OCEAN ISLE BEACH, NC (WWAY) — A Brunswick County veteran had a very special reunion recently with who he long thought was a fallen comrade.
Jim Milstead was a riverboat officer in Vietnam. Last month he met up with a friend he thought died more than 40 years ago.
“All the grief maybe that I held within… I was relieved,” Milstead said of the reunion. “I just felt like part of my life was given back to me.”
On January 4, 1971, Milstead was a 21-year-old 2nd Class Petty Officer in the US Navy. He was aboard a heavy riverboat when the vietcong attacked his unit. His friend Shawn No was badly injured in the firefight, and Milstead took him to a medevac chopper.
“When I got Shawn in there, the door gunner looked at him and just shook his head,” Milstead said. “I knew that he was still alive, but it certainly didn’t look good.”
That was the last time Milstead saw or heard from his friend, until just a few months ago.
A friend of No got a hold of Milstead and put the two in touch. They reunited over President’s Day weekend at a restaurant in Florida.
“The door flung open, and he yelled, ‘Jim!’ I mean, it was emotional. I mean, I cried a little, and he wiped his eyes. I held his hand, and we sat down, and we started talking,” Milstead said.
As the two shared memories and got to know each other again, Milstead’s wife Cathy took pictures, capturing the experience.
“I fought back the tears myself, but I held it together, and I thought he did pretty well himself,” she said. “I think he was just really happy that he found Shawn.”
The two men lost many of their comrades that day 41 years ago, but Milstead says he is happy to have found one he certainly believed to be lost.
“My buddy shawn, he was a very, very good guy,” Milstead said, “and if there is one that I wanted to bring back, you know, it would have been him… and it is.”
Milstead and No plan to get together again this summer in Ocean Isle Beach.