Vietnam Veterans Interviews
March 12, 2008
Present: Wayne Hatlevig, Larry Elmer, John Eberhardt, Tom McCaslin, Gordon R. Ringhand, David
Erpenbach, Don Zhe, Lon Zhe, Tom O’Brien, Phil Kress, John Petterson, Dean Devlin, Glenn Clark, David
Burrow, James Allen, Alan Hurst, William Maves, John Ehle, Gina Duwe, Ruth Ann Montgomery,
John Ehle: I asked Tom if he wouldn’t mind talking briefly about the occasion where he was wounded and the
situation. I think there are 2 purple hearts in the group. I think somebody told me that Bill has a purple heart.
The other thing that really seems pretty compelling is of course the parallels between what is going on in Iraq
now. And what went on 40 some odd years ago when your war started. The other thing that really seems to be
cycling back is PTSD. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is coming back. I know the WWII guys called it Battle
Fatigue. Those of us who have World War II dads have heard that term.
David Erpenbach: Other members of the community that are no longer with us that we missed before, Ron
Silverthorn, and Leonard Nehls have passed away. Leonard Nehls was a bronze star recipient in Viet Nam.
Both were veterans of Vietnam. I just wanted to note that those two are no longer with us also.
Larry Elmer: That’s just about as many as are here.
James Allen: Ron was an Air Force guy wasn’t he?
Gordon Ringhand: I thought Martin McNamer was Air Force. He was a warrant officer.
? Is he still alive?
Larry Elmer: No, he died a couple of months ago.
John Ehle: Tom are you ready to go?
Tom McCaslin: When I arrived at Vietnam, they put me in the First Cavalry Division. Two hours later, they told
me that was Custer’s unit. When I got there, I thought this is not good, Custer’s Last Stand. After powdering
the bush, we’d go out for a month and then we’d do our LZ. Then we’d go out for another month and then back
to our LZ. The last LZ I was on we had to go back out, and we had to go to a different place. We knew
something was wrong, ‘cause there was a lot of commotion going on in that area. So the night before I got hit, I
knew that something was wrong. I prayed that night before I fell asleep, and sure enough, the next morning we
got ambushed. That’s where I got a mortar wound. In that area, there was triple canopy, so the helicopters
couldn’t come in. They had to lift you up. So luckily I made it to the hospital, and in the hospital I found my
cousin, from Rockford. We were the same age, and I said “I’ll meet you somewhere in Vietnam.” And sure
enough he sat right across from me, in the hospital. He was a Warrant Officer. He was a helicopter pilot. We
both ended up with the same wounds, the same cut openings that they did, but his was done better, because
he was an officer. (laughter) Mine was a little bit jagged. We both went to Japan, and both were shipped
home. One other thing, too. Has anyone in here killed anybody? Personally I mean. One of my little
nightmares is when I first came over there. It was about a month after I got there, and this Viet Cong, the VC,
this one guy was bopping around the trail and I was out on OP, observation post, and sure enough he came
towards me. I said “This is the first time I ever saw the enemy.” I shot, and luckily I killed him, but that’s always
in the back of your mind somewhere. I usually don’t talk about it either, except now. That’s my story.
James Allen: You’re different than Custer. He wore an arrow shirt. (laughter)
Dean Devlin: How long were you In Country then Tom?
Tom McCaslin: Middle of April ‘til September 4. I wasn’t there that long, but long enough. You come in as an E-
5, and you’re trained in mortars, and they put you in the infantry. You’re supposed to be a squad leader and
eventually a platoon leader. I went to the lower guys, I didn’t care if they were E-2s. They were in there longer
than I was. They taught me how to do it.
John Petterson: Did they ship you back then?
Tom McCaslin: Oh no. I went to Japan and then to Fort Campbell
John Petterson: How long did you have to stay in Japan?
Tom McCaslin: Probably about 3 weeks. A good three weeks.
Dean Devlin: Did you come in contact with your folks then?
Tom McCaslin: I called my folks at home from Japan at 3 a.m. Like I said, it cost.
John Erpenbach: Even on a deal like that the government didn’t pick up the tab?
Tom McCaslin: No, you were lucky to get a free ride. Quite an experience!
John Petterson: I’m sure that was hard to tell, Tom.
Tom McCaslin: Carrying a rucksack that weighed about 100 pounds, about fully loaded, filled with ammo.
