Exclusive Veteran Interview: Alan “Doc” Sams, Marine Corpsman

Trapped Before the Long Road to Salvation

Marine Corpsman Alan “Doc” Sams at Death’s Door in Vietnam

The answer to why a friend, fellow platoon member and Christian died in Vietnam next to non-believer Alan “Doc” Sams came years later.  Arriving in Vietnam on Thanksgiving Day in 1967, Sams served as a corpsman in the 2nd Platoon, Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines.  While he saw enemy fire or combat action nearly every day, the perils of war dramatically escalated one week after the start of the Tet Offensive in early 1968.

Marine engineers were building a supply road to serve Alpha 3 base along the southern DMZ and Sams was assigned with Kilo to provide security for the sweep.  An enemy bunker complex was soon discovered, followed by an eerie feeling the North Vietnamese Army was close by.  That feeling became reality and literally hit home in late morning on February, 7th.  “It started with one rocket propelled grenade, followed by tracer bullets over our heads and then all hell broke loose in a torrent of grenades, mortars and constant small arms fire,” said Sams, 72 at the time.  “I soon heard the ‘Corpsman up’ call and found a dead Marine, another with an arm blown off, one who lost an eye and another I performed a tracheostomy on.

The battle heated up even more and our platoon became stretched out into an L shape, before being overrun and cut off from the other units.  We had lost radio contact and were basically trapped and surrounded in a dire situation.  I got another call up and reached my friend Willie Adger who was the last soldier holding up the rear of the L.  Of strong Christian faith the last thing I heard him say very quietly and without anxiety was ‘Doc, I’m hit’ before slumping over with a bullet hole between his eyes.  I feel he saved my life by holding down the fort to the end and alerting me to escape any way possible.”

Sams and four other wounded Marines somehow survived a night of battle, but were still not out of the woods.  Marine artillery and tanks had taken it to the enemy and in the morning were mopping up remaining NVA.  “We could hear our boys close by and knew they’d cut down anything that moved, so I just started screaming cuss words, rose on my knees and they held fire,” Sams said.  “John Mick of Mike Company essentially rescued us.  We medevaced the four Marines out but lost 29 of our 50 man-platoon.”  Miraculously, Sams wasn’t wounded.

Sams remained in the field and saw more, but less severe, combat before transferring to a MASH-like 3rd Medical Battalion in Phu Bai.  He left Vietnam in November, 1968 and was released from the Marines as a Petty Officer Second Class in 1970 with a Bronze Star with combat “V” and Combat Action Ribbon.  Sams returned to the states and graduated from what was then the new Physician Assistant program at Duke University and then worked for 30 years at Emory University Hospital before retiring in 2004.

His life had changed, however, as in 1987 he found the Lord.  “It was a slow process because I had never been religious and just thought trying to be a good person was enough,” he said.  “My wife Diane had accepted Jesus 10 years earlier and while watching Pastor Charles Stanley program I felt he was talking directly to me.  Thoughts of that day, night and morning in Vietnam vividly returned to me and were an important part of my new life.  Later I saw on the 3/3 website that Willie Adger’s brother was looking to talk with anyone who had served with Willie.  I contacted him and said Willie died saving my life, which was a moment of joy for his brother and their terminally ill mother.”

Earlier this month in Pensacola, Florida Sams reconnected with fellow veterans at this year’s 3/3 RVN Association reunion, many of which have been managed by Armed Forces Reunions, Inc. He saw platoon Captain Don Frank, John Mick from Mike Company and many others.  “It’s just wonderful to get together as we’ve all become family and many have found the Lord,” said Sams, who lives in Atlanta.  “We of course talked about the ambush, still trying to put the pieces together from that tragic day.”

Sams and his wife are members of non-denominational Cornerstone Bible Church in Lilburn, Georgia and he often shares his story of Feb. 7th and 8th in 1968.  “It took me a long time to realize the acts of Willie Adger and John Mick were God’s intervention.  That I survived Vietnam was a miracle and turned out to be the seed of my salvation,” Sams said.

 

Scott McCaskey is a contributing writer for Armed Forces Reunions and BMR.com, former Account Director at Goldman & Associates Public Relations and a former staff writer for the Virginian-Pilot newspaper.

AFR Awarded USAF Academy Class Reunions Contract

2021 is going to be a record year for Armed Forces Reunions, Inc. (AFR).  Military reunions and government groups that cancelled their 2020 events are rescheduled for 2021.  Groups that were supposed to have met this Spring shifted to Summer and Fall – so we will be plenty busy planning and overseeing dozens of events nationwide over the next several months.  A very exciting recent development was being awarded a contract to handle class reunions for the USAF Academy Association of Graduates (AOG) this year.  They too are experiencing the same Covid-related phenomenon, with all 2020 class reunions being pushed into 2021 – effectively doubling the workload for the AOG staff.

