His Last Day … and After
March 24, 2002
I arrived on Hill 37 sometime in mid-1970 after a stint of six months or so at the 1st Radio Battalion Comm Center in Danang. Upon arrival, I almost immediately came under the spell of the infectious personality of Robert Hrisoulis who was known on the Hill as "Greek". After his usual fun loving hazing of the new guy on the Hill, Greek soon took me under his wing and we became close friends. I have many fond memories of those days and of my friendship with him. We used to sit on top of the bunker after dark and talk about home and family and friends. I feel that I knew everyone in Greek’s stateside life. We planned our post-Vietnam life and I knew that I would meet these people some time soon.
In late 1970, I was thrust into the role of linguist because Lee (sorry I cannot remember your last name Lee although I do remember that you were from Texas), our full time and competent linguist, got cycled back to the U.S. and at that time there were no replacements forthcoming. I really wasn’t qualified because I only had three months of Vietnamese at Monterey. It didn’t really matter that much because the ARVN’s that worked with us spoke English pretty well. I cannot remember their names either and I have often wondered how they fared.
Anyway, in January 1971, I was assigned, along with our two ARVN’s, to an operation conducted in the mountains somewhere near Hill 37. A Marine grunt battalion had replaced the 7th Engineers on Hill 37 and they went hunting Charlie and brought us along to listen for him. It was the high point and the low point of my stint in the Marines.
During this operation, it was SOP for someone from Hill 37 to chopper out to us every few days with supplies and to pick up a courier bag with our hard copy stuff. The practice was for me to meet the chopper at the LZ and swap bags.
Well, on January 21, 1971, Greek volunteered for the courier run and instead of doing the normal swap, he did what Greek would do … jumped off the chopper and announced that he was spending the day … which he did. He helped me re-string several antennas in the trees, took in the action that day that was swirling around us and wandered around taking pictures of our little outpost near the top of the mountain. Greek was going home in few days and I was thankful for a little more time with him. We firmed up our plans to get together upon my return which was scheduled for mid-summer. I walked him down to the LZ at the end of day and had the opportunity to say a goodbye that proved to be more final than either one of us intended.
I was halfway back up the mountain when I heard the explosion. I turned to see smoke rising over a ridge further down the mountain. My heart was in my throat. I did not want to believe the worst … and did not believe the worst for two days. It took that long for the word to come back to me that Greek had been killed. It was a blow like none I had ever experienced before in my life. It is a burden that I still carry to this day as I am sure that those of you who knew Greek carry in some form.
Anyway, what happened after that is not clear to me … and tangled in fact, stories, hopes, desires and fading memories. I remember the grunts telling me that his chopper was shot down. I cannot confirm that. I have heard stories about Greek making heroic efforts to help injured Marines off the chopper. I cannot confirm that either.
I had a promise to Greek that I would contact his family if something ever happened to him. He made the same promise to me. I took me four, long months to build the courage to do so. I was pulled back to the states in April 1971 and reassigned as many short timers were to the 2nd Radio Battalion at Camp Geiger. With two days remaining before I was due to report, I summoned the courage to call. I spoke first to Helen Hrisoulis … Greek’s Mother … who insisted that I come to Detroit on my way to North Carolina. I did. I was invited into the Hrisoulis home and I met and told my story to George Sr., Helen, George, Jr. and Greek’s friends … all of the special people in Greek’s life that he told me all about. It was an emotional time and they reached out to me almost like they were reaching for him. I will never forget it. Showing the same spunk as his brother, George, Jr. ... also a Marine who was twice wounded in Vietnam … called the Commanding General at Lejeune and asked that my leave be extended so that I could spend more time with the family. Believe it or not, the request was granted on the spot.
I subsequently "swooped" back to Detroit on several long weekends with the most memorable on Memorial Day weekend of 1971. At this time, the family was presented with the Bronze Star posthumously … an emotional ceremony that I am proud to say that I attended. There was also a special graveside memorial service at which time I had an opportunity to pay my respects to my friend.
I recently had the opportunity to talk to Rick Swan … one of the Hill 37 alumni and a friend of Greek’s … who had been looking for me because of the newspaper clipping of the Bronze Star ceremony that was posted on a 1st Radio Battalion website. I found it to be a good release to talk to Rick about Greek and then found myself immersed in old memories.
Thanks to Rick, I have now had the opportunity to speak once again with George, Jr. Sadly, George, Sr. and Helen have passed away. I regret not maintaining closer contact with them.
George and his wife, Mary, live just outside of Detroit. Their son … Robert … is 24 and their daughter Stephanie is 22. As luck would have it, George and Mary will be driving through Atlanta early on the morning of Friday, March 29th on their way to a Florida vacation and will be stopping at my home for breakfast. We will have the opportunity then to fill in the gaps of some 30 years and to continue our discussion remembering his brother that we began today. George made an interesting comment to me during our telephone discussion as we talked about the stories of his brother that he has heard from me and others who have contacted him over the years … "I didn’t know him like you guys did. When I left home, he was still a kid."
I will be the first to admit that my memory is not what it used to be and that I do not remember all of your names … but I remember your faces and I remember the time that we shared on Hill 37 … and I remember our experiences. Lee, Fuzzy, George, Mike, Hawk, Mo, John, Gunny Robinson, Lt. McWaters and all of the rest of you whose names … at least for the time being … have slipped from my memory … I would like to hear from you to revisit a past that we shared for a brief time. Also, I am sure that Rick Swan would appreciate any thoughts or stories that you would care to share with him about Greek. Somehow, it would be a good thing to find a way to convey our stories of Greek to George and his family. I know that he would appreciate knowing the Greek that we all knew. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org