Ties That Bind

Gregg McDevitt believes he could easily be among the 58,229 names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.

McDevitt, who has been driving for 16 years and an owner-operator for a year and a half out of Huntsville, Ala., credits his Navy buddy and best friend, Dean Falkner, for saving his life, but until recently was unable to get in touch with him.

Falkner was McDevitt’s supervisor on the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Ranger, where both worked as shipboard electricians. One of their duties was maintaining lights on the flight deck.

“We were repairing one of the deck-edge lights, which tell the pilots that are trying to land where the deck is,” McDevitt says. “The deck handlers were moving a plane around, and the jetwash caught me. He just lunged after me and grabbed me by my belt and held on until the plane moved away and he could pull me back. I would have missed the safety nets, and there’s no way they would have been able to see me or get me out of that water.”

Fatalities were not uncommon when someone fell off a ship at night because of the darkness, the time required to turn a carrier around and the consequent difficulty in trying to locate the person.

“We would lose 20 to 30 guys per cruise, either that way or a plane’s brakes would go out or a guy would get sucked into an engine,” Falkner says.

Dean Falkner had been searching for Gregg McDevitt for 28 years when he came across an Overdrive Speak Out page on the Internet.

“There’s no doubt that I wouldn’t be here today if Dean hadn’t launched after me that night,” McDevitt says. But he adds with a smile, “The only reason he did it was because it was between paydays, and I owed him 20 bucks.”

McDevitt and Falkner laugh and brush off the frightening memories of Vietnam, talking instead about the friendship that sparked up almost instantly when they met on the U.S.S. Ranger in 1972. “We were like brothers,” McDevitt says.

It’s been 28 years since the two had a chance to share a joke together. After they got out of the Navy in late 1972, they lost touch, as many Vietnam vets did.

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McDevitt had hauled a few times to Seattle, where he knew Falkner’s brother lived. “I would call directory assistance to see if there was a Dean Falkner, or any Falkner who might have hooked me up with him,” McDevitt says. “I didn’t know they split Seattle into two sections. He was in the south, and I was searching in the northern part of town.”

Falkner had similar results with his Internet searches for McDevitt. “When I put his name in a search engine, thousands and thousands of hits would come up,” says Falkner, an engineer for Kent, Wash. “One of the hits just happened to be for Overdrive Speak Out from June 1999. And there he was. He looked a little different, but he still looked good.”

“When I put his name in a search engine, thousands and thousands of hits would come up,” says Falkner, an engineer for Kent, Wash.

That was this past February. Within a few days, the two finally got together over the phone. McDevitt still hasn’t been able to catch a load to Seattle, but he’s hoping to get up there this summer. In the meantime, the two will just keep reliving memories and telling jokes over the phone while McDevitt waits for the chance to catch up with the buddy who came through in a tough spot.

“He trusted his life in my hands, and I trusted mine in his,” McDevitt says, “and he didn’t let me down.”

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