Their class reunions include the typical reunion functions and activities at the hotel, in addition to a full day on Academy grounds culminating to the highlight of the weekend – the home football tailgate and game. With double the reunions this year it was too much for the AOG to deliver top-flight events like the graduates are used to, but they knew where to turn for help! AFR’s involvement allows the AOG’s staff to focus on activities at the Academy grounds, fundraising, and promotion. We are honored to plan the 35th year reunion for the Class of 1986, of which Superintendent Lt. Gen. Richard M. Clark is a member.  AFR now has a full-time event planner on the ground in Colorado Springs to assist the Association of Graduates with executing multiple reunions over a six-week period in September and October.

AFR is well-known to the service academies as 1) we plan many reunions that pay visits to the academies’ grounds and 2) we plan and oversee the annual Service Academies Global Summit, which is a professional development and networking event for graduates of all five U.S. Service Academies.  All five Superintendents attend along with leaders from government, business, the military, and NGO/nonprofits.

If your reunion is headed to CO Springs be sure to seek AFR’s guidance and assistance with hotel contracting and tour planning.  Not a year passes without AFR hosting reunions in CO Springs and other top Air Force reunion destinations like Dayton and San Antonio.  But we’ve planned reunions in over 150 cities over the past three-plus decades, so no matter where your group wants to go, we’ve “been there, done that.”  Remember, when booking through AFR, your group will always get the best rates, the most concessions, and a contract as risk-free as you could hope for.  Get a Professional on Your Side!

Call or email us today and ask for Charley Dey at 757-620-2067 or charley@afri.com

Top Reunion Destination: San Antonio

From the earliest Spanish Missionaries in 1691 to today, San Antonio continues to offer a unique blend of rich heritage, traditions, and natural beauty. Add to that the many bases and deep military connection, and you have a Top 3 Reunion Destination in the country.

The San Antonio River Walk, known as the “world’s largest hotel lobby,” winds along the gently flowing San Antonio River through the city – linking hotels, restaurants, shops, and museums.  Visit the Alamo, the first of five missions established by the Spanish government and the site of the infamous battle of 1836 where 189 men sacrificed their lives for the freedom of Texas.  The other four Spanish colonial missions (Concepción, San José, San Juan and Espada) are part of the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park and worth touring.  The Buckhorn Saloon and Museum’s Hall of Horns, Hall of Feathers and Hall of Fins house not only the largest, but also some of the most impressive collections of native and exotic wildlife around.  Next door you’ll find the Texas Ranger Museum which contains priceless artifacts documenting the history and lore of the Texas Rangers.  And be sure to visit El Mercado, the largest Mexican marketplace outside of Mexico.

Enjoy a scenic ride to Fredericksburg to tour the National Museum of the Pacific War, which is dedicated to everyone who served in the Pacific under Admiral Nimitz.  The Museum includes over 34,000 square feet of indoor exhibit space including the George Bush Gallery, Admiral Nimitz Museum, Plaza of Presidents, Veterans’ Walk of Honor, Japanese Garden of Peace, Pacific Combat Zone, and the Nimitz Education and Research Center.   At Lackland AFB take a stroll along the parade grounds and view a static display of vintage and modern aircraft.  Included in the display are the B-17, P-38, F-82, C-47 and many others.  Take a short trip to the History and Traditions Museum, which houses a collection of rare aeronautical objects.  The museum’s aircraft, engines, instruments, and air weapons span the years of aviation development from its origin to the aerospace age.

No matter the specific needs of your group, AFR has a hotel partner that would be ecstatic to host your next military reunion. Do you want to be right on the Riverwalk? Is a free airport shuttle and free parking a must? What hotels allow you to bring in your own alcohol for the hospitality room? Armed Forces Reunions (‘The National Reunion Bureau’) will guide your group to the best hotel for your needs and will make sure the rest of your visit to San Antonio is a resounding success.

CLICK HERE to get proposals for San Antonio. You can also call or email Charley Dey at charley@afri.com or 757-625-6401.

What Gets You The Best Hotel Deals? – Buying Power

At AFR we speak with A LOT of military reunion groups, both large and small. No matter the size of the group or association, we’ve found over the years that they all operate and plan reunions in about the same way.

One of two situations arise:

Your group is lucky enough to have 1 individual (or a couple) that plans your reunions every year, with the help/input of a local.

Your group is dependent on someone or a committee volunteering to host your reunion in their home city, and they are then left to figure out all the details on their own.

Either way, the destinations you visit start to become limited based on who you have locally and willing to volunteer from your group. If someone new is planning your reunion every year, then what worked and what did not doesn’t always get passed on to the next planner. If the same person is planning every year, then it’s easier to develop a system, but they are still on their own with little expertise in a new city every year. As you have found out through planning on your own, how accommodating hotels are to your needs can be drastically different from city to city – especially regarding BYO alcohol privileges in function space for a hospitality room.