Anybody that was a grunt would know.
Phil Kress: The radio had a standard pack plus a radio.
Bill Maves: Put a radio in with it too. I’m talking about the backpack. I used to get the army pack, because
they were bigger. I made my own antenna. We used to take wire and run the wire up through the harness and
hook it up to the helmet. The helmet was steel. It worked pretty good.
John Petterson: Tom, do you still have shrapnel in your back, or did they get it all out?
Tom McCaslin: I hope they got it all out.
John Petterson: I thought you might have a little in there yet.
Tom McCaslin: No
Bill Maves: They don’t stop you at the airport?
Tom McCaslin: No
Dean Devlin: I get stopped at the airport with a new hip.
Gordon: Like Tom was talking about in his position. Just like he said, there was a cross training of people that
went from one position to another position because of the need. That’s an issue, “We need you here. You go
there”. That’s the end of the conversation. Like Tom said, you learn to set mortars and set the range, being a
point position or any of the other activities, you wasn’t really tuned in, so you became OJT, On the Job
Training. And that’s what a lot of people ended up doing. You went there, and all of sudden they need
somebody to fill in here or there. Wherever they were short of bodies, that’s where you went.
Larry Elmer: You talk about never volunteering. Dave was talking about reverse guilt. I was trained infantry,
and I went in infantry. They was replacing many in the 1st. Cavalry, because they had taken heavy casualties.
You’ve probably seen that movie “We Were Soldiers.” They were replacing people there. It got about three
down the line, and they said, “Can you drive a jeep?” The first two guys didn’t volunteer, and I said “I can.” I
picked up a full bird colonel at the airstrip. His name was Oscar Davis, and he was quite a man. The rest of
the tour, I was basically his driver, and so I was surrounded most of the time by officers. He took pretty good
care of me. We got shelled on an outpost one night, and the next morning he had a chopper come in and
personally pick me up and get me back to La Tran. I often thought if I didn’t volunteer that day, I could have
went to the 1st Cavalry. I went over an E10 and got out as 54 something, that’s a light vehicle driver. One of
the experiences I did have: Col. Davis told me to go clean up the jeep a little bit, so there wasn’t much more
than a mud puddle to do it in. I went out there, and there were a lot of security people. I was thinking. “What’s
going on here?” This plane came in, and General Westmoreland got out. As you know, he was head of the
forces in Viet Nam. He walked right over to Col. Davis, and Col. Davis got in the back of the jeep and General
Westmoreland got in the front. I looked over, and all I could see was stars. (laughter) I was shaking so bad.
There were several vehicles over there, but we went to the headquarters in La Tran. That’s where I dropped
them. Col. Davis said take that Captain there wherever he wants to go. It was Captain Bill Carpenter, The
Lonesome End of Army. I guess some of you guys don’t remember that. He won two silver stars. He was the
one who called napalm in on his own position. He was Westmoreland’s aide at that time, so, I drove him
around. He was real interesting, a very nice guy. I guess that was the story there. Like I say, I carry a lot of
reverse guilt, because there were several that I knew that I took training with that didn’t make it back home.
John Petterson: Carpenter was that guy that was with us in Japan on R & R, right?
Larry Elmer: Ya. It was almost like he knew something was going to happen, because he really lived it up.
John Eberhardt: Tom’s experience too raises something that needs to be said here. Whether it was the army
medics or the Marine’s Corps Navy corpsman, everyone here has the greatest respect for these people,
because of what they could do under extremely difficult circumstances. The amount of lives that they saved, the
people they helped. They are some of the most highly decorated veterans there are, too. Too bad there aren’
t some of them here today.
John Petterson: Wasn’t Prudhon one of those guys?
John Ehle: He was in the Navy, and when he joined they made him a Marine corpsman. He was at Khe Sahn.
Was that ’67?
Bill Maves: Officially, it was Jan. and ended April 17, 1968. It was 77 days, ended April 17, 1968. I knew that I
got up there, and my sister’s birthday was January 14. That was the only time that the whole 26th Marine
Regiment came together since Iwo Jima, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd, Division.
John Ehle. I gave Prudhon his letters from Khe Sahn, because they were so poignant. The second one that
he wrote, he had been in this bunker operating on soldiers with doctors for 40 days, and he said, “I learned two
things. Stress makes all your hair fall out, and I know I don’t want to be a physician when I get out.”
