LAKEWOOD, Colo. (CBS4) – At the height of the Vietnam War a group of 45 young men from Jefferson County enlisted in the U.S. Army.
Together they formed a historic platoon and trained together before fighting overseas.
Joe Sleevi was among those who took the oath on June 28, 1968.
“I started getting this real feeling of time closing in, and I knew that it would take two years to do this,” he said.
With the 50-year anniversary in mind, he decided he would try and reunite the Jefferson County platoon.
Through a mutual friend, he enlisted the help of Don Emmot. Sleevi and Emmot were active platoon sergeants during basic training.
“You got close for eight weeks in basic training, but that’s pretty much the last time we saw each other,” Emmot said.
After their service, both would unknowingly end up back in Lakewood.
“We passed each other every day I am sure, and didn’t see each other,” Sleevi said.
“When you came home from Vietnam, you got a lot of different kinds of reactions, a lot of them negative, so a lot of guys just tried to forget the entire experience,” Emmot said.
Even now, a few simple words can bring on a lifetime of emotion.
“Our nation honors her sons and daughters who answered a call to defend a country they never knew and a community they never met,” Sleevi read from a note card he received from a group of students at Northglenn High school
It was the idea for a reunion that brought the two men together.
Using old pictures, military documents, the internet and word of mouth, they started tracking down their old platoon.
Among the first to make contact was Ron Rickard, another Jefferson County resident.
“I made two really good friends that I haven’t seen in 50 years, and now I feel like I’ve known them for the last 50 years,” Rickard said.
The three men were able to make contact with all, but two of the men. They have now turned their focus to securing a memorial and planning a reunion that is more like a welcome home, 50 years in the making.
“Without a doubt, it’s a welcome home,” Sleevi said.
The group gained the support of the City of Lakewood as well as Congressman Ed Perlmutter, but continue to raise money for the dinner and to secure a memorial.
Any money left over will go toward a scholarship.
Karen Morfitt joined the CBS4 team as a reporter in 2013. She covers a variety of stories in and around the Denver metro area. Connect with her on Facebook, follow her on Twitter @karenmorfitt or email her tips.