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‘Bandido Charlie’ company veterans ensure legacy remains

By Sgt. 1st Class Jonathan Wiley | 1ST INF. DIV. PUBLIC AFFAIRS | July 24, 2014

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 alive.

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, Arizona.

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 355 members.

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 seasons.

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.” 

Tag Reunion   Tag Society of the 1st Infantry Division   Tag Vietnam Veterans