Brothers in arms gather in honor of one another

As U.S. Army veteran Mike Bradbury salutes, Roy Burandt of the Grand Valley Combined Honor Guard plays “Taps” at the end of Thursday’s Veterans Day ceremony at the Western Slope Vietnam War Memorial Park in Fruita.

Donal Compton peered out the open window of a sport utility vehicle toward the flags and the speakers clad in their military best at 11 a.m. Thursday.

Compton, 90, wore his cap denoting him as a World War II veteran.

Soon after the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, Compton was recruited by the Army to Texas, where he trained pilots.

“We had no pilots, we had no planes,” Compton recalled, “and we had a war.”

Outside, the harbinger winds of winter whirled around the Western Slope Vietnam War Memorial Park in Fruita, where more than 300 people gathered to observe Veterans Day.

Compton, a Fruita resident, tugged a bit at the clear tubes that encircled his face.

“I’m on oxygen,” Compton said, “but I’m doing pretty good.”

And thanks to those who served in World War II, so is the world, Compton said.

“We did a great service,” Compton said.

Up on the memorial, beneath a Vietnam-era Huey helicopter, a parade of veterans, most of them from that Vietnam era, spoke to the crowd, many of them also from that era.

Asking for a show of hands from Marines, retired Brig. Gen. Harry Hagaman joked, “By golly, there’s just about enough for a charge.”

Retired U.S. Army Maj. Reuben Siverling remembered the sounds and smells and feel of two terms in Vietnam, as a helicopter pilot and as an infantry company commander.

Siverling warned against the trend to fight wars from a distance, with the likes of drones and missiles.

“War is essentially human,” Siverling said, “not a technical endeavor.”

Wars, moreover, aren’t won by killing the enemy, “but ultimately by superbly trained, motivated and equipped soldiers who trust their leaders.”

Whatever the outcome of the Vietnam conflict or the reaction of Americans to the men who fought in it, there is a brotherhood among veterans of the conflict, Siverling said, choking back a sob.

“It is a privilege to be among you,” Siverling said.

Michael Tafoya, 61, a Tewa Indian who signed up for the Marine Corps soon after he buried his brother, Sgt. Florentino Tafoya Jr., who died in Vietnam, recalled those days with a mix of rage and disgust.

Tafoya wore his Marine dress blue jacket decorated with his shoulder pads and those of his four brothers.

“I didn’t know where Vietnam was, and I didn’t care,” he said of his decision to enlist. “And I still hate Jane Fonda and Tommy Hayden.”

Fonda and Hayden, later a California legislator, visited North Vietnam during the war, earning the enmity of many veterans of the war.

The commemoration included a flyby with a missing-man formation during the playing of “Taps.”

Col. Louis Brackett, a veteran of the Gulf War, said the experience of Veterans Day ties together those who served.

“Regardless of the war,” Brackett said, “there is a sense of brotherhood.”


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