Gratitude for Our Veterans
My dad was in Vietnam. He never talks about it. The only time I heard him talk about it (until now) was when I was bartending (one of my many gigs) and this other guy at the bar initiated a conversation with my dad. Between washing wine glasses and making mixed drinks, I caught bits and pieces of what my dad was saying. I knew they were in an intense conversation when I saw that my dad was smoking. (You could still smoke in bars then.) He smokes cigars sometimes, but the only time I see him smoke a cigarette is when he’s in an intense discussion.
My dad was drafted into the Army in August, 1967, and served through August 1969, (active duty). He was in transportation and drove a 2 1/2 ton truck. From January 20, 1968, to January 20, 1969, he served in Vietnam.
Seeing actual combat and mounds of dead Vietnamese soldiers along the road left an indelible impression. He said, “Children who were 9 or 10 years old were fighting in the war. Thank God I did not have to face that situation. The ones I dealt with wanted food, which we gave some of our C-rations to.” He said, “I don't remember how early the day started, but usually it was about a 15-hour day on the average. Checked out our trucks to make sure the tires and everything were good and where we were going. We hauled anything from artillery to beer, oil to food. After the trucks were unloaded we had to go to a holding area where many Vietnamese would gather to try and sell us clothes, junk or ‘themselves.’’ Then the long trip back…and if lucky no ambushes, which would be at least once every 3 days.” He said once they got everything ready for the next day, they ate, showered, and had a beer to relax. Walt Mangen (my dad) said, “When I was drafted, I, of course, was not thrilled, but was ready for the experience. When told we were heading to Vietnam, I was plenty worried since it was about the only thing on the news.”
Of his overall experience, he said, “That experience will change anyone, and some never have recovered mentally. I think most people understand we live in a country that has more freedom, and are thankful to the veterans.”
Lou Pothast served in the Army from 1969-1971. He was drafted and sent to Vietnam. Pothast became a squad leader in the infantry. Jungle combat was what Pothast encountered in his role in the war; he patrolled the jungle for enemy positions.
Pothast said of his feelings when he got drafted, that he was too young to know better or be scared. He also said of the overall experience, “I learned to detach myself from feeling and situations.” The fact that such an experience can still have quite a profound effect on someone 40 years later, I would think would make anyone grateful that we have such brave individuals in this world who would go through that for us.
Paul Anderson was in the Ohio Army National Guard from 2000 to 2008. He was a Combat Engineer, but while in Iraq, assigned to do route clearance. He said, “For our daily missions we would be assigned a route that needed to be cleared, and we would drive looking for IEDs, aka ‘road side bombs.’”
When Anderson was in Operation Iraqi Freedom, he was stationed at Camp Liberty in Baghdad. Of anything that left a permanent impression on Anderson while overseas, he said, “The one year in Iraq definitely left a permanent impression. Just seeing how the people there lived, and how much hate the older generation there had against any foreigner.” Anderson said, “The day-to-day routine was simple. Depending on what time your mission was, it was just like a day-to-day routine back home. Wake up, eat breakfast, get ready for work, go to work, return home (hopefully without incident), eat dinner, go to bed. There was some downtime throughout the day where we could call home, go to the store, or play Xbox.” Anderson said of his decision to join the National Guard, “I was very proud of myself. I would have never guessed that it would have changed the way I live my life. Before I didn't have a care in the world. Now I am pretty cautious about certain things. I really hate crowded places now. I have seen what can happen in a crowded place and it isn't pretty.” As far as gratitude goes, one thing Anderson is thankful for is the money the National Guard offered for joining.
Many veterans do not like talking about their experiences, and I don’t blame them. With Veterans Day approaching and seeing that we’re focusing on gratitude this month, I only saw it fitting to speak to at least a couple of veterans, because I think we can all agree on the amount of gratitude we have for the men and women, past and present, who have served for our country so that we can be free.