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April 17, 2014

Battle buddies: Vietnam vets reunited after nearly 44 years w/VIDEO

Elkmont resident persevering through multiple life trials

ATHENS — Elkmont resident Stanley Howell is a grandfather who adopted his late daughter’s only child, a husband who celebrated his 41st wedding anniversary on April 10 and a patient fighting stage-4 colon and liver cancer.

He is also a soft-spoken country boy from Loretto, Tenn., enlisting in the Army at age 18 during the Vietnam War and returning home after serving a 12-month tour spanning 1969-70.

Howell, 65, received an honorable discharge after surviving much of his tour stationed behind enemy lines despite sustaining concussive injuries from land mine explosions as part of 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry Division (Mechanized) and attached with 4th Squadron, 12th Cavalry

He and his wife, Ann, are raising their 10-year-old granddaughter Madison, a fourth-grader at Elkmont High School, and living with the grief of losing two daughters as Howell undergoes chemotherapy treatments.

Comrade reunion

But Howell, whose positive and warm demeanor belies the multiude of challenges he has faced, recently received a morale boost, reuniting with his closest wartime buddy, Dale Bale, 64, for a three-day visit in Limestone County.

The last time they saw each other was Aug. 4, 1970, when they returned home from Vietnam.

Their reunion included plenty of reminiscing and sharing family stories, dinner at the Fried Tomato Buffet in Ardmore, Tenn., and a trip to the Alabama Veterans Museum and Archives in Athens.

Howell and Bale, who grew up in a coal-mining community, both said they had not missed a beat in their friendship forged as teenagers, describing the first night back together as unforgettable and “very emotional.”

“It had been (nearly) 44 years since we had seen each other and he drove from West Virginia,” Howell said. “We had just lost contact when we returned home because I had lost his address and he had lost mine. Even after that time, everything just came together because he’s like a brother to me. It felt like we could have talked for days.”

Howell’s surviving child, 34-year-old Blake Howell of Elkmont, helped spur the comrades’ reunion, searching the Internet for Bale’s contact information after his father mentioned Dale during an episode of the History Channel’s “Appalachian Outlaws.”

“The show is filmed about three miles from Dale’s house and his wife is kin to some of the (show’s characters),” Howell said. “We were watching the show and I told Blake, ‘Hey, that’s where my buddy’s from,’ and he looked on the computer and found his phone number. I called Dale up and he said, ‘I’m coming to see you, Stan.’”

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