ELKHART — Mark Trotter of Elkhart is planning a typical Labor Day weekend. He’s going to fire up the grill and catch up with friends — but this year, he will be chatting with friends he hasn’t spent significant time with since leaving U.S. Army service in 1980.
Trotter was a gunner on a M-60A3 tank in Germany from 1978 to 1980. He worked closely with three other men: Rick Lego, Wayne Whittman and Michael Curtis. After Trotter left the military, he lost contact with the men who he said were like his brothers. In March, Trotter found his friends again after his wife decided to do a Google search for their contact information.
“Rick was sitting on a mountain (in Pennsylvania) bear hunting when I called him,” Trotter said on Wednesday, Aug. 28. “He couldn’t believe it — he said he had been looking for me for over 20 years.”
Trotter’s friendship with his Army buddies was something special, he explained.
“We were all really close,” Trotter said. “Being in the service, it’s hard to explain to people — you look out for your buddy and they look out for you. We hung out and traveled a lot in Germany when we had free time. It’s a friendship you will never forget.”
The friends decided to plan a summer reunion, and this Saturday, they will be meeting up at Trotter’s home in Elkhart. Curtis, who lives in New Hampshire, won’t be able to make it, said Trotter.
“But one of these days he is going to be here,” Trotter said firmly. “I told him I’d buy him a plane ticket myself.”
Trotter’s father fought in World War II, and his three older brothers were all stationed in Vietnam at the same time when Trotter was in his teens.
Joining the military, said Trotter, “was just something we knew we had to do.”
“None of us were drafted, we all volunteered,” he continued, adding that his youngest son is serving as an Army mechanic.
On Saturday, “I’m just going to be barbecuing,” Trotter said. “I’ve got about 30 pounds of chicken I want to put on the grill, and we are just going to relive old times.”
He continued, “People who haven’t been in the military life, it’s hard for them to fathom what it’s like. It’s not like civilian life, when you get up every day and go to work. My main thing is, I tell people ‘Freedom isn’t free.’ So many people don’t understand that. There are a lot of guys who have sacrificed, and more than just their time. They’ve given their lives.”