Glen Clark: Something should be mentioned about the Mei Lai, massacre. That was about 40 years ago.
That was real. It happened. There were atrocities on both sides. The group that I am with is putting up peace
parks in Vietnam, building schools and doing loan funds. We have thirteen or fourteen loan funds for women’s
groups over there. Three or four of the people with our organization are going over there. They are leaving
today or this week, I guess for the dedication. They are finishing up a school house over there in Mei Lai. That’
s something that I have been working with. I went back in 1995 for the dedication of a peace park north of
Hanoi. I spent a week down south in Saigon. I was down by Bin Hua where I was stationed. I went up to Hanoi
for a couple of weeks. I don’t know how much of that should be acknowledged.
John Petterson: Glen, when you were over there, when you went back, did you go through those tunnels that
Clark: No, not on a bet.
John Petterson: I thought a tall guy like you would want to get down in there.
John Petterson: It seems just amazing to me that those tunnels were there all the time. How many times we
drove over them. Drove by or stopped there, because that was one of the stopping places for us on the way.
To think that that was one of our stops! It’s amazing to me that they were there at the time, or they were
making them at the time. No one knew anything. To think that there were thousands of people underground
there, and we didn’t know it.
Clark: They had some real tunnel complexes down in the south and in the west. There were tunnels that they
couldn’t bomb with B52s, they were so deep. I don’t know how those guys did that. You talk about
Don Zhe. We had one guy when I was in Da Nang that was an ex-Viet Cong and he was working there. I seen
him digging holes one day. It would look no bigger than a post hole. This guy dropped into the hole, where I
couldn’t see him, and came back up with the full shovel of dirt. I’m thinking, “He shouldn’t have fit.” I was
amazed that a guy could do that.
John Petterson: They had hospitals down there and everything. Unreal! I wouldn’t want to dig there. All I saw
Phil Kress: Up at the front of the table, it was mentioned the napalm dropping on a friendly unit. So, I have a
story about one of those tragedies. We’ve all talked about just the luck of the draw kind of thing, and
sometimes accidents happen. We were on patrol. Our platoon was going after some snipers that were
harassing us. The squad I was in, I was just maybe 2 months in-country, so I was one of the learners at that
point. The captain was calling in mortar rounds, 4-inch mortar rounds. The squad leader behind me said,
“Well, I wish he would not call these rounds over our head. There could be short round, and something could
land on us.” Sure enough, half way up the hill, one of those lands right on the point squad. And so of course
all those guys were dead. Most of the… 2/3 of the platoon, was medivaced. So at that moment the squad
leader grabs me, and we go up to be the new point people; to clear an area; to start to secure the area. Those
accidents were the friendly fire things that were very difficult to cope with for those people. One of the guys in
our squad, you talked about the shrapnel. Maybe ten years later I got a call from one of the guys in my squad.
He was one of the guys who were not medivaced, but he had been bandaged. He had shrapnel in his arm. He
was one of the ones that didn’t want to be medivaced, because he wanted to stay with his buddies and help.
Later on, he was a coal miner, and he was having trouble working because of the arthritis. He doesn’t have the
paperwork for a purple heart. He didn’t file. He doesn’t have the records that he had a war related injury. He
was trying to get people that were in the squad to try to get some stories from his unit to prove his story that his
was a war injury. He was having trouble in his work. I don’t know if he was able to get that, but he was trying
to. Strange how things happen.
John Petterson: Every month in the VFW magazine there are people asking for help with their claims. There
are always guys in there that need help with their claims. They got a list in the back there.
Dean: In September of last year we had a reunion. It was the first time that I’ve seen some of these guys in 40
years. If you guys can do that and contact guys, it was a great experience. There were 14 of us. We went to
Tennessee, and it was a great experience. Now we’re planning on doing it in a couple of years.
John Eberhardt: I had an odd experience one time. I was getting short, and of course when you get short, you
worry a lot about what you’re doing, and we were still doing a lot of ambushes, operations. Anyway, I was on
watch and we set up an ambush. We had movement. I woke a few people up. We set up our ambush and
proceeded to light up whatever was out there. It proceeded to attack us. It charged us straight on and then
took a right angle turn. I can only think that it was probably a wild hog or something like that, because it was
huge. It was dark, and it didn’t shoot back. Very near that time, within a couple of days, another squad in our
platoon ambushed and killed the second largest tiger that had ever been killed in Vietnam to that date. Until
then nobody ever told us there were tigers in Vietnam.
