(NEW YORK) — Former Marines Jim Volkmar and Arthur Phillips always wondered what had happened to each other. They last saw each other more than four decades ago in as a haze of morphine as doctors worked furiously to patch them up.
Volkmar was a platoon commander, Phillips his radio operator. On that March day in Vietnam in 1969, they had set out to help rescue members of their platoon who were pinned down by the Viet Cong.
As they made their way through a cornfield, a device, possibly a mortar, exploded in their midst.
“It picked me up, and I did a summersault and landed on my back,” said Volkmar. “I saw Arthur was standing rigidly and his finger was on his throat, and blood was coming through his fingers.”
Both men were picked up by helicopter and flown to their base ship.
“They took me to the operating room,” said Phillips. “I was sprayed head to toe with shrapnel.”
Doctors also worked on Volkmar, whose left foot, leg and arm were severely injured.
It was the last day the two men ever saw each other. Phillips was sewn up and returned to combat. Volkmar spent nine months in military hospitals and was then reassigned to the U.S.S. Hornet in Long Beach, Calif.
This year, Phillips was trolling the Internet and stumbled on an article on the website TogetherWeServed written by Volkmar and recounting that day he and his radio man were wounded. Phillips realized he was that radio man, and that this was his long-lost colonel.
The next day, the two were able to connect by phone. It was March 13 of this year, 44 years to the day they were blown up.
“If you ever want to see the hand of God at work, this is it,” said Lt. Col. James Volkmar who made a career out of the Marines.
“I recognized that voice right away,” said Phillips. “You know, I haven’t heard that voice in 44 years.”
The two talked for more than an hour.
“It was like we were standing right there before the device hit and went boom. It was like the years just fell away,” said Volkmar.
Phillips, who worked for the U.S. Postal Service for 28 years, lives in Massachusetts. Volkmar is in Texas. The two hope to connect in person this summer.
TogetherWeServed.com is a website dedicated both to memorializing and to reconnecting veterans from all branches of the service. Volkmar called it “truly uplifting and inspiring.”
Pam Jeans couldn’t agree more. Her husband of 47 years, Duel Jeans, is also a former Marine. He served during the Korean War.
The couple stumbled on the website when Duel Jeans was trying to find buddies who had fought alongside him.
Pam Jeans found herself hooked on the stories and profiles of the men and women who had served their country. She began spending hours online researching genealogy sites, obituaries, looking for any information she could get her hands on. She used the information to create remembrance profiles of Marines who served in Korea who have since passed away.
“The main thing for me,” said Jeans, “was making sure these fellows weren’t forgotten.”
She has certainly done that. Jeans has created a record 12,585 remembrance profiles of the Korean War veterans for TogetherWeServed.com.
“It’s not the numbers I’m interested in so much as the stories,” said Jeans. “Seeing their pictures, you can actually see them go from a young boy to a man.”
This Memorial Day weekend, TogetherWeServed is putting out a call to families whose loved ones died while in the military.
The website now has 90,000 profile pages in its Roll of Honor: solders, Marines, sailors and airmen who served from World War II until today. They’re hoping families of these men and women will add to the profile pages with pictures and details of their service.
“I think what we will ultimately end up with, if we’re not already there, is the largest reservoir of historical information on all services across the board,” said former soldier and site historian Mike Christy.
Pam Jeans is still working hard to make sure that happens. When she’s not taking care of her 83-year-old husband, who now suffers from dementia, she’s creating another profile of yet another Korean War veteran.
Even with more than 12,000 under her belt, she’s hardly slowed down.
“You would think after all this time, I would be tired of doing it,” she said.
Yet as she finds veterans to profile, veterans who might otherwise be forgotten, Jeans said, “Every day there is something new that inspires me in some way.”
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Brandon Griggs, EastIdahoNews.com
Sandra Gonzalez, CNN