It’s been 63 years since they have seen each other but the bond between Marine Corps veterans Harley Stoltenburg, of Jamestown, N.D., and Gene Loveall, of Sedalia, is as strong as ever, despite the different paths each man took.
Loveall took the path of a career Marine, serving 20 years after his teenage days as a merchant marine. Stoltenburg had a life-changing event that kept him from sticking with the service.
Hours before his deployment to Korea, an emergency sidelined Stoltenburg. His entire platoon of nearly 180 men was killed in action days later.
“I went on emergency leave to see my wife and I went on that leave, a 24-hour pass. When I got back they were all gone, they all got killed. I was gone one week and I found out they were all dead,” Stoltenburg said.
Stoltenburg’s family calls it “an act of God” that he wasn’t shipped out, but the guilt of not being there with his platoon still haunts him.
“If you’d gone, you might not be here today,” Loveall told him Friday afternoon.
“But a Marine is a Marine,” Stoltenburg replied.
The two reunited in Jamestown Aug. 13 after Stoltenburg’s daughter, Lisa Davis, contacted Loveall and arranged the meeting. Then her father caught up with Loveall over the phone.
Despite the 63 years that had passed, Loveall had no trouble remembering Stoltenburg. Loveall was the first person Stoltenburg met in boot camp in San Diego in 1946. It was the idea of joining an elite fighting force that put the two in boot camp together.
“We wanted to prove that it couldn’t get too rough for us,” Loveall said.
“We joined because we are fighters,” Stoltenburg said.
For eight weeks the two endured the rigors of military training. “You got a lot of knocks on your head and a lot of bruised rear ends,” Loveall said. “And you learned how to say ‘sir,’ ” Stoltenburg said.
The pair flipped through photo albums and reminisced about a trip to Tijuana, Mexico, and bar brawls back in the day.
“It’s just like meeting my brother, after many years,” Loveall said.
Each man said the bond Marines have lasts forever and can span generations.
“Dad has always been very proud of serving with the Marine Corps, and in the last 10 years he started talking more about the Marine Corps and wanting to get in touch with some of the guys he went to basic with,” Davis said. “Knowing the bond they share, it’s something I will never really understand but it’s something everybody can appreciate.”
Even with his past Stoltenburg still encourages his grandchildren to serve their country. Five currently do.
“I guess it’s because I’m a Republican,” he joked. But he said the military makes better people and builds self-confidence.
Stoltenburg and his wife, Lu, along with Loveall and his wife, Frances, visited Fort Seward in Jamestown. Loveall joked that when they run out of stories to swap it’ll be time to head back to Sedalia.
“I couldn’t believe it when I got a hold of him,” Stoltenburg said. “I credit it all to my daughter Lisa.”