SCOTTBORO, Ala. (AP) — Finally, Thomas Fagan received a surprise visit from one of his best friends, Donald Goeppner. The two met while serving in the Marines during the Korean War, and their reunion lasted 69 years.
“It was like ‘finally,’ we’re seeing each other again after all these years. It’s such a touching event,” Goeppner said. “It’s a good feeling…. I’m just proud that we got together.”
The last time Thomas Fagan and Donald Goeppner saw each other, they were saying goodbye after serving in Korea in 1953. Although they were committed to the war, they had to find ways to try to get there. to arrive.
Originally trained as riflemen, they were sent to Hawaii as Marine Guardsmen, a position neither man saw fit.
“We were enthusiastic Marines, we were committed to fighting in Korea, not being guard Marines,” Goeppner said.
Goeppner and Fagan hatched a plan: they embarked on a merchant ship in hopes of arriving in Korea and being stationed there. After stashing on the lifeboats for three days without food or water, they boarded the boat, to which the merchants fed them, gave them IVs to rehydrate them, and dropped them off in Yokosuka, Japan.
“After we got off the ship in Japan, those merchant marines that were on the ship, they all loved us, they wished us well and everything,” Goeppner said.
Fagan and Goeppner were quickly thrown into the brig in Yokosuka before being returned to Pearl Harbor and thrown into the brig for 10 more days. After they left, the base colonel gave them the order: they were going back to Korea. From there they served in Dog Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines as riflemen.
“It was a hell hole but that’s what we wanted, we were prepared for it,” Goeppner said.
Although they lived in caves and endured temperatures of 38 degrees below zero, by the end of their time in the war, both men were first class soldiers.
“We weren’t good for the promotion, we were enthusiastic Marines, but not what they called spotless,” Goeppner said.
After leaving the Marines, the two men returned home, Goeppner in Chicago, Fagan in New Jersey. Goeppner would work as a firefighter in Chicago for 40 years and raise six children while Fagan would work as a boilermaker and a short time as a bus driver for Greyhound, raising five children. When Fagan first returned home, he learned that he had been drafted to serve in the war he had just left.
“I had to show them the paperwork that I was there,” Fagan said.
Now, 69 years later, the opportunity has finally presented itself for the two veterans to see each other face to face at least once more. After delays, Goeppner and his son arrived from Chicago for a visit to Fagan’s home in Scottsboro recently.
When Fagan first saw Goeppner, he did not recognize him until he spoke.
“There is only one Goepp,” Fagan said.
From there, the two hugged, sat down and started catching up, enjoying having a conversation without the need for a phone or a postcard.
“It made my heart so happy because he’s wanted to see him for so many years now and it never happened. That they see each other is my privilege and I’m so happy for Tom that he got to see his Marine Corps buddy again,” Rita Fagan said.
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