The boy in the timeworn picture is holding an American rifle. Each day at dawn, he and others from a nearby village rushed to spend time with the guys in Mike Company, 3rd Battalion. Sometimes the child with skin the color of caramel would clean Marine Charlie Forsyth's gun.
The two became buddies — more like brothers, Forsyth would later explain.
Sometimes he would give the boy he'd nicknamed ''Freddie'' C-rations, also known as C-rats because soldiers were convinced that they tasted as bad as canned rodents.
''In the daytime, we would run a patrol and Freddie wanted to come with us. We would tell him he wasn't allowed and he would be pouting when we left,'' Forsyth remembered, chuckling.
But when the order came for the soldier to leave the country, Forsyth didn't have time to say his goodbyes. No time to muss the boy's hair. Not even a moment to tell his pint-size friend what joy he had brought him on days filled with war.
The last time Forsyth saw his pal, hanging around a foxhole near Hill 55 in Vietnam, was four decades ago.
''All these years, I've carried him with me and wondered what happened to him,'' he said, tapping the spot over his heart.
Forsyth is one of a handful of local Vietnam veterans who returned to the country in October with Warriors Journey Home. Some went to find peace and forgiveness. Others went in search of their souls. Forsyth went back, in part, to find Freddie.
Forsyth had planned to show Freddie's picture to the people who lived in the village. Perhaps someone would recognize him and the two could reconnect. But somewhere along the way, a leader in the group told Forsyth not to do it, that Vietnam was a communist country and showing the photo of the youngster holding the gun might put Freddie in jeopardy, even if the child was now 50 years old.
''The last thing I wanted to do was get anybody in trouble,'' he said at Kent's Freedom House, where he works as a counselor helping other veterans. ''I think I could have found him, though.''
The group traveled the country inside a tour bus with others who belong to Soldier's Heart, the New York agency that organized the trip. The sight of such a large vehicle in a nation jammed with motorbikes often drew a crowd.
At Firebase Birmingham, home to the Recon Platoon, Co. E (502nd infantry, 101st Airborne), the bus pulled to a stop. It was here that Steve Burr, a member of the support group who was back in Tallmadge, was stationed. It was in this place, he told a friend, that he had lost his youth. It was here that they would honor Burr for his sacrifices.
As the group stepped off the bus, a gaggle of children from a remote village enveloped the travelers. Among them was a boy who was the spitting image of Freddie.
The boy had bent over to pick something up off the ground and stuck it into his pocket. Though they were unable to communicate, Forsyth pointed to the child's pocket. Reaching deep inside, the youngster pulled out three dirty marbles. The veteran pointed to one that he liked, and the boy handed it to him.
''The children, who have nothing, have to beg. Yet he gave me that marble,'' Forsyth said, pausing to get his emotions in check. ''My little Freddie.''
Forsyth rushed to the bus and found an eagle carved out of wood that Shianne Eagleheart, of Haudenosaunne-Seneca descent, had brought on the trip.
He hurried back to the boy, placed the gift in the child's hand and folded his tiny fingers around it. The boy was thrilled.
Tears filling his eyes now, he murmured, barely above a whisper — ''You see, I found my Freddie.''
Kim Hone-McMahan can be reached at 330-996-3742 or email@example.com