The last time Sgt. Gene McGowan and Lt. Marc Harris saw each other was in Vietnam in 1970 as members of the 11th Armored Calvary position near the rubber trees along the Ho Chi Minh Trail near the Cambodian border.
Lt. Harris was being transferred and he handed Sgt. McGowan his K-bar knife and told him to "keep digging up those mines."
Almost 43 years later the two solders saw each other for the first time since that day at Texas Roadhouse in Milton on Wednesday.
McGowan, who later came home and retired from the Okaloosa County School System as a diesel mechanic, was stunned when he heard from his former lieutenant in during his three tours he served in Vietnam.
"It amazed me when he called," McGowan, who was called Sgt. Mac in Vietnam. "This is the first time since I was over there I had heard from anybody out of my platoon.
"He was my last platoon leader before I was discharged."
Harris, who is retired and now works out of Mt. Dora north of Orlando, decided to look up his former sergeant following a reunion of the 11th Armored Calvary.
"I went to the squad reunion and there were a lot of wannabes," Harris said. "I thought then and there about looking Gene up.
"He was a real solid soldier and a very solid NCO (non commissioned officers).
Listening to McGowan and Harris recall their past military adventures it is easy to understand why it was something McGowan has not talked about much since returning to Milton in 1970.
"We were issued bayonets, but they were not very good a digging up mines," Harris said. "I had bought an old K-bar knife and we used that to beat the brush, dig up the North Vietnamese mines and worked along the Ho Chi Minh Trail to set up our own traps with claymore mines.
"As a team we had gotten pretty good at it and instead of sending someone to do it, we would dismount our tanks and do the job ourselves."
McGowan, who quickly recalled being egged and called a baby killer when he was discharged from Ft. Lewis in Washington state on July 4, 1970, said when he got out, he blocked it out.
"One day my granddaughter crawled in my lap and called me a hero," McGowan recalled. "I looked at her and told her all the men who died and gave their lives over in Vietnam were the heroes.
"I have been nervous and happy all day long about seeing the lieutenant; the day he called me to set this up and sat down and I cried."
Harris recalled it was not easy for the members of the 11th Calvary during his time from 1069-1970.
"We got in a lot of fire fights and we would take a lot of hits at first," Harris recalled. "But after a few minutes we would take over the fight as they ran away."
McGowan appeared to open up to his former lieutenant as they chatted before dinner.
"Lt. Harris was my last platoon leader and he was a officer in my unit when we invaded Cambodia (near what they referred to as the fish hook)," said McGowan who was awarded two purple hearts. "After we talked on the phone I found myself thinking back and at times got real sad."
While the war is something McGowan himself has trouble talking about, his lieutenant was pleased about their reunion.
"I am glad this is a good moment for him," Harris said. "He doesn't understand how special of a soldier he was when we served together."