Two old friends saw one another for the first time in 67 years Sunday.
In late May 1946, as seasoned veterans of the Burma front in World War II, they said goodbye at a New York train station. The pair had met at Army basic training in 1943 and been together, more or less, throughout the war, working on a road through the Asian jungle.
They planned to meet back up, but never did. Over the years, Henry H. Kellam Jr., 88, of Raleigh, N.C., and Preston Van Dyke, 89, of Pompton Lakes, N.J., were in and out of touch.
Kellam moved around before settling in Raleigh, where he worked at a Westinghouse plant for 35 years. Van Dyke became a New Jersey mailman.
The men’s reunion Sunday was arranged by their families, who recently got in touch with each other.
“You should have seen them crying when they first got together,” said Kellam’s son, Henry Kellam III.
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Van Dyke was already headed to Staunton to meet a 4-month-old grandson, so the Kellams arranged for Henry Kellam Jr. to travel up from Raleigh, and the two men met at the home of Kellam’s son in Richmond’s Fan District.
“I just thought it would be a nice thing to do for him,” said Trudi Van Dyke-Simms, Van Dyke’s daughter.
The two veterans sat on a porch, had their photos taken, met each other’s families, swapped stories and looked through Kellam’s old scrapbook.
It’s a treasure trove of a book, packed with photos taken with a box Kodak 620: temples, elephants, locals of all stripes, a cremation and suntanned soldiers.
Serving with an engineering unit, the two had been shipped across the U.S. and then across the Pacific. Van Dyke was also with Kellam at the U.S.O. function where Kellam met Thelma Hilbig, his future wife.
In Asia, they worked on the Ledo Road, which led from India across Burma to China, a U.S. ally in the fight against Japan. The road was intended to reduce the need for air supply across the Himalayas to Chinese forces.
Kellam, who ended his service as a technician fifth grade, is quick to say that he was never in combat. He did maintenance on machinery that was building the road and is modest about his contribution.
He recalled volunteering for duty guarding the stockade, because it meant he could get to Calcutta more. He was told to shoot the prisoners if they tried to escape.
“I told them I’d shoot them in the leg, maybe,” he recalled.
Van Dyke, who was a sergeant for a while before getting back from leave late and losing rank, described his work in the jungle as “chop your way through and hope you don’t get shot.”
“But the worst of all was the leeches, right Henry?” Van Dyke recalled.
Van Dyke recalled a moment from the war that stuck with him through the years.
He had just shot a Japanese sniper.
“And you had to take their papers, you know, and when I opened his pocket … there was a picture of him with his wife and two babies,” Van Dyke recalled.