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.
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.
The following was received from the late Al Herrera.
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.
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