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Amtrac Platoon ‘buddies’ reunite

US Marines’ Amtrac Platoon members continue their ties

Submitted Photo Standing, from the left, Vern Bjugstad of North Dakota, Mike Kellers of Arizona, Herman Hargett of Missouri, Ron Coleman of Indiana, Don Miller and Tom Williams both of Michigan, Mike Graf of Ohio, Austin Gillette of North Dakota and Dan Watson of Florida. Seated, Les Marks of Indiana. All are Vietnam veterans who served with the U.S. Marine Corps’ Amtrac Platoon.

More than 50 years ago, members of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Amtrac Platoon were hauling supplies, transporting the wounded and just about anything else in Vietnam.

The unit may have been one of the most decorated noninfantry units in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War, although it existed for only three years. Called “Amgrunts,” members took part in numerous amphibious operations and operations in the field.

From July 9-12, former members of Amtrac Platoon, including two from North Dakota – Austin Gillette of White Shield and Vern Bjugstad of Mandan – met for a reunion in the Black Hills in South Dakota.

With family and friends, Gillette said about 20 people attended the weekend event – reminiscing and touring Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse Memorial. Grandsons of two of the Amtrac Platoon members – Gillette’s grandson, Anthony of Rosebud, S.D., and Mike Graf’s grandson, Cole, also joined the group.

“It’s always great to be young again, 18-22, for a couple of days,” Gillette said of the reunion.

Submitted Photo From the left, Austin Gillette, Herman Hargett, DJ Miller and Ron Coleman hold a quilt made from T-shirts from past Amtrac Platoon reunions. The quilt was provided by the Mike Graf family.

On Saturday, he said the group held a remembrance for two platoon members who have passed away – Ed Stroman of South Carolina and Gene Guinn of Oklahoma. Their obituaries were read during the remembrance.

Amtrac Platoon members held their first reunion in 1991 in Washington, D.C. Members have held reunions on the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota and other areas of the country. A 40th anniversary gathering in North Dakota in 2008 included a “Welcome Home” ceremony for them held at the White Shield Celebration, the powwow held in that community.

It is believed Amtrac Platoon is the only platoon in the U.S. Marines that is still getting together for reunions.

Herman Hargett, of St. Louis County, Mo., had never been to a reunion until the recent one in South Dakota. He and the members had lost contact with each other for a time.

“It meant a lot to me,” he said. “I hadn’t seen those guys since 1969. I didn’t realize how much I missed seeing them. It was great to see them.”

The platoon existed in 1967-69, then was reassigned and sent to other units in the Marine Corps. The platoon was first attached to the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines and later assigned to the 1st Battalion, 26th Marines and the 2nd Battalion, 26th Marines.

Hargett said he, Gillette and some others were trac vehicle repairmen. “Some drove, some were crew chiefs and machine gunners,” he said.

“Amtrac was the amphibious armed personnel carrier,” Hargett said. He said they were on the river and on land ferrying troops and hauling supplies in northern South Vietnam. “We were real close to the DMZ (demilitarized zone). He said there were probably 10-12 tracs and about three guys per trac.

Hargett returned home from Vietnam in February 1969.

“Everyone had a 12-month tour,” although some extended their tour. “I came home the end of March 1969,” Gillette said.

Mike Graf of McDermott, Ohio, an original Amtrac crewman, returned home in December 1968.

The platoon took part in many battles including one of the most significant and deadliest battles of the Vietnam War – the Battle of Dai Do – in 1968. Vastly outnumbered by North Vietnamese troops, the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines stopped the North Vietnamese Army’s push into Quang Tri province in that battle.

Amtrac Platoon members hold reunions about every two years at various locations.

Graf said he and his wife were going to attend the powwow in White Shield this year but when the powwow was canceled they decided to go to Rapid City, S.D., where Gillette and a few others were going to meeting them. Soon, other platoon members learned about their plans and joined in for a reunion.

“Every get together we have is very important. We know we’re all getting up in years,” Graf said.

The platoon’s next reunion is being planned for 2022 in Fort Wayne, Ind., with Les Marks of Indiana as host.

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