For a variety of reasons, many Vietnam veterans were reluctant to speak about their experiences in the controversial war. Many did not receive the warm welcome that veterans of previous wars did. …
For a variety of reasons, many Vietnam veterans were reluctant to speak about their experiences in the controversial war. Many did not receive the warm welcome that veterans of previous wars did.
Which is why the reunion efforts of the Jefferson County Platoon, spearheaded by Lakewood residents Joe Sleevi and Donald Emmot, are so important to the about 45 members of the platoon.
“They deserve to come together and be celebrated,” Sleevi said. “For most of them, this will be the first real welcome home they received.”
Members of the platoon were 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.
Through word of mouth, social media and the internet, Sleevi and Emmot, who were both platoon sergeants during basic training, worked to find the other platoon members to invite them and their families for the reunion.
“So far, we’ve found all but two of the members,” Emmot said. “We’re not sure yet how many of them will want to actually come to the event, but we’ve had the chance to reconnect with a lot of these guys who we haven’t seen in 50 years.”
Based on the information the pair have found, 38 members of the platoon are still living, and six have died. Only about five of the members moved out of Colorado, Sleevi said. The rest scattered across the state.
“I first heard about the reunion efforts through a friend from the time, who I actually joined the platoon with,” said Ron Rickard, who now lives down by Chatfield Reservoir. “I was surprised when I heard about it, because I’d never given that time much of a second thought.”
Now that the bulk of the platoon members have been contacted, Sleevi and Emmot have moved on to planning the actual reunion. They’re still working on locations for a lunch and memorial bench dedication ceremony, and then perhaps a small dinner, just for platoon members and their families.
“Right now, our big concern is raising money to help pay for the memorial bench and for the meals for all the veterans who will be attending,” Sleevi said. “We’re trying to work with organizations and private residents to give these soldiers a fitting celebration.”
As part of the planning for the reunion, Sleevi and Emmot reached out to local organizations and legislators like Congressman Ed Perlmutter, a Democrat in Colorado’s 7th District, for any help they can provide.
The Jefferson County Platoon was unique, Sleevi and Emmot 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. Students from many Jeffco high schools were part of the platoon, and it gained some media attention at the time due to the fact it was made up entirely of county students. Sleevi remembers a big celebration with a congressman when the oath of enlistment was taken at the Westland Center.
“After basic, we all went to separate divisions and locations, so we didn’t really stay in touch with each other afterward,” Rickard said. “I could’ve walked past most of these guys on the street, and wouldn’t have recognized them. But I’ve often wondered what happened to these guys.”
In a way, the reunion is a way to celebrate the different lives and experiences of the members of the platoon after their time in the service.
“This is a unique opportunity for all of us to get together and learn about where our lives took us,” Sleevi said. “At the time, we were such kids, I don’t know how much we thought about what the other people were going through. Now, we have a chance to meet each other as people.”