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story.lead_photo.caption Julie Smith/News TribuneBrent Hardy, back to camera, was so excited to meet his brother, Bill, that the pouring rain didn't stop him from running out to greet him and his wife, Juanita. Brothers Bill and Brent Hardy met Wednesday, June 30, 2021, for the first time. Brent, who lives in Jefferson City and Bill, who lives in Texas, only found out a little over a year ago about the existence of each other. Bill and his wife, Juanita, had planned to make the trip to Jefferson City last year but didn't due to health concerns around Covid-19. Wednesday saw the brothers meet for the first time. The Texas couple brought some very personal gifts to give to their newly-found brother and brother-in-law, including the U.S. Flag that was on their father's casket.

The tears mixed with the raindrops when two brothers in their mid-70s met for the first time Wednesday.

After Bill Hardy pulled into the driveway of his brother Brent on Wednesday afternoon, the two hugged and cried in the rain.

"I saw him running out there, and I said, 'Forget it.' I threw my umbrella down and hugged him," Bill said.

"I might not ever get to see him again," Brent said. "I squeezed him hard."

Brent, who is 76 and lives in Jefferson City, and Bill, who is 74 and lives in San Angelo, Texas, spent nearly all of their lives not knowing the other existed — until a year and a half ago.

"It's not like anything you can put into words," Bill said.

Bill and his wife, Juanita, had just completed a 1,000-mile trip to visit Brent. Stops along the way included a visit to a new great-grandchild.

Bill and Juanita are also dealing with various health issues, so everyone knew how special this meeting would be.

"This guy is part of me and part of Dad, and that's very special," Bill said. "We have the same blood running through us from Dad."

Inside Brent's home, the two brothers talked about a variety of things, much as one would expect among family members who talk regularly. The brothers talked about how they both have collections of items from places they have visited, and Bill showed Brent pictures of his new great-grandchild.

"We've been texting more and more since we first started talking (in January 2020)," Brent said.

The common denominator that brought them together was the military.

The Hardys are a military family. Their father, William, was awarded a Bronze Star for his service during World War II.

Brent was born in Joplin, and his parents divorced when he was 5 months old. He said his mother never talked about his father and what happened between them.

As a young man, Brent enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and served in Vietnam.

While in Vietnam, Brent was preparing to marry when he first decided to find out about his father.

Bill, who was a young man when his father died at 57 in 1966, was also serving in the Air Force during the Vietnam War. But because his father had died and he was believed to be an only son, Bill received a deferment and didn't have to go into combat in Vietnam. Instead, he served at Strategic Air Command in Omaha, Nebraska, processing film taken from the fighting in Vietnam.

Brent later wrote a letter to the Department of the Army for more information about his father, which is how he learned of his death in 1966.

Brent eventually found the name of his father's second wife and learned the two had lived in Lawton, Oklahoma, the home of the Fort Sill U.S. Army Base. The couple are buried at the base.

On Wednesday, Bill brought Brent the flag that had been on their father's casket.

"It's yours," Bill said as handed it to Brent. "You deserve it. I think it can help bring you some closure."

"I'll treasure that for sure," an emotional Brent said.

"Whoever dies first, we can take their flag and put it together so that both brothers are with Dad," Bill said.

Personnel at the fort were able to get Brent in contact with the funeral home that handled the services for his father's second wife, and they told him the couple had a surviving son.

"So that's when I knew I had a brother," Brent said.

Brent turned to social media, where he joined a Lawton, Oklahoma, Facebook group and put out a general question asking if anyone knew Bill Hardy.

Without any responses there, a friend of Brent's searched Classmates.com, a website designed for people to reconnect with former classmates, and found high school pictures of Bill from Lawton.

Brent and Bill's eventual connection came out of the blue.

One night, as he was messaging on his phone, Brent was contacted by a woman who asked how he knew Bill Hardy. Brent said he believed he had a brother by that name, and the woman — whose last name was also Hardy, but with no relation to the brothers — said she was a good friend of Bill's. She messaged Bill, and that eventually led the brothers to connect.

Bill and Brent had planned to get together last year, but the COVID-19 pandemic changed their plans.

During their week together, the brothers plan to visit various sites; eat out; celebrate Bill and Juanita's 27th wedding anniversary; and, above all else, spend time talking with each other.

The brothers are already talking about Brent going to Texas for a visit.

"We're complete now after 70 years," Bill said.

"You can't say it any better than that," Brent added.

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