BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Private First Class Bill Makowski was a graduate of Kensington High who volunteered to serve his country in Vietnam, even though he could have sat the war out.

His Army unit may be the only veteran’s group that travels the country to salute their fallen comrades.

Survivors of the Army’s 1st Air Cavalry Division who fought in Vietnam travel the country to salute their brothers killed in action. On this, 50 years to the day that Pfc. William “Bill” Makowski was killed in a firefight in the Binh Tuy Province, his brothers-in-arms allowed themselves to grieve.

“He was only with us for a month, but that month he became a brother, deeply our brother-in-arms forever,” said Doug Hilts, Vietnam veteran.

Sgt. Doug Hilts, Makowski’s squad leader, was there when the 20-year Kensington High graduate was mortally wounded.

“He loved his country. He volunteered to come here, to Vietnam. He did not have to come because he was the only son. He is a true patriot,” Sgt. Hilts added.

Makowski’s commanding officer recalled his brothers-in-arms carrying him to safety in the face of that fierce firefight.

“Where the platoon medic treated him as best he could. The wound was so serious, the bleeding could not be stopped, and Bill passed away among his range platoon battle buddies,” said Wolf Kutter, Vietnam veteran.

A niece who barely knew Makowski before he was shipped out overseas, came from Baltimore to find out what she missed.

“I am here because I want to hear the story of why everyone would come and have this amazing together. After 50 years I am just stunned,” Laura White, Makowski’s niece said.

A former neighbor and schoolmate recalled Makowski’s death as a loss to everyone who him.

“All of us loved him so much. We were such a close neighborhood, we still are. We still all keep in touch with each other, and believe me, we all love each other,” added Sylvia Nemcko, Former neighbor.

The memorial services are especially meaningful for Vietnam veterans and their families. Despite young men such as Bill Makowski giving their last full measure of devotion, veterans often returned to a disrespectful nation.

After 50 years they are still trying to heal.

Correction: The location in Vietnam where Makowski was killed was misspelled in an earlier version of this story. It has been corrected.

Al Vaughters is an award-winning investigative reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 1994. See more of his work here. To submit a Call 4 Action, click here.

Call 4 Action