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Vietnam vets reunite in Russellville

This past weekend, a group of Vietnam veterans gathered in the city of Russellville for three days of entertainment, food, fun, and reminiscing about the days they served side by side for their nation.
The group of veterans were all members of the U.S. Army’s 28th Infantry Regiment, A Company, 2nd Battalion – better known as the “Black Lions.” The battalion was part of the 1st Infantry Division “Big Red 1” and played an integral role in the Vietnam War.
The event was spearheaded by retired Maj. Gen. Troy Oliver, who served as a lieutenant in this battalion and has been attending these reunions for the past 20 years.
“This was the first time I had ever hosted one of these events here in the city of Russellville, but I think it went over very well,” Oliver said.
“We had veterans here from many parts of the country and we were glad to all be together for a few days.”
Oliver said while the group was here, they were treated to a banquet at the A.W. Todd Centre Friday night with dinner and entertainment by Sen. Bobby Denton, Kevin Adams, and Laura Beth Oliver.
They also visited the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, the Rattlesnake Saloon, the historic Roxy Theater for a patriotic show from the Kerry Gilbert Band, and they enjoyed some down time fishing on Oliver’s property and visiting at Oliver’s home.
“The pressure got a little intense at times since I was hosting the event to make sure we stuck to our very full schedule, but I don’t think things could have gone any better than they did,” Oliver said.
“And some of the best times were just being able to visit with one another. We were all living together, serving together and fighting together and that creates a bond of brotherhood.
“I’m glad I was able to host this event and give these men a chance to get together and catch up.”
Retired Lt. Col. Wyland Hopkins, from Hazel Green, served as the 2nd platoon leader for the Black Lions and he was actually serving alongside Oliver on the night Oliver was struck by shrapnel – an event that later earned Oliver the prestigious Purple Heart award.
“That night, another battalion had gotten under attack and they were calling in artillery,” Hopkins said.
“Our battalion was in the line of fire, and there was a round that was fired off close to us and shrapnel was going everywhere.
“A piece of the shrapnel hit Troy in the back of the head and I ran over to him to see if he was alright. He said he thought he was but something had hit him and his helmet had been knocked completely off.
“We finally found his helmet up in a tree with a big hole in the back of it. It’s just a wonder that it didn’t kill him. I thought he was dead when I had went to check on him.”
Hopkins said he has been to three of the reunions, which are held about every three years.
“The army was very good to me during my 22 years that I served,” Hopkins said.
“It’s good to be able to still see these men I served with and talk to them. It’s just a special time and I really do enjoy it.”
Oliver said he appreciated the support of Bank Independent, CB&S Bank, Community Spirit Bank, First Metro Bank, Sen. Roger Bedford, Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow and the American Legion for their financial support and help in making the reunion possible.
He said he also appreciated Russellville Fire Chief Joe Mansell and Russellville Police Capt. Mike Prince for assisting in the veterans’ transportation over the weekend and to McKinney RV for providing the limousine the veterans used.