When groups are considering our services, we always hear the same thing: “We have a local there in X city who knows the area and hotels really well – they can handle it.” While local knowledge is indeed helpful, what’s more important is BUYING POWER with the hotels and specific knowledge about what makes a hotel “reunion-friendly.” Your local member may know the best hotels in the area, but they always quickly learn that many do not accommodate the things you need to have. A “reunion-friendly” hotel is one that allows you to bring your own alcohol into their function space for hospitality, provides reasonable rates, is flexible with hotel policies, waives meeting room rental, allows discounted catering menus, and accepts a myriad of other concessions. In any city nationwide, you will not find more than a few hotels that are truly “reunion-friendly.”

AFR gets discounts and special concessions from our hotel partners simply because of BUYING POWER. You may know the right things to ask for in hotel negotiations, but just asking isn’t enough. You must ask yourself, why would the hotel grant us anything special? For AFR it is because we send a high volume of business to our hotel partners, they know that year after year through good times and bad AFR will bring them business.

Now you may be thinking, “I like working on our reunion every year, and don’t want to give it up!” We agree! Our favorite part about working with military reunion groups is the passion you have for your groups and members; it is unmatched by any other segment. AFR does not want to steal your thunder, replace your committees, or influence your reunion in any way other than improving your members’ experience.

So, imagine a new way of sourcing your host hotel for a moment: Your members vote on one or a few cities to host the next reunion. Now, you call AFR to speak about your program/agenda, city/cities you want to go to, your preferred dates, and any special considerations you may have. You go back to your daily life feeling no stress at all about finding the right hotel for your members. Anywhere from a few days to a couple weeks later you have 1-3 proposals from THE BEST hotels to host a military reunion at, with a long list of concessions that benefit your members and association. AFR reviews the proposals before they are sent to you to ensure all needs are met and if any preliminary negotiations need to happen, we handle those. Once you and your team have reviewed all proposals and gotten all questions answered, you select the host hotel and AFR issues our very own Military Reunion Hotel Contract and negotiates the best agreement possible on your behalf. We simply leverage our long-term relationships and Buying Power while you and your team sit back and make the important final decisions, without worrying about the fine details and negotiations.

What we bring to the table is over 30 years’ experience planning thousands of military reunions in over 150 cities nationwide, and a vast network of long-term industry partners that love and appreciate military business. The best part about all of this is there is no cost to your association for this service. Why would you not want to take advantage of that?

If you are tired of dealing with endless hotels every year or just want to ensure your group is getting the best deal possible, reach out to AFR to learn more about our site selection and hotel contracting process, as well as our optional Reunion Registration Services.

Fill out our Contact Form or call/email Charley Dey directly at 757-625-6401 or charley@afri.com.

Must See Museum: U.S. Army Transportation

The U.S. Army Transportation Museum is the only museum dedicated to preserving the history of U.S. Army Transportation.  The story of the Army’s Transportation Corps, from horse-drawn wagons of the Revolutionary War to armored vehicles being used today, is told through exhibits, models, and dioramas.  The museum’s artifact collection numbers just under 7,000 objects, plus another 1,000 exhibit props. The collection includes nearly 100 macro artifacts ranging from planes, helicopters, tugboats, and landing craft to trucks, jeeps, hovercraft and trains.

Some of the unique items in the collection include the only surviving gun truck from the Vietnam War “Eve of Destruction” and the only surviving hovercraft to see combat in Vietnam. The museum also houses a unique collection of experimental aircraft and the first helicopter to fly at the South Pole.  Approximately 25% of the museum collection comes from general public donations, while the remainder comes through transfers, bequests, and other sources. The museum ranks as one of the largest museums in the Army Museum system and typically has about 25% of the collection on display at any given point in time.

Eve of Destruction

 

For the sailors out there wondering what the heck you want to see at an Army transportation museum – this is Coastal Virginia! There’s always a sea-going element included when you’re minutes from the largest Navy base in the world. The Marine Park includes landing craft, tugboats, patrol boats, and amphibious craft. Come see the 60-ton BARC amphibious truck or the LCM-6 landing craft that saw service in four wars hauling troops and supplies over beaches all over the world. Experience, the Army’s navy! For the airmen, The Aviation Pavilion tells the story of aviation development in the Army through helicopters, airplanes, and experimental craft which paved the way for today’s Air Force. The Golden Knights jump plane, the oldest Chinook in existence, and President Kennedy’s Army One helicopter are just some of the fascinating aircraft on display.

No matter the branch of service your group comes from, the U.S. Army Transportation Museum in Coastal Virginia has something for you. Reach out to us today to explore the best ways to visit this extremely unique and military-centric region.

Call or email Charley Dey at 757-625-6401 or charley@afri.com