The “Original Bandido”

By Kenneth J Costich II


Bandido Charlie, C Co, 1st Bn, 16th Inf (MECH) returned to its roots at the 89th reunion of the Big Red One in St. Louis last summer in a gathering to remember, memorialize and honor the “Original Bandido”, 1LT Larry A Garner (AKA The Red Baron). The celebration was years in the making and almost a full year of planning. As background, LT Garner was CO of C Co, 5 Bn, 60th Inf (MECH). He had a history as a Marine NCO, left the service and obtained a Master’s Degree in history at the Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois. Larry also was a member of the Campus Police Department.

That done, he felt he still needed to serve his country. He enlisted in the Army, went through OCS and trained and shipped over to Vietnam with the 9th Inf Div from Ft. Riley, KS. He served first as a platoon leader and then as CO of C/5/60th Inf (Mech). With Larry’s love of all things Cavalry and his study and admiration of General Custer’s tactics, he re-designated his Armored Personnel Carriers as A/CAVs, found a bugler and charged and killed the enemy. This highly decorated officer was fearless in battle and in life. His men adored him.

LTC Edwin W. Chamberlain, who was the Commander of the 3d Bn at the time, complained one day that Charlie Co (with their red bandannas) looked like a bunch of Bandidos, and the name stuck. James D. Johnson, author of Combat Chaplain: A Thirty Year Vietnam Battle wrote in his book that he had talked to LT Garner one day and “he sees himself as immortal” and “will make general... or he’ll get kicked out because of his unorthodox way in which he conducts his military business.”

LT Larry Garner never got the chance to make general. On his last operation, after already turning over his command to CPT Dick Botello, 1LT Larry Arthur Garner led a volunteer contingent of his Bandidos to save a downed helicopter crew. These Bandidos charged the VC, drove them away from the downed helicopter, and rescued the crew. During the night LT Larry Garner and his men formed a small perimeter around the helicopter. The VC mounted a vicious counterattack and LT Garner took a VC bullet in the heart. He was killed along with two other brave men.

LT Larry Garner, Vietnam 1967

In a swap with the 1st Div, the men and equipment of 5/60 Inf were traded “lock, stock and barrel” for the men and equipment of 1/16 Inf. Bandido Charlie’s spirit transferred intact. Although the headquarters units and regimental colors had changed, Bandido Charlie was (and is still) Bandido Charlie with the fighting spirit and personal pride instilled in the unit by Larry Garner.

Over 65 members of the Bandido Charlie Association from both the 1st and 9th Infantry Divisions gathered in St. Louis to honor the man who had started it all. LT Garner’s family was located, and his brother Jon, sister Bonnie, his son Michael, daughter Christine and his widow Harriet all made the march to St. Louis to hear, to their amazement, the legacy of Larry Garner and of the love and respect of those who had served with him. To a standing ovation by all in attendance at the reunion, memorial plaques were formally presented to LT Garner’s children, Michael and Christine. A presentation of tribute letters and Honorary Bandido Certificates was made to family members in a private ceremony held later in the 16th Inf CP. The ceremony and the new found friendships with the Garners brought closure to many, even those that did not know LT Garner personally.

The spirit instilled by Larry Garner in this company of men continues to amaze us even today. It drove so many of the Bandidos to reconnect decades later. It drove them to secure the name Bandido Charlie in the annals of military history as the only officially named company unit in the U.S. Army. It drove them to seek each other out, to organize, to form an association to help heal our Veterans, to heal themselves, to help those Bandidos on active duty in Iraq and their families, to relive their history and to see their future and their legacy as Bandidos.

Michael and Christine Garner receive memorial plaques at the BRO reunion welcome social.

