FRESNO, CA --A retired US Marine from California has been on one final mission - to find a comrade who he thought died by his side.
In an iconic Vietnam War photo taken in February of 1968 Lance Corporal Rick Hill of Coalinga could found at the top right. Laying on his side was a fellow US Marine named Alvin Grantham. Up until a few weeks ago Rick thought Alvin died shortly after the picture was taken but that was not the case.
Hill recalled the most intense firefight of his two tours. He was shot in one leg and took shrapnel in the other. "I was wounded in the battle of Hue during Tet February 68. We were pinned down. We were in trouble."
Rick noticed a tank rolling by.
"They asked me, got room for one more and they always got room for one more and they threw me up on the tank."
The famous picture of wounded US Marines being medevaced on a tank appeared in Life and Time magazine. Rick's mom told him, "That's the only way I knew you were still alive."
Hill had the photo blown up to honor those who served and those who lost their lives.
Rick tearfully told us, "For 48 years I look at this picture and look at these guys looking back at me and I always figured it's an honor."
Since 1991 Rick and his wife Hayley have lived the quiet life in Coalinga but that all changed a few weeks ago when someone answered a facebook post about the photo.
"He says, hey I'm the guy laying on the tank without a shirt. I look at my wife and go no way. That guy died."
That's what Rick was told but Alvin Grantham of Mobile, Alabama messaged him and wrote, "Lots of people think I didn't make it."
Grantham told Action News, "When we got back to triage they actually put me in a body bag."
But a medic noticed some movement.
Alvin recalled, "He said, 'That one's not dead yet.' That guy must be hurt pretty badly. I didn't know they were talking about me."
Grantham recovered after taking a round from an AK-47 straight through his chest. None of the marines in the photo knew each other but they all shared a special bond.
Hill teared up whenever he talked about Grantham, "When I found out that he wasn't dead...wow."
Rick will soon meet the man whose reported "death" saddened him but added, "Alvin and myself wouldn't be here telling this story if it wasn't for Harold and his people.
Harold Wiest was among those providing gun support from a US Army helicopter. A few years ago he just happened to move to Coalinga.
Wiest said, "It was my first mission. I never fired a mini-gun before and here I am shooting over the heads of he and his men."
An emotional meeting awaits Rick Hill and Alvin Grantham. Rick felt like he's been talking to a ghost from his past.
Hill said, "I go the last time we rode together wasn't good. The next time we ride together by God it's going to be a good day."
That good day was set for Wednesday in Mobile, Alabama when Hill will be reunited with Grantham 48 years after first appearing together in the famous photo.