GARDEN GROVE, Calif. – “Once
a Bandido, always a Bandido” – that’s the motto of the Bandido Charlie
Association, a group established by Company C, 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry
Regiment veterans who served together in Vietnam and are determined to keep the
spirit of their service and the service of those serving in the company today
Several members of the
association attended the 96th annual Society of the First Infantry Division in
Orange County, California, June 25 to 29. This included two former captains who
commanded the unit back-to-back in 1969, the first sergeant who served under
them and their driver.
Unlike many other Vietnam
veterans who left the Soldiers they served with in their past, these men get
together frequently. In the past decade, they have met many times and spoken on
the phone almost weekly.
“These guys are my best
friends. They are the ones who kept me alive, and I am the one who kept them
alive. I don’t know what my life would be like without them,” said former Capt.
Kenneth J. Costich II. Costich commanded the company from April to June 1969.
He now serves as the president of the association and resides in Tucson,
Retired Sgt. Maj. Al
Herrera, the company’s first sergeant for most of 1969, said it’s the shared
experiences of combat that bind them together.
“The division is huge, the
regiment is huge, but when you get with a company, you’re intimate. You got
shot up to pieces together,” he said.
Herrera added in his more
than 22 years of service he belonged to many Army units, but “the only one that
counts is my company and my division, the 1st division.”
Since 2003, he has
travelled from his home in Beaverton, Oregon, to every annual “Big Red One” reunion.
Former Capt. Phil Greenwell
of Lexington, Kentucky, who took command of the company after Costich in June
1969, said the Bandidos were not always so tight knit. They did not start
reconnecting until the late 1990s, almost 30 years after the war.
Greenwell said he and his
fellow veterans came back after the war to an inhospitable environment and many
of them quickly disassociated themselves from the war and their part in it.
“When we came back, no one
wanted to have anything to do with us. The (Veterans of Foreign Wars) and the
American Legion didn’t want us. We were abandoned by everyone,” Greenwell said.
For most Vietnam veterans, the most formative experience of their lives was
something they tried to forget.
Greenwell said this painful
experience strengthened their resolve to “never let that happen again,” so they
formed the Bandido Charlie Association in 2003, which has grown to more than
As part of the association’s
bylaws, its members support current active-duty Bandido Soldiers.
“We are dedicated to the
active-duty Soldiers and their families. When a Bandido dies or needs something,
we send (help) without asking,” Herrera said.
Costich said the
association has grown its treasury to more than six figures, which is used to
provide items to deployed Bandidos, their families, the company’s family
readiness group and to children of Bandido families during back-to-school and Christmas
Even after Soldiers are
reassigned, they are still considered Bandidos, and the association does
everything it can to help them and their families.
Greenwell concluded, “What
we’re seeing are active duty Bandidos learning from our example. They’re
keeping in touch across the generations.”