Published in the The Desert Sun newspaper August 31, 1999
Harold Shelley tried just about everything. He wrote letters, made phone calls, joined numerous organizations - but nothing worked. Then, in the beginning of June, he received a letter in the mail. "Tbe first thing I saw was his letterhead Carl E. Sorenson. I just dropped the rest of the mail," Shelley said. "I was shocked." After 31 years searching for his Vietnam buddy, his buddy had found him. I went inside to call (Sorenson), but I was so shook up I couldn't" he said. "I had to wait a half hour until I calmed down." That day, the long lost friends talked for two hours. The phone calls continued almost daily until early August, when Shelley left his Palm Springs home and flew to Panama City, Fla., to visit Sorenson and his family. The men first met in 1967 while they were training at Fort McClellan in Alabama. Since both the 20-year olds had last names beginning with S, they were regularly assigned to the same groups and activities. It didn't take long for them to become close. "We were just like brothers," Shelley said. In late February 1968, they were shipped to Vietnam and served in the Army's 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry, which carried the nickname "Manchus. Ten months after they arrived, the men were at a patrol base 91/2 miles south of Tay Ninh City, known As Mole City, when they were scheduled to leave for Cu Chi, Vietnam, to get their rest-and-relaxation orders and see a Bob Hope show. They never went. During the early morning hours of Dec. 22, 1968, the Manchus were attacked by 1,500 Vietcong soldiers. "There was a Vietcong to my left with an RPG grenade launcher," Shelley said. "One of my squad guys said, 'Shelley, look to your left. "I looked, and, just as I saw him, I shot and he shot. I shot his face off and killed him, and the grenade landed way behind us." He then picked off two more Vietcong setting up a machine gun near his bunker. But Shelley's luck didn't last for long. He was shot in the hip and half his buttocks was blown off. "Eric found out I got shot. He came running through all this mortar attack and all this gun shooting just to check on me," Shelley said. "Tbat's how close we were." The fierce fighting continued for several hours. Finally, the Army sent in F-4 jets to drop napalm. "You could hear all these Vietcong screaming because it's like a gasoline jelly," Shelley said. "Once it gets on you, you can't get it off. It just eats right through you." After that, the fighting abated and the wounded were airlifted. So many men were injured that the supply of morphine and stretchers ran low. For hours, Sorenson waited with Shelley, who was one of the soldiers who did not receive any pain killers. Each time a helicopter took off and landed, Sorenson threw his body over Shelley's to protect him from the dust and debris kicked up by the chopper's blades. Finally it was Shelley's turn. Sorenson helped load his friend into the helicopter. The next time they saw each other was two days later at a hospital in Japan. "He was in a body cast from the chest down. He was in pretty bad shape," said Sorenson, 51. "I talked to the doc right before I left the hospital and asked if Harold would be OK He said, 'Yeah, he might walk with a slight limp later on, but he'll be OK. That was the last time the two friends saw each other. "It's like having a brother you dearly, dearly love and all of a sudden one day he's gone," said Shelley, 51.