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Our Stories:

Our Stories:
50 Years Later -
Philly Marine Corp Birthday Festival Reunites Hill 881 South Marines

Every year on November 10th, rain or shine, whatever the weather, whatever the day of the week, the area around 10th and Oregon Avenues in Philadelphia becomes a Marine Corps Birthday Party to compete with any other party known to man. Since a good number of Philly police officers are prior service or active reserve Marines, closing the street for the party crowd, sometimes 1000+, seems inevitable. There were years where Huey choppers were trucked in on flat beds for display. Restored six-bi’s, combat jeeps and ammo mules are a common attraction. Marine Riders show up in droves. Bikes are parked as sharply as any “Dress-Right-Dress” command could expect. A stage is erected for the 1300 ceremony with the posting of Colors, readings of the Commandant’s and General Lejeune’s messages and other ceremonial events. The oldest Marine present is always recognized and applauded with all the “OHRAH’S” and “grunts” you would expect from a bunch of “Jar Head’s” congregated in two city blocks. Mess hall chow is available, Marine Corps paraphernalia is offered for sale to support the event and of course beer is readily available. All the local news stations cover high lights of the festivities which usually begin around 0900 and last into the wee hours of the night.

The stranger standing directly in front of me yelled “I’M DAN ALIX”! 

On one such occasion, in 2017, my brother-in law, another friend and I were engaged in serious talks with a couple partiers we had just met and were talking about times past. The conversation eventually turned to Vietnam, as it always does with older Marines, and the memories we retained. Keep in mind that it had been fifty years since my tour in the “bush” and a lot had changed since then. I remember saying “The only name I remember from the ‘Nam is a guy in my squad, Dan Alix”. The stranger standing directly in front of me yelled “I’M DAN ALIX”! Well, you can imagine where the conversation went from there. We compared noted and were convinced that we were who we said we were and in fact we did serve together in the same squad in the ‘Nam. My last recollection of Dan was on Hill 881 South fifty years ago from that day and now we are facing each other at a different time in our lives.

What are the chances after spending 13 weeks with a guy learning Vietnamese at Monterey’s Defense Language Institute, flying over for Tet ’68 on the same flight and completing a 13-month tour in the same Charlie Company that we’d meet up 50 years later, much less on the Corp’s birthday on a frigid street in South Philly? Especially since it was Dan’s first participation at this annual celebration, thanks to Rudy Banks of H&S Company. Afterwards, Dan filled me in on details of 1/1’s biennial reunions and sent me the link to register for the San Diego event. My wife and I attended, sincerely enjoying the various venues, company luncheon, battalion dinner and guest speakers. Dan also connected me with our squad leader at the time, John Kaper. More importantly, it reinvigorated the comradery and brotherhood of the “world’s best fraternity” – truly a Marine thing that other branches can only envy.

Dan and I keep in touch with occasional emails, texts or bumping into each other at the 1/1 reunions, now that we recognize each other without name badges. I look forward to seeing him and John again, and others I have met, at future reunions. 

Semper Fi. 

Doug Craig

52 Years Later -
Frykman and Toms.jpg

Darrell Frykman and Dennis Toms

My name is Darrell Frykman HM2. I was attached to Delta 1/1 for a short period of time after I was with Kilo 3/7. As I remember, our job with Delta 1/1 was to provide security for the Seabees, keeping the Viet Cong from putting booby traps on the road.

“I thought I had bought the farm!”

October 14th, 1970, a date that I will never forget. As we set up our NDP, I had dropped my gear in a pile. I went to check in with the command post to see what the plan was for the next day. At that point I heard the most dreaded words, “In Coming.” There were too many guys in that area, so I decided to move to a different location for cover. I didn’t get very far when the mortar round flattened me. A picture of my folks flashed through my mind--I thought I had bought the farm!


That’s the last I remember until, I believe it was the Platoon Sgt. who came to check on me. I had been hit by some shrapnel in the back of my shoulder and my ribs. My ribcage hurt and it was hard to breathe. I was concerned I might have a lung problem, so I checked for bubbles on my chest and didn’t find any. A Marine helped me put a bandage on my wounds.

I then went to treat the other wounded. I vividly remember helping one Marine with a very serious head injury. Since my Unit 1 was destroyed by the mortar round that hit me, I was thankful that I had bandages in my bandolier. The other corpsman gave me his IV equipment to use on the Marine. We were loaded up on a chopper and taken to the 95th Evac. That’s the last I know of what happened to that Marine.

