Vietnam veterans planning to reunite

Once, when Wayne Delozier of Altoona was a sergeant in an engineering brigade in Vietnam, he was welding a pipe in the rain and getting shocked again and again.

The pipe brought water to wash crushed rock needed to pave mud roads as a deterrent for the placement of mines by the enemy.

A corporal in Delozier’s unit – his friend Robert Stuller – said he couldn’t believe Delozier endured the shocks and kept on welding.

That admiration for Delozier’s dedication as a mechanic was matched by Delozier’s own appreciation of the slightly older Stuller’s “bubbly” personality and ability to help a young man who grew up without much fatherly affection “feel like you’re somebody.”

This week, for the first time in 44 years – since Stuller flew home from Southeast Asia two weeks before Delozier – the friends will meet in person, here in Altoona.

“I really, really want to see him,” said Delozier, who lives with his wife, Gloria, on Kittanning Point Road. “Bad.”

The meeting, which will take place when Stuller arrives from Washington state on the morning train, grew out of a search for Delozier that succeeded last fall.

He had first tried in the 1980s, without success, using his “little black book” of names and addresses from the war.

Last year, he tried again.

He first called police in Stuller’s hometown, but they wouldn’t give him information, citing the Privacy Act.

Then he found an address on the Internet and wrote a letter. That found its mark, and Stuller responded with an email.

But there was nothing that connected it with Stuller on the surface of the message, and Delozier deleted it, fearing it contained a virus.

Finally, in October, Stuller called. They talked for an hour.

After that, they spoke regularly by phone – every two weeks at first – then more and more. They talk 45 minutes to an hour at a time.

“We’re worse than two old women,” Delozier said. “We have a lot of time to make up.”

They talk about “what we’ve done in life,” said Delozier, who retired from a job as a preventive maintenance mechanic on heavy trucks at PennDOT District 9.

They don’t talk much about the war.

Stuller calls Delozier, instead of the other way around, because getting to the phone when it rings is a chore for Stuller, who has trouble walking due to an electrical accident at a factory where he, too, worked as a mechanic.

Stuller calls at appointed times, and they worry when he’s late, Gloria said.

Early on, they decided to connect in person out West, as Delozier and his wife, Gloria, had already been planning a trip.

Those plans changed when Stuller asked for advice about shipping a conversion van he bought on eBay from Waynesburg, Pa.

Shipping a vehicle is expensive, so Delozier suggested that he and his son drive it out to Washington, then fly back.

“I can’t ask you to do that,” Stuller said.

“I’ll do it. I want to see you,” Delozier said.

Stuller proposed coming here, then driving his van out, while they came in their own car.

That settled it.

Stuller will visit for a couple days, then the trio will caravan to Washington.

The Deloziers already have the van waiting, having taken it to a mechanic for a check, and they paid for a motel for Stuller.

“What do I owe you?” Stuller asked them.

“He can’t believe I took a dollar out of my pocket to get this [van] fixed,” Delozier said. “He don’t owe me nothing.”

Stuller asked Delozier to check on accessibility at the train station. He uses a mobility scooter to get around, and he’s embarrassed about his size.

“Wayne, I’m big,” he told Delozier.

“I don’t [care] how big you are,” Delozier said.

But they kidded Stuller about it. Gloria told him their son has a skidloader.

“I’m not that big!” Stuller told them with a laugh.

Delozier said he can envision what Stuller looked like when they served together in the states and Vietnam.

“I know I can’t expect to see that,” he said.

At one point, Stuller told Gloria, “I’m not a normal human being” – evidently, because of damage from the factory accident.

“I said, ‘You’ll still be loved by us,'” Gloria stated.

Stuller was one of three close friends Delozier made in the Army, where he thrived on following the rules, doing his job and earning respect. They lived in the same cubicle.

“I lucked out,” he said.

Stuller is the only one left.

Delozier’s “quest” has been to see him before one of them dies.

“I want to touch his hand again and give him a hug,” he said. “He’s my buddy.”

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.