It might have come nearly 50 years late, but about 25 surviving members of the Jefferson County Platoon finally received the welcome home they missed at the Lakewood Civic Center on June 30. “Vets …
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It might have come nearly 50 years late, but about 25 surviving members of the Jefferson County Platoon finally received the welcome home they missed at the Lakewood Civic Center on June 30.
“Vets from almost all other American wars received a welcome home when they returned, but Vietnam veterans didn’t,” said Joe Sleevi, a member of the platoon who planned the 50th anniversary reunion with Don Emmot, another platoon member. “For me, this event is almost a prayer for those who died in Vietnam and those of us who came back.”
Members of the platoon were all recruited from area high schools and sworn in together on June 28, 1968, and that’s why the pair wanted to host a 50-year get together for as many members of the platoon as possible on June 30.
The Jefferson County Platoon was unique, the pair explained, because its members were allowed to join in the buddy system, which meant they would stay together all the way through basic training in Fort Bliss, Texas.
They all went to different places following boot camp, and most of these men haven’t seen each other in the ensuing five decades.
“There was a lot of disbelief on the other end of the line when we called these guys, since a lot of them put that time out of their mind,” Emmot said. “We were all young kids and become people just like everyone else. It’s been an exercise in love putting this all together.”
One of those people surprised to get a call from Emmot and Sleevi was Harry Williams, who was the first company commander the platoon had upon their arrival in Texas.
“Because of that, I wasn’t sure any of these guys would want to see me again,” Williams said. “I want to congratulate the platoon on staying together, keeping their heads up and doing their job.”
The reunion event on the 30th included family and friends of the Jeffco Platoon, other Vietnam veterans and military supporters. A representative from the Daughters of the American Revolution, Chaplain John Altfeltis, Kathryn Wirkus, constituent services representative for U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, and Lakewood Mayor Adam Paul all spoke during the event.
“The freedoms we enjoy are a direct result of the courage these men and others like them showed,” Paul said. “On behalf of the city of Lakewood, I’m proud to welcome all of you home.”
For many in attendance, a highlight of the ceremony was when Captain Mitchell Daugherty, Commander of the Army Wheat Ridge Recruiting Company, administered the oath of enlistment to three residents joining the armed forces.
All the members of the platoon received a Vietnam Veteran Lapel Pin at the ceremony. The lapel pins were created to recognize, thank and honor veterans who served during the Vietnam War.
Following the pinning ceremony, the more than 50 people in attendance decamped from the Lakewood Civic Center across the road to the Lakewood Police Department headquarters, where a commemorative bench was unveiled that features the names of all platoon members.
“This event today is an opportunity to make right the way Vietnam veterans were treated when they returned,” said Jefferson County Manager Don Davis, who is also a retired Marine. “It is important to thank veterans for their service, but the best way we can be thanked is for people to serve their community and make the country a better place.”
Once all the formalities were dispensed with, platoon members and their families went to an American Legion outpost in west Denver for lunch, laughing and catching up.
“It is incredible to be put together with all these guys and share stories of where we’ve all been,” said Kevin McCoy, who was the platoon’s youngest member. “It’s been great to be a part of it.”
Following more than a year of work, Sleevi and Emmot took the opportunity to reflect on the impact of the occasion, and what happens next.
“After all this time putting this together, it’s not really over,” Emmot said. “We’ll still be in touch after this. It’s kind of like a new beginning.”
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