James Allen: I saw one.
Don Zhe: I was on guard duty and heard one. You know that you are sitting there, fully loaded, and this
sucker can’t get by you, but it’s still scary knowing he was just beyond you in the dark.
Dean Devlin: Another thing that nobody has mentioned was the snakes and rats. There was water rats that
big, and I think I seen a snake every day.
John Petterson: There were rats on the Saigon River bigger than dogs. We had a rat guy that came in every
day. He had a little Toyota pickup with a big thing on the back. He had that filled every night. I know the girls
here don’t want to hear this, but that’s what they ate. They ate them. About every day or two, he’d come
around and pick them up. There were some huge rats.
David Erpenbach: I had a picture of snake that I was going to bring. We had a python that someone shot, and
a guy stood on top of the water trailer and held it up and it was still on the ground. So, it was 15 feet long or
so. We had that served up at the mess hall. They skinned it out and served it up as a treat one day. I always
wonder why whoever shot that snake did it, why he did that? It must have eaten a heck of a lot of rats, and he
should have just let it be, and maybe it would have taken care of a few more rats. We had one python in the
cage, a smaller one, and we put a chicken in. The chicken would hop around until the snake got hungry, and
then the chicken would disappear.
Gordon Ringhand: We are overlooking one issue on the snakes, I guess. The Montanyard people, most
people don’t refer to the Montanyard. They were like the American Indian people, and they lived in the central
highlands. They would capture the snakes and bring them to town and sell them in the street markets.
Anything that was out there, they would sell. They were the friendly foe people. They were way back in the
culture, farther back than the Vietnamese people. They lived in the jungles. They still shot cross bows, spears
and arrows. They made their living capturing the critters we all hated.
David Erpenbach: We hired them to fill sand bags for us. We’d give them a penny. We showed the kids the
TV. They had professional wrestlers on the armed service TV. Those kids would get in there, and those kids
wondered how you got those people in the box to wrestle for them. Then we’d hooked up a telephone, and of
course, they had never seen a telephone.
John Petterson: Was he over there or was he in Tokyo? (laughter)
? Are you sure you weren’t in Okinawa?
John Petterson: TV?
David Erpenbach: I told you. I was in a lucky spot. You showed them a telephone, which they’d never seen
before. We’d have their buddy talk in one end, and their friend talk in another, and they’d run around. They
couldn’t figure out where the voice was coming from.
Don Zhe: I remember one afternoon with a snake, or I thought it was a snake. I was laying concertina wire, and
I saw a big tail, and I crawled up over the boulder to see what kind of a snake it was. The damn thing was
looking u, and it was sticking its tongue out. It was a big lizard, about four feet. It was not as big as they get,
but it was looking right up at me. I was expecting to see a snake. I’m scared to death of them anyway. I made
a pact with them over there, if they didn’t bother me, I wouldn’t bother them.
Vietnam Veterans Interviews
March 12, 2008
Present: Wayne Hatlevig, Larry Elmer, John Eberhardt, Tom McCaslin, Gordon R. Ringhand, David
Erpenbach, Don Zhe, Lon Zhe, Tom O’Brien, Phil Kress, John Petterson, Dean Devlin, Glenn Clark, David
Burrow, James Allen, Alan Hurst, William Maves, John Ehle, Gina Duwe, Ruth Ann Montgomery,
John Ehle: Glenn, could you talk just a little bit more about your group and how that got started, going back,
the Peace Parks and the loan situations?
Glenn Clark: I’m not even sure how it started. How do I tell this story? I don’t know where to start with this
story. It’s kind of convoluted, and I don’t know how many convolutions to go back. I got started with this group
with Mike Boehm. He’s out of Madison… and Joe Elder. They started out with a Peace Park in Vietnam. Mike
started up a group, and I was in the initial stages of it. They are under the auspices of the Quakers in
Madison. So, we raised some money to buy some land and put up a peace park. The first one we did was in
Box Yang, which is North of Hanoi. It’s on the top of a hill, and they put a Dove Mound up there and planted
trees. I went back there for the dedication in 1995, and there were a bunch of people that went over there.
