MARINE CORPS LOGISTICS BASE ALBANY, Ga -- Two men who forged a lifelong friendship while working as Combat Correspondents aboard Marine Corps Logistics Base, Albany, Ga., during the Vietnam war reunited here Feb. 18 for an emotional walk down memory lane.
Meeting together for only the second time in over 30 years Maj. James Ray (Ret.) and William "Mack" Rush took the opportunity to recount fond memories of their youth and the events that led up to their chance meeting.
When Ray joined the Marine Corps in Feb. 1967, he never planned on becoming a writer. Ray, a St. Paul, Minnesota native, knew that as a fresh faced 21-year-old, the escalating Vietnam conflict could draw him in at any time.
Like many guys his age, Ray dreamt of being part of the action, a grunt on the front lines. Rather than take his chances with an uncertain draft, Ray decided to enlist, ensuring his spot in the Marine Corps.
Thousands of miles away another man was already living that dream, although to some it seemed like a nightmare. Even as Ray was stepping onto the yellow footprints in San Diego, someone else, whose life would soon intertwine with his, was busy moving 106-millimeter anti-tank guns through the dense jungles of Vietnam.
Rush, "mack" to his buddies, was lured by the financial promise of the newly created G.I. Bill and joined the Corps July 13, 1966. Rush, a Tallahassee, Fla. native, had grown up with heat and humidity but nothing that compared to the sweltering Vietnam summers in his poorly ventilated hooch. Rush yearned for somewhere peaceful where he could pursue his love of writing and escape the desolation and carnage of the war around him.
In the end, fate forever changed the lives of Rush and Ray, bringing them together from different corners of the world in a way they would never have expected.
Ray never made it to Infantry School after Boot Camp. After scoring exceptionally high on military grammar and typing tests, Ray's superiors sent him to the Defense Information School at Fort Benjamin Harris, Indianapolis, IN.
Had Ray not been so fast on a typewriter, his story, and those of many other Marines, may never have been told.
"I really wanted to go infantry," said Ray. "I think the only reason they sent me to DINFOS is because I could type fast. The journalism school was really tough for me."
In the summer of 1967, Ray was stationed aboard MCLB Albany, in what is now known as the Public Affairs Office. It was here, that he and Lance Cpl. Rush first met. Rush had returned from Vietnam in Jan. 1968, and was also stationed in Albany.
"I was glad to come home but it was an emotional time," Rush recounts. "You never find friends better than the one's you make in a combat situation. It was hard to leave all my buddies there."
Due to the lack of infantry billets aboard the base, Rush was slated to work for the military police. Rush, however, had different plans in mind.
While checking in, Rush read a note on the Battalion Sgt. Major's door that gave him all the motivation he needed and changed his life forever.
"I was checking in and I knew they were going to send me to work with the Military Police," explained Rush. "When I walked by the Sgt. Major's door I saw a note asking for Marines who were interested in, or had experience with journalism. Writing has always been natural for me so I jumped at the chance."
Rush underwent interviews and typing tests and proved to be such a proficient writer that his superiors sent him directly to the Public Affairs office instead of a formal military journalism school. Rush embraced journalism and quickly landed the job of feature writer and reporter in his shop.
Rush's counterpart, Ray, worked as the sports editor and the two men developed a friendship that has carried on for over 30 years. Although far from the front lines both men worked diligently to cover "any story they could get their hands on" around the base.
"I would always go out and cover extra-curricular activities that Marines participated in; like the bowling alley and library," Rush said. "It's pretty similar to what you guys do today except there were a lot more Marines here."
In 1969 the two men parted ways when Ray was promoted to Sergeant and sent to Dong Ha, Vietnam as a media liaison. Ray spent a 6-month tour in Vietnam and returned home to continue his education at the University of Minnesota.
After earning a Bachelor's degree in Physical Education in 1972 Ray again took up the challenge of military life by attending Officer Candidacy School in Quantico, VA. Ray completed the course and was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the Marine Corps.
Ray went on to serve 3 years as a Communications Officer in 29 Palms, Ca., before returning to Minnesota and joining the Army Reserves in 1975.
Ray retired as an Army Major in 1995 and when he's not on the golf course he spends his days substitute teaching at schools near his home in Mahtomedi, MN.
Rush was eventually promoted to sergeant and served out his remaining 1-year contract in Albany. He later went on to receive his Bachelor degree in Business Administration and a Masters degree in Interior Design from Florida A&M. In the years since he worked as a Combat Correspondent aboard Albany, Rush worked as a professor teaching architecture at Florida A&M and doing interior design work around his hometown. Rush currently works as a special projects coordinator for the city of Tallahassee, Fla.
When Ray and Rush met together for the first time in Florida 3 years ago neither man had seen the other since Ray's deployment to Vietnam. There they tentatively discussed the possibility of a reunion on their old stomping grounds.
"I had always wanted to come back and visit the base," Ray said. "I thought it would be great if Mack and I could get back together and see what had become of the base we served on together. I called him and asked if he'd like to meet. He said yes, and here we are."
As they toured the base for the first time in 35 years, both men happily recounted the days of squad bay life and 400-point physical fitness tests. Both men agreed that although much has changed in the Corps since their days as enlisted Marines, a lot of things on base are still the same.
"We lived in the exact same barracks you live in now except they were open squad bays, Ray said. "Every time someone came in late they would wake you up."
"When we did our physical fitness tests, we had to go through an obstacle course and climb ropes," Rush also added.
Although the technology has changed significantly since the days of manual typewriters and cut and paste layout, the men still found common threads that link today's publications to the past.
"It's definitely more advanced now," said Ray. "Now you have digital cameras and computers to help you get the job done. We had film and typewriters. If we made a mistake it took a lot more work to fix it.
Some things never change though. We wrote about a lot of the things you're still writing about today and we still have the same motto. The first to go, the last to know."
At the end of the tour, laughs and anecdotes were exchanged as both men spent time rifling through archived copies of their articles.
Like a kid opening presents on Christmas morning, each man's face lit up as he re-discovered a gem from a past he helped create.
The Emblem, which Rush and Ray gave their creative talents to produce, proudly bears the same name to this day, and with it, the legacy of the men and women who carried the torch of Marine Corps history into the 21st century.