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Veterans reunite after 53 years apart

MethuenLife’s Ed “Hoppy” Curran (right) had an emotional reunion with fellow Vietnam War veteran Keith Disler of Huntington, who he served with, last March during a trip to Florida. Photo provided by Ed “Hoppy” Curran.
MethuenLife’s Ed “Hoppy” Curran (right) had an emotional reunion with fellow Vietnam War veteran Keith Disler of Huntington, who he served with, last March during a trip to Florida. Photo provided by Ed “Hoppy” Curran.

Editor’s note: this story was previously published in the May 2021 MethuenLife Magazine and was submitted to The TAB by Keith Disler.

Sitting in an outdoor Florida restaurant with about 40 customers around him, Ed “Hoppy” Curran stood up, asked the crowd for their attention, and introduced himself and the man sitting at his table as Vietnam War veterans who had not seen each other in 53 years.

 A couple of women gasped in surprise, the customers broke out in applause and one of them said her husband, too, was a veteran of the war.

  The surprise announcement in the restaurant was one of the highlights of the reunion of the two veterans seated together, Curran and Huntington resident Keith Disler.

 Until they reunited earlier that day, the two former Army soldiers had not seen each other in person since they parted ways in Vietnam in 1968.

  “I think everyone was shocked,” recalled Disler, who did not know what Curran, a Methuen resident, was going to do. “It was very nice of him to do that.”

  Curran, 72, and Disler, 73, were only in their late teens when they served in the same military unit. It was the death of a fellow soldier, killed during the war, which eventually led to the two men reuniting.

  Disler had read messages of remembrance of Army Pvt. Larry E. Curry that Curran had written online on the Virtual Wall of Faces, which features a page dedicated to honoring and remembering every person whose name is inscribed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

  Curran has posted his e-mail address along with his messages.

  Curry, of Front Royal, VA, was Curran’s best buddy in Vietnam and was killed July 15, 1968, in Pleiku, Vietnam, while on guard duty, two months before his 22nd birthday and just one week before he was scheduled to leave the country.

  Along with Curran and Disler, he was a member of the 243rd Field Service Company attached to the Fourth Infantry Division.

  “Larry was my best friend and we were like brothers,” a part of one of Curran’s remembrances reads. “He gave his life to his country and laid it down so young.”

  According to Curran, he was sitting at home one day last year when he received an e-mail from Disler – a complete surprise because the men had not communicated with each other since they were in Vietnam in 1968.    

  “It was unbelievable,” Curran said. “Right away my heart starts pumping.”

  The two men communicated, and Curran mailed Disler some CDs – Curran is in a musical group, The Veterans Den Band – along with a pin honoring Vietnam War veterans, a couple of photographs of them together, and a shirt and a couple of hats from a fund-raising road race Curran helps run.

  Later, after discovering that they were both going to be in St. Petersburg, FL, around the same time, they made plans to meet.

  They reunited there last March 24 during a 12-day trip that Curran made with his wife, Ellen.

  The two men, along with their wives, talked at a condo the Dislers were staying at owned by a friend of Disler’s wife, Rita. The five of them – the Currans, the Dislers and Rita’s friend, Sue, went out for dinner. After the meal, the group returned to the condo for more conversation.

  The visit was an emotional one that began with a big hug, according to Curran.

  “We had a nice talk. We talked about our time in Vietnam. It’s like we never left each other. It was just unbelievable,” Curran said. “Of course, we’re older looking. Thank God we have our health. All of this because of Larry.”

  “We had a great reunion,” recalled Disler, who served as a company clerk as a Specialist Fourth Class and remembered Curran’s good sense of humor and New England accent. “Everything worked out. It was like it was meant to be.”

  The wives – both former teachers – hit it off, too, and Ellen told her husband the experience was “like we’ve known them all our lives.”

 As a result of connecting with Disler, Curran has re-connected with two other former soldiers: Keith Delaney of Illinois and former Sgt. Don Kolar, who lives in Arizona – two men that Curran had not spoken to or seen since he left Vietnam.

  “It’s just an amazing story,” he said. “I never knew they were alive. I had no clue where they were, what they were doing.”

 The four men, who hold a special bond of having all served in Vietnam, plan to eventually reunite together, at a location to be determined, after the COVID-19 pandemic is over.

 “I’m excited about it,” Disler said. “I hope it works out.”

Curran, who joined the Army, served in Vietnam from August 1967 through August 1968, during a three-year stint in the military. He had met Curry at a processing center in Saigon.

 Curran, whose cot was located next to Curry’s, was charged with cleaning out his friend’s belongings after he was killed. Among the possessions was a starched uniform – Curry had been getting ready to go home.

  In observation of the 25th anniversary of Curry’s death, in 1993, Curran wrote a letter to the editor of Curry’s hometown newspaper. Curran received cards and letters from Curry’s family, thanking him for remembering Larry in the published letter.

  Curran was happy to learn from the family that their company commander had posthumously awarded Curry the Bronze Star medal, which is awarded for heroic or meritorious achievement or service.

  “When you’re in a war with people, that you were there for a year, obviously it’s family. We’d take a bullet for each other. It’s a rare feeling in life, and that feeling doesn’t go away 53 years later,” Curran said.

  Curran, who grew up in South Lawrence, has done a lot to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice in Vietnam and to help his fellow veterans and citizens. He was instrumental in creating the Vietnam War Memorial in Lawrence’s Bellevue Cemetery in memory of the 18 men from the city – including several Curran knew personally – in the early 1990s.

  A fund-raising committee, which includes Methuen resident William Laverriere, formed after the dedication of the engraved stone, has raised $250,000 in 30 years for scholarships and other worthy causes.

  The Lawrence Vietnam Memorial Road Race is run by Curran and his wife, along with Lawrence Police Lt. Jay Cerullo. The couple teams up with Dracut residents Guy and Denise Curtis to run an annual cabaret.

  “We do it in memory of the 18 men that were killed in Vietnam,” Curran said. “We don’t want to forget them.”

  After working 27 years for the Lawrence Department of Public Works, Curran served 10 years as the Veterans Services Officer at City Hall in Methuen.

  “It’s a brotherhood and a sisterhood. I’m very fortunate I can do it, and I’ll do it as long as I can, as long as I have my health,” Curran said of his community efforts.

  Like other veterans, Curran lives with the memories of war. But he also believes he’s a lucky guy, very fortunate to have come out of a war alive.

  “I’m very fortunate to have survived Vietnam,” he said. “I don’t like talking about things that happened. But when you survive the place we were at, survive the Tet Offensive – obviously the biggest battle of the Vietnam War – living through rocket and mortar attacks, as I got older you feel more fortunate.”

  “I’ve got a beautiful wife, I’ve got two beautiful sons, I have a granddaughter,” Curran added. “I’ve had a lot of things in life (that) Larry and those 18 guys never had.”