Local Vietnam vet reunites with his boot camp buddy after 48 years

Louis Celiz

Louis Celiz, of Seal Beach and Jose Velgara of Chicago, Illinois met in Boot Camp at Camp Pendleton. They shipped out together for Vietnam more than 48 years ago when they were both 18-year-old U.S. Marines. They were part of the first wave of Marines to be deployed to the conflict.

“We called ourselves ‘The Walking Dead’ because that’s the name Ho Chi Minh gave us,” Celiz said.

They flew to Vietnam together and were in the same area, except they were assigned to different units. They met up one time when they and some other Marines were cooling off in a river. That was the last they saw of each other. Celiz tried to track his buddy down over the years but could not remember how to spell his last name correctly.

Both of them had lost their graduation books from boot camp. However, one day Celiz ran into another buddy of theirs from the Marines, Tom Keyes, with whom they also went through boot camp. He happened to have held onto his copy of the book and gave Celiz the correct spelling of Velgara. Celiz invited Velgara to visit him in Seal Beach and he arrived this week.

It was the first time they had seen each other in 48 years. To see them together, however, it’s hard to believe they are not regular golf buddies.

It becomes obvious that as terrible as war is, some amazingly strong bonds are created

Jose Velgara

under such extreme conditions.

When they met at the baggage claim in the airport, they were interviewed by TV stations who had heard of their reunion. They recently stopped by the Sun Newspaper office before heading down to visit Camp Pendleton. Later in the week, Velgara said he will assist his long lost friend when he goes for chemotherapy at the VA Hospital in Long Beach. Celiz said he has cancer, which he was able to beat before. He said he believes he developed it because of being exposed to Agent Orange while in Vietnam.

During the Vietnam War, Celize came home, then returned for another tour of duty. Velgara, a gunner on a helicopter, performed two more tours of duty and earned medals for his service. Despite the struggle ahead for Celiz, both men, each now 67 years old, appeared to be happy just to have found each other and to be able to spend some time together. They said they are looking for some of their fellow marines with whom they served all those years ago.