— Naples Daily News (@ndn) April 25, 2016
In May of 1966, four marines were at Camp Pendleton, training for their eventual deployment in the Vietnam War, when they took a picture of themselves on the beach, a longboard planted in the sand behind them.
They would all fight in Vietnam, and after the war, the battle-scarred group of friends broke up, with each going their separate ways.
Five years ago, one of the members of the group created an online memorial for one of their fallen comrades, and through that memorial the marines found each other again, meeting sporadically, but never all four together—until last Saturday.
At Cinnamon Beach in Florida, the four marines—Bob Falk, Dennis Puleo, Tom Hanks, Bob DeVenezia—reunited for the first time in 50 years, and to celebrate, they recreated the picture they had taken half a century ago.
“It’s a really funny picture,” DeVenezia told the Naples Daily, “but one with a lot of heart behind it.”
“I was too wrapped up in having a good time at first. Then I got married and had a kid,” Falk said. “Now that I’ve retired, I’ve had a lot more time to think back on it.”
The idea for the photo came from Hanks, who saw the old picture while flipping through an album.
Those were heady days for the young men, all aged 19 to 21, who would march for miles during the day, and sleep in holes dug in the ground at night. On the weekend, they’d visits the bars, sometimes the zoo, and even Tijuana.
The reunion took some effort. Falk had to go to six different stores to purchase a striped shirt that resembled the one he wore in 1966, and Puleo didn’t want to drive 2 hours from his home in Orlando.
“The truth of the fact is, I didn’t want to come,” Puleo said. “I could have said ‘no’ 12 times.”
But he came, and at noon they walked up to the beach, borrowed a surf board from a stranger, struck the pose of young men, and took the photo.
“Mission accomplished,” Falk said, walking back from the beach.
Back at the restaurant, they caught up, and each tried to tell their life story in under 3 minutes—and reminisce that they were lucky enough to do so, unlike some of their fellow soldiers.
Some of them had close brushes with death; Puleo had a shrapnel pierce his foot, calf and thigh, and DeVenezia had a bullet go through his left shoulder, but they all survived.
“We all know,” Puleo said, “that we’ve been given a gift of 50 years.”