Last week Gene Smith of Apalachicola received an unexpected tribute from an old friend.

Clyde Black of Crockett, Texas rode his motorcycle all the way to Apalachicola to surprise his former comrade in arms.

Black and Smith served together during the Vietnam War as part of an elite Marine Corps unit, the Co-Vans.

Co-Vans is a Vietnamese term for “trusted advisor” and it was the name given by the Vietnamese to a group of Marines who lived among them during the conflict. Marines worked more closely than other advisors with the Vietnamese and were often on their own to deal with the vastly different culture and difficult cause.

“We lived in their villages, ate their food and spoke their language,” Black said.

Black is now a justice of the peace for Precinct 1 in Houston County, Texas. Although they had spoken on the phone, Black said he and Smith had not met in person for at least 20 years.

Black, with help from Smith’s wife Barb, arranged for a group of Smith’s friends to surprise him on May 24 at the Tap Room where Black presented him with a Republic of Vietnam Civil Actions Medal, a decoration for South Vietnamese military personnel and allies that performed outstanding achievements in the field of civil affairs.

Black told the group of friends that he wanted to honor Smith for his service as a medic helping both military personnel and Vietnamese civilians during 1969 and 1970.

“Gene would never have looked up what he might have been eligible for,” said Black. “I did a lot of research on the Co-Vans because it was a unique team and I found out about this award.”

Black also presented Smith with a red satin jacket emblazoned with the term Co-Van and the Marine Corps insignia, which he had made especially for the occasion.

“We have the only two jackets like this in the world,” Black told Smith.

Black said wanted to thank everyone who welcomed him to Apalachicola. “I will always have fond memories of my visit,” he said.