, but then . . . ”

Ironically, several of the men had been in contact over theyears; Kugler had stayed in touch with Sehmel. Four years ago,while surfing the Internet, Reiter found a Web site advertisingKugler’s book, “Dead Center,” and immediately recognized his old Vietnam buddy. That led to the three eventually talking over the telephone, but never a full-fledged reunion.

Later, Reiter and Sehmel got together at a gathering forformer sniper-scouts. That was when they realized they had another common bond: They both rode Harley-Davidsons.

That reunion lead to the pair travelling to Washington,D.C., for another sniper reunion, which coincided with Rolling Thunder XIX.

There, they spotted a kiosk, set up near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, with a name on it that sent shivers up their collective spines: Walt Sides.

“It can’t be,” they said to each other. The Walt Sides who had recruited them for sniper training 40 years earlier, was, they believed, dead, the victim of a fire.
“We had heard he died, along with another Vietnam friend, in a tavern fire,” Reiter said.
“Personally, I found it hard to believe, because I didn’ think fire was tough enough to kill old Walt Sides.”

After an hour of searching, they found their old mentor, who was busy trying to handle the logistics of squaring away the hundreds of thousands of participants in the annual rally.

From that moment on, the trio laid preparations to meet again for Rolling Thunder XX. Now, toasting each other with beer, the foursome, and their assorted spouses and several other veterans who will be riding together this weekend, could only smile.

“This is just awesome, totally unbelievable,” Sehmel said. Kugler could only say it was an “incredibly special” occasion.

Reiter, perhaps, summed it up the best:

“We’re all luckier than hell. We’re truly blessed to have all gotten out of a situation like that.”

Posted by Wild Thing at May 26, 2008 04:50 AM


AND fatter -- OINK has noted this trend among his fellow Marines.
All gave some, some gave all.
Semper Fi --- Sgt. OINK

Posted by: OINK at May 26, 2008 09:42 AM

How neat that they could get together at such a great event. After 40 years, it is also neat they still have so much in common.

Posted by: TomR at May 26, 2008 11:22 AM

God bless them, glad they made it and are still able to get together.

Yeah OINK, "AND fatter" I resemble that remark:)

Posted by: Jack at May 26, 2008 12:58 PM

WT, great story. Thanks for sharing. It's good to know that these guys are on our side. Only the best.

I'm guessing that John Kerry, John Murtha, and even John McCain (the three Johns!) didn't participate in DC this weekend in Rolling Thunder XX with these heros and 500,000 others supporting our POW/MIAs.

Posted by: Les at May 26, 2008 01:55 PM

OINK, I think all of us might have changed over the years. lol

Posted by: Wild Thing at May 26, 2008 11:19 PM

Tom, I agree it is a really special reunion.

Posted by: Wild Thing at May 26, 2008 11:23 PM

Jack yes so many never get to meet later on, and to have so many of these guys still around and then a reunion is so awesome.

Posted by: Wild Thing at May 26, 2008 11:24 PM

Les, yes I bet the ones you mentioned only saw this as a day off and nothing more.

Posted by: Wild Thing at May 26, 2008 11:28 PM