Mike Boehm is the president of the organization. I went over there with John Zutz. For a while he was on the
board with the park in Neillsville. He was on the board of that. He was with the Vietnam Veterans Against the
War. It’s an eclectic group of people from all different walks. We started out with a dedication of the park in
Box Yang and after that they went down to Mai Lai. I came back home at that point. Then we started one in
Mai Lai. There was an interpreter and educator from the Mai Lai area that was saying that we really should
have one in Mai Lai. The idea was that we were going to get the soldiers and the people on the ground
together, rather than the politicians. So we started doing that in Mai Lai. There was bureaucracy to work
through. They were the good old hard line Communists down there, and they did not trust Americans. They
especially didn’t trust Americans. They had had a lot of trouble with a lot of other organizations coming in and
creating havoc. So we got a peace park in there started. Then we started school, a 4-room school compound,
and they are going over there right now for the dedication of the last building for the school compound. Then
we also started up a loan fund. For a few thousand dollars they can set up a fund. It is usually run by a
women’s organization. They will give a woman a loan, and she will buy a cow, or buy some galangal roots or
some shrimp for a shrimp farm. There is any number of different businesses that they can start with that small
amount of money. I think there are 13 or 14 different loan funds we have now. We are also starting to work
with the indigenous people of Vietnam. Well, it’s not the Montanyards, but it’s like the Montanyards. There are
several groups in Vietnam now that are indigenous groups in the area that are not in the mainstream of the
commerce. We’re setting up loan funds for those people now too. I’m involved with the group that helps with
these funds. It started out as Vietnam Peace Projects, and now it’s Madison Quakers, Inc.
John Petterson: How many are in it?
Glenn Clark; Officially, I don’t know, it’s not a membership organization. There’s a president and vice-
president. I’m vice president of it. There’s a small group of six-12 people. We’re raising funds from all over the
United States. It is a small group, a 501(c)3. I don’t know what the numbers stand for, but it’s non-profit,
John Eberhardt: Are there other groups doing that type of work in Vietnam now?
Glen Clark: There are a fair number of people. There are people getting library books. The Mennonites are
doing some work over there. There are a lot of different people doing different activities over there with people
doing work with prosthetics or medical equipment.
John Eberhardt: Are they still having issues with land mines and unexploded ordnance over there?
Glenn Clark: Yes, but it gets less every year. I guess if you blow up one kid a year, it’s a big deal. There is a
lot of ordnance over there. If you are out someplace where you shouldn’t be, the problem is it is not marked.
Kids probably don’t know there was a war there.
John Petterson: Larry Neuenswander’s daughter went on vacation over there. I know they are trying to draw
the American people over there for vacations. I think that’s one of the biggest issues that they have is the
ordnance still all around on the beaches, over in there.
Glenn Clark: Every fort was mined. Around every fort was mined. A good amount of that was left in place. It
was a neat country. I thought it was a neat country when I was there. Wonderful people. Just like Americans,
there are dickheads there, and most of them are here.
John Eberhardt: I’ve heard it mentioned several times today about how they lived, many hundreds of years
behind us. Essentially, that was their lifestyle when we were over there. There I have to admit I was extremely
prejudiced against them. If they wanted to live in thatched huts, that’s their privilege. If they wanted to raise
rice in their rice paddies, that was their privilege. Those people do not belong in this country. It took me many
years to get over that. I was not ready to accept that they had a right to be here, period. That was one of my
big issues. I was just nasty prejudiced for a long time. We built 2-story cement block houses in Da Nang for
them, no electricity and nothing, just two story cement block houses. They’d go in the corner and build a fire
on the floor. That’s what they knew about our lifestyle, and I didn’t want those people in our country for many
Glenn Clark: The reality is that they built a fire in the corner, because they had to, not because they wanted to,
but because they had to. You need to boil your water. You need to boil your rice. How you going to do it?
You can’t afford the stove. You can’t afford the gas.
Larry Elmer: Now they’re all in Vegas playing poker. (laughter)
Glenn Clark: They’ve been acclimated. (laughter)
Dean Devlin: We were all over in Vietnam, and I just bought a Vietnam (Veteran’s) hat, and guess where it’s
made… Vietnam. Vietnam Veteran, made in Vietnam.
John Petterson: See this jacket? Guess where?
