03/18/09 — Memories aweigh: Five former Navy buddies reunite

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Memories aweigh: Five former Navy buddies reunite

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on March 18, 2009 1:46 PM

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Bill Aycock, Oscar Cousins, Shelton Dawson, Edward Sauls and Kermit Pittman joined the Navy on the buddy system in 1956. Last month, for the first time since, the complete group was reunited at Madison's Prime Rib.

Fifty years ago, five young men made a pact -- joining hundreds of others across the state in a highly publicized mass enlistment.

They thought boot camp would be more like summer camp, that a few years in the Navy would be better than bagging groceries.

They thought they would stay together.

But until last month, they had not shared a table since basic training.

In fact, when they met at Madison's Prime Rib a few weeks ago for a reunion over lunch, Edward Sauls hardly recognized the men he used to "run around all the time with."

Even Bill Aycock, the one who organized the get-together, could not see the men he once called close friends behind the aged complexions, slouched postures and gray hair.

But he remembers the moment younger versions of them convinced him to join the service.

"A couple guys in this crowd here decided they were going to enlist," he said. "They talked to the third one and he decided to go. And they were about the best friends I had at the time. ... So when they came around talking about joining, I decided to."

Aycock, Sauls, Kermit Pittman and Shelton Dawson were sold.

And the fifth, Oscar Cousins, didn't need any prodding.

"I decided I was going straight out of high school," he said.

So together, they boarded a train bound for Illinois.

They never knew that it would take more than five decades to bring them back together.

Some were attached to fighter squadrons.

Others boarded ships.

Each went his separate direction.

Even more recently -- long after retirement -- three live in Goldsboro but rarely see each other.

So when they reunited that day at Madison's, it was not a time to talk about their different Navy experiences.

They didn't weigh down the conversation with what each had accomplished professionally or the time spent apart.

Their lunch was a chance to go back to the days before their ships parted ways.

The days when one dated another's sister.

The days when a group of boys used the Seymour Johnson Air Force Base tarmac "as a playground."

A time when age didn't seem to matter -- before the wear and tear that accompanied service and a lifetime of work.

So they sat around that table sharing stories -- and laughs.

They reminded Dawson of his childhood nickname, "Baby D."

And when Aycock started dominating the conversation, they picked on him.

"He's the senior here," Pittman said. "That's why we let him talk so much."

It was as if, in a way, they were still those young school boys, ones who time had caught up with, but whose bond was as strong as it was back in 1956.