“I received a text stating Dennis Toms survived! What a great day!”

Oftentimes, on October 14th I would wonder about the fate of the young Marine I treated with the severe head injury. Not knowing the Marine’s name, I was unlikely to ever find out what happened to him. However, thanks to some divine intervention, my wife and I attended a concert by The Fabulous Armadillos called “What’s Going On? Songs of the Vietnam Era” in May of 2021 in St. Cloud, MN. Corporal Sam Verdeja spoke during the concert and happened to serve in Delta 1/1 in 1970. We were able to meet Sam after the concert and I asked him if he knew what happened to the Marine with the head injury. Sam did not, but he was the reunion coordinator for 1/1 and he had connections! A few days later, I received a text stating Dennis Toms survived! What a great day!


Dennis and I reconnected by phone shortly afterwards. In August 2022, my wife and I were able to meet Dennis and his wife Debbie. After 52 years, October 14th is a good day!

“Next thing I remember is being given the last rights”

From Dennis Toms: I have been told by others what happened on the day of Oct. 14th. However, I remember little. All that I remember of the whole day is the sound of several mortars. Next thing I remember is being given the last rights, I believe at Cam Ranh Bay. After that I woke up in Japan. I am thankful to Darrell and all the others that were there for me on that day. I was able to fill in the gaps from another Marine I have kept in contact with over the years. Meeting Darrell I was able to fill in more.


47 Years Later - Reunion Reunites Hill 881 South Marines
John Kaper - Charlie Company

John Kaper

Bobby Butler

My name is John Kaper and I attended my first 1/1 Marines Vietnam reunion in August 2015 at the Radisson Hotel in Washington, D.C. I was really looking forward to the reunion, as I was hoping to meet some of the Marines that I had served with in Charlie Company, as well as other 1/1 Marines. It was a wonderful and emotional experience visiting with other Vietnam veterans. That particular reunion honored the 567 1/1 Marines and Navy Corpsmen KIA in Vietnam by dedicating our 1/1 Memorial at Semper Fidelis Memorial Park, located outside the National Museum of the Marine Corps at Quantico.

"When I saw all the photos, it was like a flashback"

One of the most popular events of the 1/1 reunions is the company luncheons, where members of the same companies get together. It is a time to reunite with Marines you served with, and meet people who shared the same dirt, rain, mud and experiences as you. At the Charlie Company luncheon, one of the Marines, a man named Bobby Butler, who just happens to be our Battalion Chaplain, brought a big photo board with pictures of Hill 881 South. They showed members of 2nd Platoon moving out and off Hill 881 South as well as the surrounding hills and jungle. When I saw all the photos, it was like a flashback. They were so vivid, and brought back so many memories. It was like I was there yesterday.

"One of the 105’s landed only feet away from my squad"

I commented to Bobby Butler, who was in 2nd Platoon (I was in 3rd Platoon), that some of the photos showed the ridgeline that paralleled our hilltop on 881 South. The ridge was approximately 1500 meters from our position and the NVA constantly fired mortars at us from the backside of the ridge. Periodically we would run patrols out toward the ridgeline and had found several locations that had been used by NVA. On May 23,1968, the company was in the area again and found pits with mortar rounds still neatly stacked inside them.  I have since learned that our artillery was going to “recon the area by fire”.  All three platoons assembled on the side of the ridge facing Hill 881. Suddenly there was a series of loud explosions and concussions happening in quick succession. Three of our own 105’s had landed directly on top of our positions and seriously wounded at least nine of our Marines. Most were from 2nd Platoon. I was a squad leader with 3rd Platoon, and we were right next to 2nd Platoon at the time. One of the 105’s landed only feet away from my squad. Thankfully it was a dud (didn’t go off.)

We rushed over to 2nd Platoon to help with the wounded and get the medevacs going. I told Bobby Butler that I remembered one Marine may have lost his leg and another looked like he was going to lose a foot. Unbelievably, he said that he was the Marine that looked like he was going to lose his foot. Luckily, he did not, even though he had other serious injuries. Unfortunately, his a-gunner lost his leg.

"I met the Marine who I had helped"

Forty-seven years later at the 1/1 reunion in Washington, D.C., I met the Marine who I had helped put on a chopper to get airlifted off that hillside. It was an unbelievable experience, one that I will never forget. Bobby and I have stayed good friends and in contact since that reunion. Semper Fi Marines.

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