Vet finds war buddy
Armed only with nickname, Texan traces long-lost friend to Mack
Every night, Vietnam veterans Victor Rosales and Norman Samples close their eyes and revisit a bit of hell.
They smell the jungle, taste the damp air and feel fear.
“We don’t want to go to sleep, because we relive our nightmares,” Rosales said.
After more than four decades, the memories and the nightmares of the war have not faded.
Nor have the friendships of the men in the third squad of 2nd Platoon, C Company of a battalion that was part of the Army’s 173rd Airborne Brigade.
“We seen a lot of people die. We seen a lot of people get screwed up,” Samples said.
The two men were friends the day they met, aboard a jetliner headed for their shared nightmare.
“You should have seen him when he first got there,” Rosales said with a smile, remembering when the two met. “He was as skinny as a rail.”
They can joke about it, but the brief laughter is always hushed by other, less pleasant recollections. Such as the day the war ended for Samples.
“I stepped on a booby trap,” Samples said. “It took me 18 months to learn to walk again.”
It would take him much longer to learn the fate of the friends he left behind. He thought about them almost as often as he dreamt of them, but never knew how to find them.
“Everyone had nicknames. We didn’t want to know their real names,” Samples said.
Not knowing names made it easier when the faces disappeared, he said. Rosales was nicknamed Rosey and Samples was known as Tex.
But eventually, through searches on the Internet, Samples was able to track down Rosales.
It took him 41 years.
Samples was living in Texas, Rosales, in Mack.
This week they reunited.
“As soon as I got out of the hospital, I (started) looking for him,” Samples said. “I thought maybe he got killed.”
Samples’ sister searched the Internet for “Rose” Rosales and left postings where she could in the hopes of someone responding with information. It was actually Rosales’ son’s girlfriend, in England, who stumbled across the Web posting.
“You didn’t make friends over there. You were stuck with the ones you came with, but you didn’t make more. It’s too hard to make friends,” Rosales said when asked to recount the story of their reunion. “He’s like a brother to me, and I love him very much, but I didn’t know he was looking for me. And then my son called me and says, ‘There is somebody looking for you from Vietnam.’ ”
Rosales’ emotions seeped out, first quivering and then silencing his voice.
“And that’s how we found each other,” Samples said. “This guy saved my life twice in Vietnam.
... He’s my superman.”
But don’t call Rosales a hero.
“I think all the heroes are on the wall over here,” Rosales said, nodding to the dozens of names engraved on the walls of the Western Slope Vietnam War Memorial in Fruita.
“Vietnam vets, they live two lives, one here and one in Vietnam ... and it is going to be with us until the day we die,” he added.
Before that day comes, the men hope to hook up with the rest of the surviving members of their squad. Rosales said he is in contact with one other war buddy, Ron Howard, from Idaho, and the three are planning another reunion down the road.
“The three of us now are going to start looking for the other guys, and hopefully we can find them. We need to have a reunion with all of us together. I think I would enjoy it,” Rosales said.
“Somehow or another, I think I left something in Vietnam, and I need to find it.”