“Army buddies for life.”
That’s how Ray Fancher describes a group of 10 U.S. Army veterans who were inducted on the same day in 1956 and have kept in touch ever since.
The men — from locations throughout the U.S. — took basic training together at Fort Hood, Tex., in October 1956. They were later deployed to Germany to serve in the 4th Armored Division, 35th Tank Battalion. And, in October 1958, they were honorably discharged together.
That was nearly 60 years ago. And to this day, the group of men get together for a reunion every year, spending a week together at a state park or some other location in various states.
“I don’t have the words in my vocabulary to express what kind of group this is and what it means for us to get together,” Fancher said. “A lot of these guys, we’re on the phone a lot more than I am with my immediate family.”
The group of Army buddies includes Fancher and Claude White from Tennessee, Wayne Ashworth from Virginia, Gurney Bracey from North Carolina, Jimmie Brown and George Hatfield from Florida, Fred Eberhart from Oklahoma, Wayne Craven from Mississippi, Darrel Pearson from Minnesota and Joe Svehla from Nebraska.
Ashworth, Brown and Fancher stayed in close touch after being discharged from the service, and got together in Virginia in 1962. Over the years, they stayed in touch with their other Army buddies and invited them to join their group.
That led to the group’s first reunion in 1981, when the 10 Army buddies met up in Florida. And it’s been happening every year ever since.
“We have met in places from Florida to Minnesota and many states in between,” said Fancher, who, at the age of 83, is a bus driver for the Scott County School System and pumps septic tanks on the side. “The entire group has become like family to each other over the years.”
In fact, the wives are as much a part of the group as the men, joining their husbands at the reunions each year and even staying in touch with one another aside from the reunions. Sedora Fancher, Ray’s wife of 58 years, started writing the wife of Craven in the 1950s, when their husbands were serving overseas in Germany. Many of the other wives have stayed in touch as well.
Wanda White, the wife of Claude White, said that she was “so uncertain” about what to expect when she attended her first reunion in 1988, taking a stack of books with her to Georgia with the intent of holing up in her room and spending some time reading.
“I never opened a book and have thoroughly enjoyed every year since,” she said. “All the wives are also the best of friends.”
Her husband, Claude, said that the reunions have been among the “best experiences of my life. These men have been some of the best friends I have ever had. I always looked forward to each reunion, just couldn’t wait to see everyone. It seemed like each reunion drew us closer and closer.”
Over the years, four of the men — Craven, Hatfield, Pearson and Svehla — have passed on. Age is catching up with the others. White is currently battling cancer.
But as long as their health allows, the group of Army buddies plan to continue their get-togethers.
“We all feel that the two years we gave Uncle Sam serving our country has been repaid many times over with the friendship and love that was developed within this group,” Fancher said.