CINCINNATI — Decades of silence following the Vietnam War has been broken thanks to social media and the power of a brotherhood.
“We’re like a band of brothers. We call ourselves the Manchu Brothers,” explained Vietnam veteran John Antolini.
The Manchus are members of the 25th Infantry Division, 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment. The regiment originally got its nickname because it fought in China during the Boxer Rebellion around the turn of the 20th century.
John says this local group of Manchus formed after a chance encounter on social media.
“We found each other on Facebook, two of us -- now we've grown to seven or eight of us here today. There's a couple more that couldn't attend,” he said.
There are five members in the group who have a very special bond that wasn’t realized until they began opening up to one another.
“After all these years, 52, 53 years now,” recalls Don Mills, "we have come together to realize we were at the same spot, at the same time, and to me that's unimaginable.”
That spot was a battle at Fire Base French Fort in Vietnam. Don Mills along with Pete Steciow, Chuck Wills, Rick Zellner and John Ruth likely were within feet of one another and were complete strangers.
Rick Zellner received the Purple Heart for injuries sustained when a bunker was blown up by the Northern Vietnamese soldiers.
“I went years without even talking about it,” Zellner said.
He said being able to rediscover fellow Manchus has opened the door.
“It was like what date was that, I was there, I was there, I was there -- it's unbelievable,” Zellner said.
Unbelievable discoveries and the healing power of a brotherhood.
“It's a camaraderie that's very special,” Wills said. “I say that because we share stories, but we've all worn each others' shoes.”
John Ruth drives down from Columbus every month to attend their regular gathering, which normally takes place at a different restaurant in the Cincinnati area, but they have met up in other parts of the state.
“It's been really healthy for me to meet these guys,” Ruth said. “Just to see my brothers, be with them, tell stories, because I was kind of like Rick. I didn't talk about it when I got home from Vietnam.”
Don Mills calls everyone in the group his brother and is grateful they’ve been able to reconnect after more than five decades.
“To make it through the ordeals of the war and for us to be back here all these years, it's special,” Mills said.
Antolini said they would love to see other Manchus in the Tri-State area join them for their monthly gatherings. If interested, you can email John directly: firstname.lastname@example.org