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Congressman and His Army Commander Reunite During ABA Day After 42 Years

Congressman and His Army Commander Reunite During ABA Day After 42 Years

By Matthew (Matt) Stegen

Although they hadn’t laid eyes on each other in 42 years, Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen and lawyer Richard Leefe still felt an immediate connection when they reunited last week.

Lawyer Richard Leefe (left) and Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ)

 

“All of a sudden, he arrived outside my office,” the New Jersey Republican said. “We had immediate recognition. That was an emotional moment.”

Leefe, a founder of the law firm Leefe, Gibbs, Sullivan & Dupré and president-elect of the Louisiana State Bar Association, was in Washington, D.C., for the American Bar Association’s annual lobbying campaign known as “ABA Day.” Frelinghuysen was one of six members of Congress who received the ABA’s Congressional Justice Award for his work preserving Legal Services Corporation funding in Hurricane Sandy relief legislation.

The two men served together during the Vietnam War, with Frelinghuysen assigned as a clerk to Leefe, an officer in charge of the 93rd Engineering Battalion, which was primarily responsible for building roads in the southern part of Vietnam.

“Rodney and I spent about a month and a half together literally all the time every day,” Leefe said.

Despite that short period of time, the pair formed a deep bond. They noted that working so closely together during a war naturally leads to strong friendships because not many people understand the experience.

“Rodney, no matter where I met him, we would have been friends,” Leefe said.

Frelinghuysen said he did not know Leefe was in town and planning to visit his office. In fact, Leefe was on Capitol Hill lobbying members of Congress from Louisiana. When Leefe got a break during the day, he made a surprise stop at his old friend’s office.

“He came running out, we hugged and it was just like we were there again,” Leefe said. “We were instantly bound again as friends.”

The men noted it was an interesting coincidence that one had become a lawmaker and the other a prominent lawyer, with both fighting for the same cause.

“It was the strangest thing: He was getting the award for Legal Services [Corporation] and I was there to promote Legal Services [Corporation]. We were exactly on the same side,” Leefe said.

He added that he was proud of his friend for becoming a congressman.

“It’s pretty amazing. The American Bar Association brought us together,” Frelinghuysen said. “I’m so pleased the ABA has prompted this reunion.”

The men plan to keep in touch now that they have reconnected. Leefe said he invited the congressman to stay at his home, and Frelinghuysen said he is looking forward to seeing his friend again.

“I think now we will see each other regularly,” Leefe said. “We finally got back together.”

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