The men, both from Ohio, first met as Marines in Vietnam and have reunited three decades later.
By JoANNE VIVIANO
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
POWELL, Ohio -- Larry Bosko keeps the letter under lock and key, hidden inside a box in his home in this Columbus suburb.
After years of searching, he has finally found the Vietnam veteran who penned it more than three decades ago.
Bosko spent the past several years searching for Ivan Samuel Dever Sr. The two served together in the Marine Corps in Vietnam in 1968 and 1969, until Bosko returned to the States after an injury.
Bosko's comrade Sam, originally from Warren, lived in the Newton Falls area and moved to Florida about three years ago. Bosko had searched for Dever in various ways, including the Internet. Online, someone calling herself "Aunt Tootie" suggested he contact The Vindicator.
With some help from the Trumbull County Board of Elections and Yahoo's people search, the newspaper was able to find Dever in Florida, where he lives with his wife.
"I miss Ohio and I miss the people," Dever said when contacted by telephone.
He said he remembered Bosko as the only one in the platoon from the same home area as himself. And he remembered that they had wanted to keep in touch.
A long time ago: It's been 32 years since the two served together and Bosko heard his friend Sam croon Dean Martin songs -- and watched him and another drunk soldier kiss a dead snake.
It's been 32 years since Bosko, Dever and other members of the Alpha Company 1st Battalion 4th Regiment played cards, joked, laughed and tried to distract themselves from dangers they knew lurked behind the beautiful Vietnam countryside.
Finding Dever "made my New Year," Bosko said. The men spent an hour talking on the phone as Bosko ran through a gamut of emotions, from shock at finding his friend to excitement.
"These are special friendships that were formed," Bosko said of his bond with Dever and other members of the company. "When we talk to each other, all the years seem to evaporate."
Bosko, originally from Mansfield, said he and Dever had hopes of remaining friends after the war.
"We had these big plans that we were gonna come back to Ohio, buy Corvettes and become Ohio patrolmen," Bosko said.
Instead, Bosko became disabled in a shell blast in February 1969 and returned home; the years got in the way and he and his friend lost track of each other.
Sad letter: But Bosko has kept the letter he received from Dever as he lay recovering in the Great Lakes Navy Hospital in Illinois. It tells Bosko of the death of their commanding officer, Sgt. Leonard Labowski, fondly called "Sgt. Ski" by his men. Sgt. Ski had been killed by a "short round," a 155mm shell that detonated too close, too soon.
Bosko remembers the moment he read the news.
"To be truthful with you, I cried my eyes out," Bosko said. "Basically, I can get that letter out and do it all over again. It kind of makes me sad to think about friends gone like that."
Dever said he remembers the death.
"I was with him right to the end," Dever said. "The moment it happened we were steps apart."
Dever said he didn't want to discuss any more of his war experience.
Bosko had wanted to find Dever for two reasons: First, he wants to see him again; second, he wants to introduce Dever to Labowski's family, including his daughter Christi who lives in Cincinnati.
"Sgt. Ski's daughter was 15 days old when he was killed," Bosko said. "I know that him and Sam were close friends. Sam probably got to watch the joy on Sgt. Ski's face when he found out he was a father."
Bosko served in a weapons/mortar platoon arriving in Vietnam in late October 1968.
First meeting: He recalls meeting Labowski as he and other Marines met up with the company. Labowski sat waiting for the group on his pack, a cigarette dangling from his mouth, a green stocking cap on his head. Bosko remembers Labowski as a prankster who became very serious when needed.
Bosko also recalls spending 50 days on a hill called Landing Zone Neville with Dever, Labowski and other members of the company. Together, they took enemy fire on several occasions.
Bosko's tour came to an end in February 1969. The group had moved on and were now on Signal Hill when a fellow soldier picked up a 60mm mortar shell that had been fired but never exploded. The soldier lost his leg, another lost his memory. Bosko escaped with a leg injury and several shrapnel wounds.
Special bond: Over the years, Bosko has reunited with many men in the company. Members of the group have linked up through Internet sites, and they had a reunion in Kansas in August.
They plan to have another reunion this year in Columbus and hope Dever can make it this time.
"If you talk to 100 Vietnam veterans, 99 are probably going to say the same thing," Bosko said. "There's a different bond with the guys you served with in the military. It's different than family bonding."