The Silverton gravesite of Sgt. Keith Rowell is finally receiving the military acknowledgement family and platoon brothers say it should have had all along.
Sgt. Keith Rowell of Mobeetie was killed in action in Vietnam on August 25, 1968, at the age of 25. His wife at the time claimed Rowell hated the military and said he would not have wanted a military marker on his grave. However, his family and fellow brothers of the 3rd Battallion of the 506th Airborne Infantry disagree.
"His actual nickname was The Rock. That's what they called him: Sgt. Rock, because of all his actions," Sgt. Gary Rowell and Brother of Keith Rowell said. "There were so many people at the meeting that told us different stories about Keith saving their lives or other guys' lives in Vietnam."
Gary Rowell and his sister Judy Rowell Tibbs attended the reunion of the 3rd Battallion (Airborne), 506th Infantry (Currahees), 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Screaming Eagles) three years ago. While speaking with the comrades of their fallen brother Keith, they found out what an impact he made on the lives of his platoon brothers. Fact is, Keith saved the lives of many men in the jungles of Vietnam.
And now, 43 years later, the bond he built with these men has brought them all to the Texas Panahandle to ensure Keith is recognized as a military hero.
"Our story's a little different than your average Vietnam soldier," Sgt. Edward Bassista said," "where we trained together for seven months as a unit, as whole unit, as a battallion before we went to Vietnam. So, when we talk about a band of brothers and we talk about a team, we were an entire team from a squad all the way up to battalion level."
Larry Witthar of the Texas Veterans Commission applied to the Department of Veteran Affairs in hopes of getting a military marker for Keith's gravesite, but the request was denied. And rather than wait for months or years for an appeal to go through, the family and community have taken it upon themselves to buy the marker.
According to Sgt. John Colone, coming together 43 years later to honor Keith was not a tough choice to make.
"The bond, I think, that ties us all together: we were young, we were all volunteers. We knew where we were going and felt that's what we wanted to do. That's what we wanted to train for."
About 90 percent of the men in the 3rd Battalion were volunteers. And now, the graves of every man of the 506th are not only marked with military recognition, but with flowers- flowers from Sgt. Colone.
About 30 years after the war, Sgt. Colone decided to pay his fallen brothers some tribute, for respect and for closure. And over the years, it became a mission among himself and others from the 506th.
"We've found all 174 gravesites of the guys from the 3rd of the 506th who lost their life in Vietnam," Sgt. Colone said, "and I just started sending flowers to them."
Closure. According to Tibbs, that is what she hopes the men of the 506th will find this weekend as they gather to honor their fallen brother and to honor the bond they built with each other in the jungles of Vietnam 43 years ago. And as for her brother, Tibbs said she thinks he would be surprised that the spotlight has fallen on him.
"The real story are the love and the loyalty of the guys in his unit who came for this event- eight guys after 43 years. It's just amazing," Tibbs said. "I think he probably wouldn't believe it because he probably didn't think that he gave that much. But I hope that's he's looking down."
To donate flowers to the grave of a member of the 506th, go to http://www.currahee3-506.org/FlowerFund.html.