Local Vietnam veteran honors fallen soldiers in 4th Infantry Division

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SPRINGFIELD — The 4th Infantry Division Association is celebrating it’s 101st reunion this week. The University Plaza Hotel in Springfield was chosen as a host location for the Midwest Chapter. Monday was the first day of a week long get together. More than 200 veterans are expected to attend.

Jerry Bumpus is the President of the Association. “This I believe is the first year since I’ve been in the association, that will have no WW2 veterans attending this year. We’ve always had them in the past. Probably 95% of the persons coming this week will be from the Vietnam era.”

Many of the veterans visiting actually served in the same company, or even squad. The 4th I.D.’s motto is ‘Steadfast and Loyal.’ We met up with Keith Brown, a former platoon sergeant. For the past few years he’s been traveling to different grave sites to honor soldiers that he knew, or that were in the 4th I.D.

“His name was Billy Perry of Dallas, Texas. Just a real sweet fella. His nickname was sweet belly,” said Keith.

Over the years, Billy’s headstone became buried under grass and dirt. Keith helped find it, and dig it up. He was with Billy the night he was killed. “I was so thrilled to be able to locate his headstone and pay tribute to Billy. It was something I’d promised myself I would do,” said Keith.

And in Nebraska, Keith visited Staff Sergeant Terry Berney, who was also killed in Vietnam. “We walked into an ambush, and Terry was walking point. Terry replaced me just minutes prior his death,” said Keith.

In all, over 58,000 U.S. troops were killed in the Vietnam War. Many were in their early 20’s. As Keith continued to search for more of his fellow veterans in the 4th I.D., he recently came across Lawrence Pennel, who was also in Delta Company. His body was laid to rest at the Springfield National Cemetery. Although Lawrence died a year before Keith would serve, he’s still apart of the brotherhood. Both Keith and former major, Larry Brainerd, from Arkansas, honored Lawrence with a 4th I.D. challenge coin and salute.

And while at the cemetery, we learned that the grave directly to the right, was another soldier who died in Vietnam. Lawrence Carson, from Kansas, was a Marine Corps veteran. Both men were 24, and only died a few months apart. Flags were placed at both headstones.

Keith emphasized, this project is not for him, but for those who paid ultimate sacrifice. “So it’s taken 50 years, but I’m finally getting around to doing that. I wanted to take an opportunity to salute and pay a tribute to Lawrence,” said Keith.

Robert Jehle reporting.

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