MANCHESTER, Mass. — “How the hell are ya?”
So said Harold Stryker, 95, of Victor, New York, when he saw Vincent Terrill, 93, one afternoon last week.
They were the first words the men had spoken to each other in person in more than 74 years.
Stryker and Terrill served in the 96th Infantry Division, known as the “Deadeyes,” during the Battle of Okinawa in the spring of 1945. They were reunited for the first time in front of family and fellow veterans outside the local American Legion hall.
For years Terrill and Stryker believed each other had died. That was until last Veterans Day when Terrill, of Manchester, was watching a documentary about the Honor Flight program when his old war buddy came on screen.
A friend got in touch with producers of the documentary about the program that flies World War II and terminally ill veterans to Washington, D.C. to visit the city’s memorials. Sensing an opportunity for a follow-up, the filmmakers arranged to drive Stryker from his home outside Rochester to this town on the Massachusetts coast, some 340 miles away.
At 3 p.m. last Friday, Jan. 3, a van escorted by local and state police pulled up to the Legion, where Terrill was waiting near a large American flag hoisted by a Manchester Fire Department ladder truck. Once Stryker got out, the two old friends embraced and posed for photos.
They headed inside to start reminiscing. Both had been to basic training at the old Camp Wheeler near Macon, Georgia, and then for a short time in Hawaii.
Two weeks after that, they were shipped off to Okinawa.
The “Deadeyes” took the highest number of causalities out of all the companies that fought during the nearly three-month battle — 1,625 died before the Allies claimed victory.
Stryker recalled walking through blood-red ocean water and climbing over stone barricades nearly 350 feet high. He would receive a Purple Heart for his service.
Terrill described how a fellow infantrymen luckily ducked a sniper’s bullet while making coffee. What could have been a fatal shot grazed the soldier’s rear end.
“It’s like I just saw him yesterday,” Terrill said of the reunion with Stryker.
For his part, Stryker said Terrill “ain’t changed nothing. He’s still got the same hair, same outfit.”
Terrill is scheduled for his first-ever Honor Flight trip to D.C., this April.
Michael Cronin writes for The Gloucester, Mass., Daily Times.