? Don Zhe’s hat: Made in Vietnam.
Lon Zhe: I think mine’s U. S. made, because I bought it at a museum. A nice little museum.
Gordon Ringhand: One of the other highlights we should mention is the Vietnam Wall. I know probably
everybody in here knows somebody whose name is tagged on the wall. Everybody at one time or another has
made the trip, or should make the trip.
Bill Maves: Is there anybody who hasn’t been there?
? I’ve seen the traveling one.
? Never been there.
? I’m going to be there April 17.
Gordon Ringhand: They have a catalog system set up there. It’s like a giant phone book. All you have to do is
look up the name of the individual. Say there are three Johnsons, and they were all in the Army, Navy or
whatever, so you go by first name. There will be a first name and when they were killed and where they were
Bill Maves: It goes by date too, Gordie.
John Petterson: Do they still add to that wall?
Bill Maves: They have. The last few come from remains recovered, through the U. S. Army Identification
Center in Hawaii. Yes, they did, they’ve added. If you ever get the chance to go there…. I took my dad and
my mother who are WW II vets. I took them out there for the dedication of the World War II veterans. It was
actually prior to my deployment, and it was one of those things that worked out good. Me and my sister took
my parents out there for that dedication. To make a long story short, it was real nice to get them out there for
their dedication. They were alive for it and since then, my Dad passed away. If you’ve never been there, you
should go there. I am going at the end of May. At the end of May, they have the Rolling Thunder. They’ve
had it for the last fifteen or sixteen years. I have been there at one time for that, but I wasn’t on a bike. I always
thought I’d like to do that. This year there are four of us going out. Dwyer’s suppose to be one of them, but he’
s not here today. Three of four are Vietnam vets. We’re going to go to Myrtle Beach, and then up to D. C. for
John Petterson: I was stationed out there for 13 weeks, and I don’t care if I ever go to D.C. again. I didn’t like it.
Bill Maves: Well, it’s the most visited monument in the world. Not only the country, the world!
John Petterson: That’s the only thing I’d want to see.
Wayne Hatlevig: Go out there and visit it in the night and in the day. It’s so somber. I went out there with a
group from Janesville. We went out during the day and talked with Vets. At night, they’ve got it lit up. At night
it’s very somber. Sometimes you sit there, and you cry.
Bill Maves: Take a hanky.
Glenn Clark: I defy you to go there and not cry.
John Petterson. I’d like to see that part, but I don’t care about Washington. I’ve seen enough of that.
John Eberhardt. There is also an exhibit in the Museum of American History where they display artifacts that
have been left at the wall, and it’s a constantly changing exhibit.
Gordon Ringhand: They drop things off daily at the wall. I went to the museum, and it changes periodically.
There is everything from flight vests to purple hearts, silver stars, flowers, everything. There’s Guide People
there to sketch names for you. They are there all the time to accommodate you all the time, to take care of
Bill Maves: If you were in the Marine Corps or Navy and do go out there, it’s just a short hop over to the Marine
Corp Museum. It opened last year, the Marine Corp Museum. It incorporates a lot of Navy. It’s an awesome
museum. It’s laid out from the Shores of Tripoli all the way to Iraq by halls. You can walk through there. Some
of the stuff you see there is just amazing. It’s amazing what they have in there. How they find that? Where
they come up with that stuff from the era? If you ever go to Branson, Missouri, go to the Veterans’ Museum. It
is right on the Main Street in Branson. That guy was a private guy who owns that. He’s quite wealthy, but you
wouldn’t know it by talking to the guy. I had an opportunity to actually talk to him when I was there. He had his
neighbors and relatives served. He didn’t even serve in the military. But all his relatives and neighbors that
grew up in his lifetime, his Dad and Grandpa served in World War I and World War II, his friends in Vietnam and
all that. He just amassed this. It’s just amazing. You’d just be awestruck. It costs three or four bucks, but its
well worth it to help keep the lights on. I don’t care if you’re Navy, Army, whatever. You’ll go through, and you’ll
wonder, “How’d he got a hold of that.” All the stuff he’s picked up and bought. Just for example a 1911 model
pistol, been in service since WW I. He’s got the same thing with rifles. You know, just everything. He has
amassed the items in the museum. Just to walk through there. You go through and wonder how he got a hold
of that. Guns, uniforms…. My mother was an army nurse in WWII, and she has the dress and surgical
uniforms, which are hard to find. He happened to have them in the museum. They are very hard to come by
and I said, “How about a spare? My mother would be willing to donate them.” He said, “I got three or four
upstairs in storage. He’s got so much stuff! If you ever go to Branson, it’s amazing.
