Retired Marine Ray Williams of Missouri City looks back on his time serving in the military, in particular Desert Storm, with relative fondness.
He also acknowledges that many Marines face myriad challenges, related to war and otherwise, upon returning home. There are also so relatively few in the world who understand such a plight, he said, thus the need for camaraderie with fellow Marines.
An annual gathering for retired Marines, which has been held around the country, now provides that outlet.
The 50-year-old Williams joined about 40 other retired Marines from Echo 2/11’s First Marine Division inside Main Event Entertainment in Stafford last Friday night as the group bowled, laughed, ate and generally appeared to have no cares in the world. It was part of a weekend reunion for the group that included a dinner Saturday night at the Westin Hotel in the Galleria.
“The whole purpose is camaraderie – getting together to see where we are in life and what’s going on to try to keep with the health and maintenance of one another to understand what we’re going through,” said Williams, whose service in Marines lasted from 1990-93. “It’s a comparison of similar events that go on in life. Some of us have things that happened where it’s the same thing happening with somebody else. We compare these stories and work with each other to resolve, or find how to resolve, certain issues that we go through in life.”
The gatherings are comprised solely of retired Marines who served during the first Gulf War from 1990-91, shortly after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. Gregory Price has taken on the role of organizing the gatherings of those who served together in the first Desert Storm – a codename for the Gulf War. The group’s first reunion was held at California’s Camp Pendleton, and they also have met in Dallas, New Orleans, Chicago and Las Vegas.
Price, a sergeant with Echo 2/11 who lives in the Washington, D.C. area, said the experience can be therapeutic for the Marines in attendance. Their lives and Marine experiences, such as injuries and mental health challenges, often overlap despite many serving in different units and never crossing paths.
“We feel so comfortable being around people like us,” Price said. “We all came into the Marine Corps around the same time, fought around the same time and shared the same symptoms that we’ve dealt with over the years. “We tell the stories of what happened while we didn’t really know each other, and our lives are pretty much parallel when you talk about the relationships we have.”
Service for those like Price and Williams, who served as a Fire Control Specialist for Echo 2/11’s First Marine Division in the Gulf War, has taken them anywhere from Kuwait to Somalia and numerous other war zones.
“I’m thinking to myself, ‘There’s no way I could be going to a war right after boot camp,’ ” Williams remembered after completing his training in August 1990 on the same day Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, prompting the U.S.’s involvement. “Then in November 1990, I met with these guys here and was told, ‘Don’t pack your bags – you’re going to war.’”
Such stories are prevalent at every gathering, according to Williams and Price. Even though many of those gathered rarely, if ever, crossed paths, their lives remain forever intertwined with their place in history, bonding them and creating friendships that span state lines.
“Some of these guys, I haven’t seen for 25 years. The day we got back from Desert Storm was the last time I had seen one of these guys,” Williams said. “Now I’m getting to see him today after all those years.”
In being able to come together and share their stories, the retired veterans can reminisce while simultaneously providing sounding boards for any struggles their comrades may be encountering.
Price said that’s the point of their reunions.
“A lot of us are dealing with some issues like PTSD, so this gives us an opportunity to be comfortable around each other,” he said. “We served in war together. We’re always going to have that bond of being Marines, and now we’re veterans who served in the first Desert Storm.
“We’ll always have that bond. We care for and love each other. It’s like an embedded brotherhood.”