About a year ago, John Behan of Montauk, a Marine Corps veteran of the Vietnam War, received a phone call from Tom Morrison, who was also a marine in Vietnam. Mr. Morrison told him that he was the crew chief on the helicopter that picked up Mr. Behan on May 23, 1966, the day he lost both of his legs in battle.
Since he was pumped full of morphine and on the verge of passing out, one of the few memories Mr. Behan has is of thinking how his mother would be notified and the sadness she would feel if she lost another son. Joshua, his younger brother, was 4 years old when he drowned, and he didn’t want to put her though that again, he said.
He remembers fighting with someone aboard the helicopter. It turned out it was Mr. Morrison, poking Mr. Behan’s chin to keep his head up. When Mr. Morrison visited on Feb. 12, he told Mr. Behan that the reason he was keeping his head up was to keep him awake and that he didn’t want him to look down and see the carnage that was his lower body. He told him that his boots and feet were still hanging on to his mangled bones.
Mr. Morrison found Mr. Behan’s name on a Web site on which veterans register and can look up their former comrades to see how they’re doing. He said he was glad to see that Mr. Behan had survived because he didn’t think he could have. They spoke several times on the phone until finally Mr. Morrison said he was buying a car in Boston and would love to drive it to Montauk and meet face to face.
Mr. Morrison, who traveled to the hamlet with his cousin Gene Jones, also a marine, could not be reached for comment. Mr. Behan said they arrived late on a cold Saturday night and didn’t want to disturb him. They searched for a motel but couldn’t find one that was open so they slept in the car. Early the next morning, they called Mr. Behan, who had no idea of their itinerary, and told him they were in Montauk at White’s Drug and Department Store. Mr. Behan drove right down and took them to his house.
Once reunited, the men shared war stories, and as they went on, Mr. Behan noticed Mr. Morrison’s eyes tearing up. He thought his visitor was being emotional but he learned that even though Mr. Morrison keeps a pet rabbit, he was allergic to the Behans’ Jack Russell terriers.
They shifted to Manucci’s restaurant in the harbor area for a Sunday brunch and enjoyed each other’s company. “I didn’t know what to expect. I was just about dead the first time we met,” Mr. Behan said by phone. “It wasn’t only nice to meet the guy who saved my life . . . he was a nice guy and the kind of guy I’d like to see again.” They plan a fishing trip this summer.