Gordon Ringhand: They also have that up on Mifflin Street, near the Capitol. It’s a great display at the
Veterans’ Museum in Madison. It’s local. Many people don’t know what we have locally that is really
interesting. They have the Vietnam, WW I, WWII, Civil War. It’s local, and it’s great. Most people don’t even
realize what we have, locally.
Don Zhe: That’s one of the nicest museums for its size.
Lon Zhe: They have U. S. Navy hats there, too. (laughter)
Gordon Ringhand: We brought this issue up before: Dean said, and David added, when we came home from
the military. Really in today’s day, we have more people appreciate us for the years that we did serve in the
service now, than they did 40 years ago. If any of the rest of you have any comments? Most of us have said
“If you’re a Vietnam Vet, well glad you came back,” or whatever. You get a thank you from another Vietnam
Vet. We felt it was our obligation. Well, it is one of the highlights of our life, and we should all be proud that we
did participate in it. Anybody have any more comments?
Dean Devlin: On that same thing, like you said, it was bad when we were coming back, but right now it is an
honor to be in the parade. People stand up and salute you in the 4th of July and Memorial Day parade.
Phil Kress: There’s always a lot of support. I felt a lot of support from other veterans over the years, and that’s
been great. In my experience, I came back and went to college about three weeks after I came back in 1970. I
started registering when I was in the field in Vietnam. I went back to college in September of 1970. I often
wore my combat boots or sometimes a shirt or whatever, and I was never harassed then, which was really a
neat feeling. I didn’t look for it either, but I know that sort of thing went on. Some people are nice, I guess, and
some weren’t, that’s how they’re brought up. One more thing that was interesting. Some of you came through
Fort Lewis on the way home, like I did. Like David maybe mentioned, we got a new uniform, and then we got to
wait for a standby flight back to Chicago or wherever. That was great. When I got off the bus from Cameron
Bay to Fort Lewis, I got on a bus, and then went to wherever the barracks were. It was dark the middle of the
night. There was a sergeant standing there holding the door for us, but not a word was said, even from the
organization that I worked for. So, that’s really too bad. But, the veterans I’ve known have been very
supportive. It’s been kind of “a mixed bag” story. That was kind of the frustrating part. So, when Johnny said
“Welcome Home”… that’s still something I say to other veterans.
John Petterson: When I came home, I didn’t know anything about what was going on back home. You get back
in the states, and you get issued new uniforms, because you were going someplace else, most of us anyhow. I
remember getting to the airport. You get in there, and we were in San Francisco. They called you baby killers
and spit on you and everything you know. That wasn’t very good.
Phil Kress: What year was that Johnny?
John Petterson: It was 1967. It was not very good. We didn’t have much time to get to the plane or there
might have been some action.
Phil Kress: It was 1970, when I came back, so maybe things had changed by then.
Dean Devlin: I got out in 1972, and I have to say that I did go to one of the protests. They were going, “1, 2, 3,
4, we don’t want your f…. war.”
Larry Elmer: Being a Vietnam Veteran was not a good thing to put on your resume.
John Petterson: No you just told them you were in Hawaii or something, on vacation. That’s where you got that
Phil Kress: When I was working for the savings and loan, where Roth is now. I was branch manager there for
several years. The company got a tax break to hire Vietnam veterans, so that helped them hire me.
Tom O’Brien: I went to the University of Wisconsin after coming back. I went back to work at Fisher Body. I
went in there, and I had been gone for 4 years and the foreman said “Well, you’re back. “You know the job.”
The job was the same. I thought to myself, I can’t do this. “I’ve got to go to school,” and I went the next day
and enrolled in the University of Wisconsin. Up in Madison, you had the feeling you couldn’t say anything, that
you had been a veteran. But, when it came around, and I got to know some of the professors in the Wildlife
Ecology Department, and the one guy called me up and asked me if I wanted to go to Grad. school. I get there
in Grad. school and three fourths of the guys in Grad. school were Vietnam veterans. Dr. McCabe, who was
running the department, his son was a Vietnam veteran. He’d gone in and come back, and he was wounded.
