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EDITORIAL: A salute to Vietnam veterans who fought together 50 years ago

Patriotism is displayed loudly at this time of year: Fireworks exploding in the sky, marching bands playing in parades and crowds cheering as tough cowboys ride bucking bulls.

But before the fanfare of Fourth of July festivities, a quieter form of patriotism was displayed when a group of friends gathered at the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial in Cody last month.

This wasn’t just any group of friends, nor was it a common gathering. As soldiers of 1st Platoon Bravo Company, 4/47 9th Infantry Division, the men first met one another in the late 1960s as they trained to serve in the Vietnam War. They fought alongside one another, risked their lives for their country and forged friendships that have spanned half a century.

When they gathered in Wyoming for a week-long reunion, the surviving members of the platoon — nicknamed the “Tornados” — marked the 50th anniversary of their fiercest battle on June 19.

The gathering included a short service at the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial in Cody, and each vet shared a few words during a reunion dinner.

“We’re all so close; these are brothers,” said Jim Heller of Powell, a member of the platoon. “Shakespeare said it best: ‘For he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother.’ That’s what these guys represent to each other.”

Heller hosted the group at his home on the Willwood, where they enjoyed the peace and quiet of summertime in Wyoming. It’s the type of reunion every American veteran deserves — to reminisce with old friends who understand what no one else can fathom.

We can’t begin to convey our appreciation for their service and sacrifice, but we can pause for a moment to recognize the members of the 4/47 9th Infantry Division.

Unfortunately, Vietnam veterans were never given the warm welcome they deserved when they returned to America in the 1960s and ’70s. Wyoming worked to make that right in recent years by hosting “welcome home” ceremonies for Vietnam veterans. We can’t undo what happened decades ago, but we can recognize them today and say thank you to surviving veterans.

At a time of year filled with patriotic festivities, it’s only fitting to honor those who served and live quietly among us.

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