Vietnam veteran assumed dead reunites with fellow veterans in Myrtle Beach
MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) - A group of veterans who served in Vietnam held their annual reunion in Myrtle Beach on Friday.
They’ve gathered each year for the past 16 years, growing their ranks over time. Many of them were in the same unit, deployed in the central highlands of Vietnam and bonded over doing patrols together from 1968-1969.
But this year, they were joined by a special guest they haven’t seen in over 50 years.
Retired 1st Sgt. Pat Martin explained that a member of the group found relatives of James Coffee, a soldier believed to be killed in action.
Martin said Coffee was shot in the head during combat, even showing a bullet hole through his helmet.
Coffee explained while he doesn’t remember much, except trying to save other soldiers as his eyes went dark. He also recalled another soldier who lost his leg as everything was happening around them.
“I knew all hell was going to break loose,” Coffee said. “I was the first one to go out and see if we can find him. I get hit.”
He told WMBF News Friday that another soldier, Don Woodworth, saw he was shot and refused to leave him behind, carrying him as bullets were flying everywhere.
“He carried me on his shoulders up to the chopper. I got hit again, he got shrapnel,” he said.
While searching for Coffee’s relatives, a member of the group soon discovered that he was alive after all those years. He then asked if they had a way to contact Woodworth, and he was able to get a phone number.
The two made contact two years ago for the first time since the day Coffee was shot.
“I found out later, his wife said ‘That day, he almost passed out. He cried and fell on the floor,’” he said. “I said ‘I’ll go, we’ll meet.’”
The two later met in Florida last February, where Coffee found out how Woodworth saved his life.
“He’d been living life thinking he lost a good friend,” he said. “He came out, grabbed me and had tears in his eyes. It was really tough.”
As for Friday’s reunion, it offered a moment of unity for Coffee and others who made the trek to the Grand Strand.
“We’ve become something more than a bunch of GI’s getting together,” Martin said. “We’re now a family.”
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