On the middle of a sunny Florida beach this weekend, four aging Marine veterans huddled around a tall yellow longboard and gazed into the camera.
To everyone else on the beach, it seemed like just another photograph. But for this quartet of Vietnam War veterans, it was an unforgettable opportunity – a chance to recreate a moment they’d shared 50 years ago.
“It’s a really funny picture,” one said. “But one with a lot of heart behind it.”
The Naples Daily News described the captivating scene:
“Bob Falk, 71, wearing a mirror-image blue-and-white striped shirt, leaned against the longboard’s left side, resting his spare hand on his hip.
Dennis Puleo, 69, removed his shoes, revealing the feet scarred by shrapnel, and pulled off his shirt, flanking the longboard on the right, mugging a wide smile for the camera with his arms extended.
Tom Hanks (not that one), 69, stepped in front of the board and took in a long, deep breath, flexing his still-thick upper chest and sucking in his now-paunchy belly.
Finally, Bob DeVenezia, 70, crouched down in front of Hanks, resting his elbows on his knobby knees, feeling Hanks’ hands placed on his back.”
The four met while training together as part of the same weapons platoon in California’s Camp Pendleton back in 1966, three as machine gunners and one as an anti-tank man.
When the call came to head to Vietnam, they were split up and sent to different units. Two received Purple Hearts.
“We had the tools. We had the training,” DeVenezia said. “But nothing trains you for your first combat. Nothing. Zero.”
After their tours of duty were over, each man went their own way.
All would go on to successful careers — DeVenezia in construction in New Jersey; Falk in retail management in Florida; Hanks in investment banking in Atlanta; Puleo in home security, some in the Northeast and some in Florida. They would all marry — a couple of them twice — and raise six children among them.
“We just broke up. Life is funny like that,” DeVenezia said.
But after reuniting, Puleo said, “We all know that we’ve been given a gift of 50 years.”