Surprise visit from fellow solider brings Vietnam veteran to tears

BOWLING GREEN, KY. (WBKO) - True friendships stand the test of time and the friendship between Elmer Payne and Bill Tutterow is a reflection of just how strong a friendship can be.

Tuesday morning came a moment nearly 50 years in the making.

"Really surprised, happy, and surprised and I broke down, but you can't help that," said Payne.

The story of this friendship begins in 1971.

Elmer and Bill both young men fighting in the Vietnam War.

"You say, 'Well we made it through this one' then you get ready for the next one and at night, if you think about it, at night a firefight is nothing beautiful to be in," said Payne, reflecting on war.

They both say it is hard to describe that time in their life, but the memories of war remain vivid in their minds.

In time, Elmer and Bill left the war and returned to the states. Elmer settling in Bowling Green and Bill in Colorado.

Neither knew each other's location and life seemingly continued with only the memories remaining.

They haven't seen each other since the war and close to 50 years later that finally changed.


"He said he was coming through one day and I believed him cause he never told me a lie so I was waiting for one day to pop up and he popped up," said Payne.

Through a fellow soldier, Bill learned Elmer lives in Bowling Green.

On his way to Mississippi to visit family for Thanksgiving, he decided to stop for a surprise.

"He saved us, I really believe he did," said Tutterow. "I just believe the joy he brought us and just everything, we knew, we knew we were going to be okay."

For both, the reunion brings back memories like they were yesterday.

"I mean you see him coming, he had this bouncing step," said Tutterow. "Everywhere he walked he bounced everywhere, you know, he just bounced."

A bond that is undeniable and a brother that is for life.

During the surprise, Bowling Green Mayor Bruce Wilkerson presented Elmer Payne with a certificate of recognition for his service.

Payne is the recipient of a purple heart, a national defense medal, a bronze star medal, and a good conduct medal for his service.