November 2010

Friends are a Wonderful Thing

Wayne Struzik shares his adventures of meeting up with an old military buddy that he hadn't seen in 50 years.

By Wayne Struzik

Editor’s Note:  Spiker cousin Wayne Struzik and I keep in contact through Facebook, sharing photos & newsy tidbits.  I was intrigued by one of his recent adventures – meeting up with an old military buddy that he hadn’t seen in 50 years – so I asked him for more details in the hope we could print it here for everyone to read.  Wayne responded by saying, “People would be bored to death with my story,” but I disagreed.  We Spikers LOVE to learn more about our relatives, and as we honor military veterans this month I thought the timing was perfect to share this part of his life.

(Wayne Struzik in our Spiker Family Tree:  Wayne’s grandfather, Pearly Ray Spiker, is a brother to my grandfather, Jacob Spiker.)

I grew up  near the Chesapeake Bay and had always loved the water.  My Mom and Dad were Baltimore swim champions in 1928-29 and 1930.  Everyone had to swim in our house.  I was an Explorer Scout and we took a summer cruise on a Navy ship.  So when I didn’t want to be drafted into the Army, I enlisted in the Navy.  I never thought about another service except the Marines.  I enlisted on July 18, 1957.  Believe it or not, that was on my wife Eileen’s birthday, although I didn’t know it until I met her three and a half years later.

I met Bob Regan in the military and we soon discovered we had a lot of common interests.  He was from Oklahoma and I had just finished technical training school in Norman, Oklahoma so we had something to talk about.  We both loved basketball and we played all the time.  He played for an experimental squadron and I played for a fighter/air attack squadron.  We both wound up on the Admirals team in Norfolk.

Bob was later accepted into Officer Candidate School (OCS) and didn’t like the program, so he transferred to Army helicopter school.  I didn’t want to stay in the Navy and had been recruited by several colleges to play football.  I chose the University of Maryland and got out one month early, but my high school basketball coach just got the job as Athletic Director and basketball coach of the University of Baltimore and he wanted me more.  We had won the Baltimore County Championship under his coaching, so I went that way.  As a result, Bob and I lost contact.

We looked for each other for 50 years since being in the Navy together.  I searched for him in the Navy for a long time, only to find out he had joined the Army and flew in Vietnam, 888 combat missions and won the bronze star.  That was in his first years and the beginning of the Vietnam War.  They didn’t even have guns on the choppers then, so they stole machine guns and rockets from the infantry and attached them to his group’s choppers.  They were the first with guns, called Gangbusters 46. 

But when his year was up, he came home and thought he would rather be in the Coast Guard flying search and rescue.  It was at this time I was searching the Army for him.  I even had friends at the Pentagon search but they couldn’t find him because he wasn’t in the Army any longer and I didn’t know that.

At the same time, Bob was searching for me.  He would fly into Maryland and look in telephone books for my name but I was in a small county north of Baltimore which wasn’t listed in the city books.  Last year we finally found each other on Facebook.         

We got together in Houston this month and had a great time!  It is strange, but the things that drew us together 50 years ago are still things we like.  We never lost our love for basketball and played on the same teams in NAS Oceana and Norfolk, then I went on to play at the University of Baltimore.  And he played in both services.  Our “likes” even went to the point of shoes!  While he was putting on his shoes, I said, “Where did you get those shoes?”  I had been trying to find the same shoes for 12-15 years and his were exactly what I had been looking for.  When his wife, Rosa, asked what size I wear, I said, “13D.”  Bob said, “That’s what these are!”

After talking the entire weekend, Bob and I agreed on one more similarity.  Integrity was really the one key thing in our lives.

Wayne Struzik & Bob Regan Cmrd. USCG (ret) at the Houston Coast Guard station, November 2010(They even dressed alike!) Photo Left to Right:
Wayne Struzik & Bob Regan Cmrd. USCG (ret)
at the Houston Coast Guard station, November 2010
(They even dressed alike!)

Bob was awarded 29 other air medals, including the Distinguished Flying Cross.  He chose a life in the military as a leader and retired a Commander.  I, on the other hand, went the business route as VP of Sales and Operations of a packaging company and later owner of my own national company designing packaging systems nationwide.  I don’t think this is much of a story for your readers but I am so happy to have had the pleasure of visiting with my friend that I hadn’t seen in 50 years.  Friendship is a wonderful thing!