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Walking among Giants

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Saturday afternoon, a small portion of United States Marine Corps Recruit Platoon 1034, known as the “Giants Platoon,” reunited at the Vietnam Memorial in Capital Park in Sacramento for the second time since their homecoming.

Retired USMC Sgt. Ed Flores stated that they come and reunite “to honor the accomplishment of our youth, to give praise to our fallen, and to thankfully celebrate life one more time, together.”

July 26, 1967, the young volunteers of Platoon 1034, made up of recruits mostly from Northern California, made a special trip to Candlestick Park in San Francisco. During pre-game festivities, they were sworn in on national television and in front of the crowd gathered for the Giants game; subsequently they were affectionately dubbed, “Giants Platoon.”

At the seventh inning stretch, the recruits were marched back to their bus which took them straight to San Diego.

“Forty-five years ago we were sworn in at Candlestick Park, went off to boot camp together and most of us haven’t seen each other since,” Doug Mayo stated. “We’re just here together to pay tribute to the guys who didn’t make it back from Vietnam.”

I asked Mayo what it was like being back together with his platoon after so many years.

“…You know, none of the faces are familiar, the names are. We’ve aged a lot,” Mayo said with a chuckle, “but it’s good to see the guys again.”

“The Marine Corps had some of us waiting two months to enlist; they were waiting to get seventy-five of us together based on scholastics and athletics, two or three from each recruiter over Northern California. They took us to Candlestick Park, brought our parents over there, the Marine Corps paid for everything. It was a doubleheader with the Mets. They had us march out, sort of, on the pitcher’s mound and we were sworn in by the Brigadier General on TV. We were pretty nervous and proud, but it was an awesome experience. We went directly from there to begin our training and initiation to the life of the Marine Corps,” Larry Goldsmith stated.

The Vietnam Memorial in Sacramento resides in the northeast corner of Capital Park. Its position is flanked by two of the busiest streets in downtown, L and 15th streets, but there’s a certain hush and calm at the site, as if the busy traffic going by does not exist. It’s a multi-million dollar structure erected with incredible detail and decorum.

Surrounding the outer circumference of the Memorial are black granite panels engraved with the names of 5,800 Californians who died or are missing. The interior walls of the structure bear incredible bronze reliefs depicting actual scenes from Vietnam based on photographs.

During their reunion, Ed Duran called the platoon to order; they lined up on the outer circle of the front entrance of the memorial and started off with a roll call. Each man, in turn, sounded off with his name, rank and Military Occupational Specialty (MOS). Flores read the declaration he drafted, then a wreath was placed at the entrance of the Memorial with a framed copy of the declaration.

An ROTC color guard presented the colors as the platoon came to attention and paused for a moment of silence for their missing and dead.

At the reunion, I had the privilege of talking with some of the men about their time in Vietnam and what it was like coming home, and by the time I left the guys I truly knew I was walking among Giants.

I won’t even attempt to relate their words here. The written word can not carry the emotion and expression they shared with me. Each interview was captured on video and will be posted at a later date. 

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