Veteran, long lost war buddies honored in Iraq - KFVS12 News & Weather Cape Girardeau, Carbondale, Poplar Bluff

Veteran, long lost war buddies honored in Iraq

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By Crystal Britt - bio | email

Jackson, MO (KFVS) - It's been more than 40 years, but the memories are still fresh for Tom Kimbel.

"It was the longest 13 months of my life," said Kimbel. 

In the late 1960's Kimbel enlisted in the U.S. Navy.  In 1968, he was sent to Vietnam.

During boot camp, and his time overseas, he was there all along with three goods friends.

"Ended up in same barracks together all four of us,"

 he said.In 1969, Kimbel left Vietnam and his three comrades stayed on for a second tour.

For 35 years Kimbel says he wondered about his buddies. He even braced himself for the worst as he visited the Vietnam Memorial Wall. Thankfully, he says he never saw their names.

"I searched and searched," said Kimbel. 

One day he says he got on a mailing list, and a name showed up on a newsletter: Mickey Rhea. Rhea was one of his long lost friends of war.

Immediately they got in touch.

"We were on the phone about an hour," Kimbel said. "We only talked 10 minutes, he was tearing up...I was too."

They vowed to find the other two. Finally, decades later they all re-united.

"It's a bond I can't explain, put together by God. I can't give nobody else the credit."

What happened this summer, Tom says, brought everything full circle.

Tom's son Ryan is a specialist in the U.S. Army.

"This July is when he got deployment to Iraq."

In August, Ryan did something that still to this day brings his father to tears.

Ryan Kimbel was the first to step up in his unit to fly a flag in honor of Tom Kimbel and his Vietnam buddies.

The flag flew twice, once on August 5, and again on August 9.

To Tom Kimbel, it was all about appreciation for something he fought for so many years ago.

"World War II vets got all the recognition. Vietnam veterans got nothing," said Kimbel. "For this to be in honor of Vietnam veterans it was worth it all."

His son sent him the flag. Tom and his three Vietnam buddies also received certificates.

Kimbel and his buddies now try and get together every year.

The other men are from New Jersey, Oklahoma, and Indiana.

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