The following was received from the late Al Herrera.
Al was the Secretary of the Bandido Charlie Association,
1st/16th 1st ID.The letter was writted by Jon Garner, brother of Larry Garner, concerning the Bandido Charlie tribute to Larry(8/17/07)

Dear Ken & Al,
Wow!  What a roller coaster ride.  
It’s hard to capture the range of emotions we all experienced at the BRO/Bandido Reunion last week in St. Louis.  We laughed and we cried; we felt joy and sorrow and anger and a huge sense of loss, but we always felt welcome and loved and understood.   
I don’t know where to begin to thank all of the members of the Regiment, Battalion and Company who made us feel so much at home.  From the moment the two of you made contact with me, I felt something special was happening.  I didn’t know what to expect of the actual reunion experience, but I was overwhelmed.  Everyone we met was so gracious, so generous and so sincere.  All of us appreciate the respect you have for Larry and his memory, and the work you have done to perpetuate his legacy.  We learned so much about him and his accomplishments and we’re eternally grateful for that.  Many of our questions were answered and you helped to bring a measure of closure to all of us.  We loved Larry and it was incredible to be with a group of others who shared this love.
We’re especially grateful for the opportunity to meet so many wonderful people who made the experience so special:  

  • Both of you for all your hard work coordinating the event.  I’ve learned over the years that dealing with the Garner Clan can be challenging.  You handled our many concerns and requests with genuine caring and tact.  The plaques and letters were wonderful and will be cherished by all of us.  You showed great skill in navigating the politics of including the Original Bandidos in the heritage of a Division rightly proud of its many accomplishments.
  • Ken for your friendship, your stories, your words on Thursday evening and for your love of Bandido Charlie.
  • Al for your masterful handling of everything.  Tactful, respectful, attentive to detail, forceful when called for and always on top of things.  You exemplify the qualities of an outstanding 1st Sgt.
  • Phil Greenwell for all of his work, especially his work with the Thursday evening memorial.  His words were heartfelt and made us even prouder of Larry and the men he led.  His music selection for Saturday’s Division memorial was haunting and beautiful and captured the emotions of our loss in a very special way.  Larry was a friend as well as a brother, father and husband.
  • Betty Herrera and Linda Greenwell for being so caring, generous and supportive.
  • Charlie Taylor for his photos, his stories and especially the presentation of his Bandido scarf to Chris.  I know it was a cherished memento of his and will be equally cherished by Chris.  It was also a pleasure to meet Sam and hear from him how Larry’s legacy affected both him and his dad.
  • Gary Bobbett for sharing memories of Larry and his accomplishments and also the great photos that caught the joy Larry felt with his Bandidos.  To us Gary exemplified the positive impact that Larry had on so many individuals.
  • Larry Tirreno for his extraordinary photos, complete with stories for each one that captured Larry in ways that we never were able to experience.   We were so happy that he included his daughter Carolyn.  What a charming, poised young lady!
  • Martel Firing for sharing his memories of Larry and for his willingness to connect with each of us.
  • Tony Haug for keeping Larry’s personal effects for all these years and passing them on to us.  Also for the regimental insignia he found for Mike and the WWII 9th Infantry “sweetheart pin” for Harriet.  I really appreciate his thoughtfulness for securing an old “Eagle, Globe and Anchor” for this former Marine.
  • Lucian Hinkle for seeking us out and sharing his remembrances.
  • LTC Ken Cassels and his wife Peggy for welcoming all of us into the 16th Infantry “family”.  I know Larry would have been proud to serve in his command.
  • “Sit Rep” Mike and his wife Sue for all their work with the Bandido material and for their willingness to simply listen and be there for us when we needed it.
  • Mack Mackendanz for his poetry, which captures the emotions all us have felt at various times since our service.
  • All the 5th/60th Bandidos who reached deep into their memories to help us learn more about Larry and his Bandidos.  I know it can be a painful experience to relive the past and we’re touched by their willingness to deal with that pain and share with us.

All of you who were involved in the reunion deserve to be acknowledged, and I know there are many I’ve not mentioned.  I apologize for any lapses of memory on my part and hope you’ll understand.
You probably didn’t expect the entire clan when you invited Mike to the reunion.  As a group we can be a bit overwhelming.  Thanks for welcoming us as family and for sharing your memories with us.  The reunion was an incredible experience for all of us and we’ll never forget it or your generosity.
With gratitude, appreciation and heartfelt thanks.
Jon & Nancy Garner
Bandidos Forever!!


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