Dennis Chandler, a former Marine Corpsman, traveled from Phoenix to Madisonville to meet family and friends of Sgt. Michael Coomes. Chandler says he and Coomes, who he lovingly called "Mickey", formed a brotherhood while serving in Vietnam.
"Mickey taught me how to operate everything that the marines carried. So if push came to shove, I could shove," said Chandler. "We became fast friends. We'd pitch a tent together and so forth."
The bond only strengthened when Coomes saved Chandler's life when he almost died from hypothermia. "Mickey and another Marine sandwiched my body between theirs so I could recover my thermostat and get away from the hypothermia," he remembered. "Had he not done that I probably woulda died. I woulda gone comatose and I'd been gone."
Chandler says he and Coomes were in a fox hole together when his friend got called out. Moments later, Chandler responded to calls for a Corpsman. Coomes had been gunned down, shot in the back of the head by a sniper. The 24-year-old Madisonville native was dead by the time Chandler got to him.
"It's like a guy saves your life and I wasn't able to save his," said Chandler, his voice full of emotion. "I could've been the one jumpin' up out of the fox hole first and the sniper could've got me. But sadly it was not that way."
Wednesday was was the first time Coomes' family had ever met their loved one's fellow serviceman. For decades, Chandler suffered amnesia and couldn't remember Coomes' name. He was finally able to connect with his family and friends after he found Coomes' picture on the Virtual Wall online database.
"For whatever reason Kentucky came up and I was going down the line and it was just bingo, there he was," said Chandler. He, Coomes' family and friends held a small, private memorial service at the fallen Marine's grave site in Madisonville Wednesday evening.
Chandler noted that taking this journey to pay his respects to his fellow comrade was on his "bucket list." After nearly 50 years, the loss of his dear friend is still painful, but in visiting his grave, there is healing.
"You can never have real closure at the lost of a true friend," said Chandler. "I feel good that I made this journey and I feel good that I'm saying kind of a final goodbye to a good friend."
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