After 42 years, 5 Navy buddies reunite

Reunions are special -- a chance to reconnect with people you don't see as often as you might like.

GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. - Reunions are special. It's a chance to reconnect with people you don't see as often as you might like.

What about going 42 years between reunions?

That's what happened Friday afternoon in Grand Rapids, Mich., for five men who all served together aboard the U.S. Naval destroyer, USS Samuel Gompers from 1972-75.

Ken Sokol, James Francisco, Larry Derrington, Leo Mathieu and Carl Fitzgerald were fresh out of high school when they enlisted in the Navy and ended up as bunk mates aboard the Gompers.

"We all worked in the engine room together," said Sokol, who traveled from Wisconsin to Grand Rapids for the reunion. "Walking in and seeing these guys was just great."

The reunion unfolded at a Holiday Inn Hotel in Grand Rapids, and was arranged by Linda Francisco, who is the wife of James Francisco.

"This is a very special weekend for me," said James Francisco. "We were all very close when we were serving [in the Navy]."

Larry Derrington and Leo Mathieu traveled all the way from California (Sonoma and San Diego, respectively) for this reunion.

"We've been kind of thrilled to death about doing this," Derrington said. "It was a spur of the moment decision to do this, but I'm glad all five us decided to do it."

Life took the five men in different directions after their Navy days came to an end and contact was lost.

"There was no Facebook or Twitter back in the 70s, 80s and 90s," Mathieu said. "It's much easier to find lost friends today than it was 40 years ago.

"All my expectations have been met by seeing and hugging these guys again."

The five men were given a conference room at the hotel where they could sit around and reminisce. Old photos were passed around so each of the men knew who the others were.

"When you don't see somebody for 42 years, you only remember how they looked the last time you saw them," Sokol said. "The old Navy photos were a great help in knowing who everybody was, not to mention just fun to joke about."

Now that they've found each other, they don't plan to let go.

"None of us has even talked to each other for 42 years," added Fitzgerald, jokingly. "We've already decided we're going to have a reunion once a year, going forward, until we're all gone."

The dates have yet to be finalized, but the location has been. The five men say they will reunite again in 2018 in San Diego, Calif.

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