OLD ORCHARD BEACH, Maine — A pair of Vietnam veterans who hadn’t seen each other since the day one of them was shot down and taken prisoner by the North Vietnamese have been reunited after 44 years.
Russ Warriner hadn’t seen pilot Michael O’Connor since that fateful day on Feb. 4, 1968. Warriner was crew chief on a rocket-armed helicopter that was out of service, so he never saw O’Connor again.
Warriner and several other members of the same unit were reunited with O’Connor at the Portland International Airport before the POW/MIA Recognition Weekend got under way.
“He was so shocked to see so many of the guys greet him that tears were starting to run down his cheeks,” Warriner said. “It was awesome.”
O’Connor, who flew in from California for the event, evaded capture for a day-and-a-half before being taken prisoner. The men served together in the 2nd Battalion 20th Artillery (ARA) 1st Calvary Division.
The event, which began Friday, will continue through Sunday at The Ballpark. Warriner, from Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7997, was serving as event organizer.
The event featured veteran exhibits such as a banner with the names of the 559 Mainers still missing in action as well as a Cobra helicopter trucked in from South Carolina by the Celebrate Freedom Foundation.
Warriner, who lives in Old Orchard, said that getting involved in veterans groups and reconnecting with old friends has helped him to heal his wounds. He said many friends didn’t make it back home, and Warriner himself had several close calls, including an engine failure in a helicopter in Vietnam.
“The POW issue has been part of my life since 1968,” Warriner told the Journal Tribune, acknowledging guilt that he missed the mission on which the copter went down.