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Military buddies reunite after 60 years

Some lifetimes are shorter than the time it took two old friendsto find each other after years of separation.

“It’s just a miracle,” said Paul Sandifer of Brookhaven, “and itjust as easily could have never happened.”

Sandifer, 75, was talking about being reunited with AlbertTucker, 77, of Weaubleau, Mo., in the late summer of last yearafter more than 60 years. Since then, they have visited each otherseveral times, but it was a stroke of fate that brought themtogether, Sandifer said.

The two men first met in 1942 when they served together in theU.S. Navy aboard LCS(L)-97 (Landing Craft Support (Large) -97).

“It was an experimental ship at the time,” Sandifer said. “Ithad more firepower for its size than any other ship.”

The shallow-bottomed LCS(L) series ships were designed toprovide close support to troops during an amphibious landing oralong waterways. The ships had a full crew of 71 sailors. Only 130of the ships were ever made and, according to Sandifer, only one isleft. It is owned by the government of Thailand, although anational association of former LCS(L) crewmen is presently tryingto purchase and bring it home.

The two men became good friends while the ship traveledthroughout the Pacific islands fighting the Japanese during theisland campaigns World War II.

“We’re not heroes or anything. We’re just shipmates,” Sandifersaid.

The war had just ended in 1945 when LCS(L)-97 sailed into HongKong and Tucker received word his father had died in Los Angeles.Tucker was given a reprieve from his duties and caught a PBYCatalina flight home.

“When he left Hong Kong that was the last time I saw him,”Sandifer said. “We were the two youngest ones aboard ship. I was 16and he was 17 when we met. Everyone else aboard the ship is deadnow.”

The two men continued with their lives out of service. Sandiferretired from Mississippi Power and Light in 1988 after more than 38years.

He never forgot his wartime service though, or the people he hadmet in that service. Last year, he heard of a relatively neworganization established by former LCS(L) members and decided tojoin up. The organization had only been formed about four or fiveyears before, he said.

The first month he was a member the organization newsletterlisted him as a new member. Sandifer can never thank them forthat.

Tucker had joined the organization the year before, but haddecided not to rejoin after his year’s membership had expired. Thevery last newsletter he would receive was the one listingSandifer.

Tucker called the organization’s headquarters and requestedSandifer’s telephone number, which they were happy to give him.Then he placed the call that brought joy to both men’s lives.

“I like to have fainted,” Sandifer said. “He said he was leavingand coming over right now.”

Tucker wasn’t kidding. He packed a bag, grabbed his car keys anddrove non-stop from his house to Sandifer’s. Since they werereunited in September 2002, the two men have traveled back andforth between Missouri and Mississippi, visiting each other forextended stays.

“Now we have the most fun. He’s been here twice, and I’ve beenthere once. It’s my turn again,” Sandifer said with a grin.