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Vietnam vets meet in Norwood Reunion

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NORWOOD - Every year, some of the crew members of the USS Biddle meet to continue friendships formed in the waters of fVietnam.

They come from Dallas and Minneapolis, Eastaboga and Canton, to catch up and remember their time in the Navy.

This year, seven of them will meet in Norwood, home of former Biddle crew members Ronald L. Clark and Gerald A. Pieprzyk. A third, David Dox, lives in Canton.

All of them worked together in the engineering department of the missile cruiser that served throughout the Vietnam War. They grew close during their time together; in the ship’s cramped quarters they had no choice.

“You couldn’t get any closer unless you were in the same blanket,” Mr. Clark said.

Mr. Clark retrieved a cruise book from their 1969 deployment, and the group looked over pictures from their time in the war.

“Who’s that good-looking guy?” joked Phillip C. Pink, Minneapolis, Minn., pointing to a picture of a young man in naval uniform. “Oh, that’s me.”

The ship travelled 55,000 miles during its 1969 deployment, departing from Norfolk, Va. The ship stopped in Hawaii on its way to the Gulf of Tonkin, Vietnam, where it served as a carrier escort during the war. On the way back to the United States, the crew visited Hong Kong, Japan and Manila.

Each of them served during two deployments.

The new experiences were especially jarring for Kenneth R. Ford, a country boy from Eastaboga, Alabama who grew up in a home with no plumbing. He had his first slice of pizza while stationed in Boston.

Mr. Ford remembers the USO coming on board to entertain the crew, especially a performance by Maureen Reagan, daughter of future President Ronald Reagan.

The men left the service in the early 1970’s, returning to their hometowns to start new lives and new families. Some used the mechanical skills they learned in the Navy to find employment.

In 1980, a few of them found each other and met to catch up and discuss old times. The reunions have become an annual event.

As technology improved, it became easier for the Biddle’s crew members to find each other, and the reunions grew.

“The internet put a lot of us together. It’s lucky that we got together,” Mr. Ford said.

The reunions take place in a different location every year. This is the crew’s first time meeting in St. Lawrence County, and they plan to take in nearby landmarks like Boldt Castle and Lake Placid over the weekend.

Their wives come along for the trip, and often make plans of their own.

“We’ll have a women’s day, and we’ll go do something crazy,” according to Mr. Ford’s wife, Nora H.

Over the years the women have grown just as close as their husbands.

“It’s like getting to see your sister every year,” Mr. Pink’s wife, Barbara J., said.

The reunions let the members of the Biddle see how much things have changed and how much they have stayed the same.

“You haven’t really changed, except you got a little grayer, a little bigger around the waist,” Mr. Clark said.

Back in the day the group used to get together, crack open a beer and shoot the breeze. Things haven’t changed all that much, they say, although these days they bring their wives alon, and their conversations turn to topics like social security or the exploits of their children and grandchildren.

The bonds they made during their time in the Navy have been unbreakable. The group will often call other crew members who couldn’t make it to the reunion to catch up long-distance.

“Over 40 years, we’re still friends,” Mr. Clark said.

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