CEDAR SPRINGS, Mich. — William Kyle Gowen spent his 21st birthday landing in Vietnam. The year was 1968, and he was a Marine Corps medic.
"Stayed there 10 and a half months," said Gowen. "Got three purple hearts because I happened to be there where it happened, just happened."
One day in 1969, his unit was outside a village in the middle part of Vietnam. Soon, his unit was surrounded, and the outlook looked grim.
"We were getting waxed pretty bad," said Gowen. "A lot of deaths. We couldn't get out of it. They had signs up saying we were going to die. It wasn't too good."
They called in an air strike to help. Then, two Air Force F-100 planes dropped bombs, saving Gowen's unit.
"I didn't care who it was," said Gowen. "They were just bailing me out."
Then, nearly 50 years later in 2016, Gowen was at his home on Blue Lake when a woman moved in next door. Her father came to visit and check out the new property.
"My dad was walking down the steps and he had his hat on, his Vietnam hat," said Pamela Schultz, the woman who moved in next door.
Gowen recognized that hat. Her father, Clint Richards, and Gowen began to chat and reminisce about their time in the service. Then, Richards said he was in an operation called Dewey Canyon.
"He named it and I’m looking at him, and said, 'Oh my goodness, I was in there,'" said Gowen, "'That was me!'"
It turns out, Richards was one of the two Air Force pilots who arrived to save Gowen's unit in 1969.
"What’s the chances the neighbor bailed you out, you know?" said Gowen. "But he did. Saved our lives."
For Richards, he had never flown that far north in Vietnam before that mission.
"It was unusual for Air Force planes to be involved in a Marine operation like that," said Richards.
Though unusual, Richards said he would do the mission again, knowing the outcome.
Meanwhile, Schultz said before her dad met Gowen, she had not heard any stories of his stories from his time in the war.
"My dad never talked about Vietnam," said Schultz, "and then he met Kyle. It's like they were both able to deal with what had happened to them. Just the fact that my dad knows he did good up there, because I think they always felt like they were doing so many bad things. Come 50 years later, and he learns he did good. He did a good thing."
Gowen has thanked Richards for saving his life. Now, the two men are good friends.
"The hat," said Gowen, "that's what brought us together more than anything."
Schultz said when her dad comes to visit her, he is really coming to visit Gowen.
"When you talk to a person, saying what time were you over there," said Gowen, "saying, well, you were there? You knew exactly what he was talking about."
Both men also were University of Michigan graduates.
See an extended version of Gowen and Richards remembering their shared mission during Operation Dewey Canyon:
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