They went out of their way to make sure that Vietnam veterans got into Grad. school. So, I felt very welcome
there. That was a really good experience.
? What year was that
Tom O’Brien. That was 1969.
David Erpenbach: Were the protests going on?
Tom O’Brien: The protests were going on. They had blown up the Math building. There was tear gas all over
the place. It was unsettled times. I just didn’t say anything. Everybody knew that I was older, but they didn’t
know I’d been over there.
Phil Kress: When I got there the protests had died down, but there were speeches in the Library Mall. On
State Street, all the windows and doors were boarded up. I went to one protest speech, and there were three
guys younger than me standing next to me. They were bored. They were waiting for the speeches to end.
They wanted to go down State Street. They had rocks in their pockets. They went for the fun. “Too bad we
can’t work the problems out, but we’re just going to have fun.”
Don Zee: Two things when I got back. I’ve showed people my card (VFW membership card). This Post paid
for my dues while I was in Vietnam. I’ve been an active member since 1969, because they paid my dues. I don’
t know how many other people from Evansville had their dues paid here.
David Erpenbach: They paid my dues too. And I guess, I didn’t feel very welcome with the World War II vets,
because maybe you came back from the only war we lost, which in my mind we didn’t lose. We weren’t allowed
to win. I guess I had mixed feelings about the war and that so, I dropped out of the VFW until about four years
John Petterson: That’s kind of what’s going on now, isn’t it? These guys coming back from Iraq, they don’t
want to join us, because we’re a bunch of old guys. There are a lot of veterans around, but maybe they don’t
feel welcome here. I joined in 1968 right after I got out.
David Erpenbach: They’ve got their families and things they have to take care of now. They have a lot of
other things to think about. You’re young, your immortal, you survived this. They’re the same age as we were
when we came back.
John Petterson: They don’t want nothing to do with us. It would be nice if we could get some of them to come
in. There’s a lot of them around. They don’t come in, because they don’t want to associate with us ‘cause we’
re older guys. I got a card in my thing here… I never had that feeling. I joined in 1968, right after I got out.
So, I’ve been a member here since 1968.
Wayne Hatlevig: I know some of the guys in Janesville were talking about the VFW there and said it was the
same there. Some of the older guys did not want to associate with us (Vietnam veterans). I think it’s changing
to a certain extent now, because a bunch of us are running it.
Bill Maves: The only thing you can do is get a bunch of them together and find out why they don’t want to join.
Mend some fences or something.
Dean Devlin: Bill, you don’t mind running around with us do you? (laughter)
Bill Maves: I can get by with it. I think there’s a lot of animosity, and it’s been there for years. I think I stopped
in at Janesville where you had to ring the bell. I was a member, and I stopped in there. This old guy was
talking. Like you said… there was sarcasm, that I was a member. That one guy said, “I was in the big one.” I
took it pretty well, I thought. I asked him where he was at. He told me, and I said, “I was at the siege of Khe
Sanh. I don’t know if you heard about that or not.” I said, “We took more incoming rounds than they did at
Stalingrad in World War II, the most in recorded history. I was in the big one too.” He shut up.
Wayne Hatlevig: We had a lot of problems with what they call the Era Vets. They didn’t consider them Vietnam
Vets, because they weren’t in Vietnam. There was a lot of trouble in the VFW, because of that. I think now
they consider that if you were in service at that time, during Vietnam, then you are a Vietnam vet. Before, they
had a lot of problems with that.
Don Zhe: My place of business offered. When I got out I wanted to be an auto body technician. All the
schools were full, and I checked with the V. A., and the company that I work for today had an apprenticeship
program. So, I got a four year apprenticeship program through the VA. My company had put their name up
for consideration for the apprenticeship. I took a hand shake and promised to stay there six years, and it’s
been 38 this year. I fulfilled my part of the deal.
Lon Zhe: When I retired from the State, I got to use 4 years credit for my service and that amounted to about
$400 a month difference for me. So, it did help some.
O’Brien: Same with the federal government
Dean Devlin: I guess I’d like to say thanks John, Gordie and Dave for spearheading this.
Dave Erpenbach: I want to thank all of you for coming. A lot of times we sit down and talk to each other, and
we never talk about our experiences. Sometimes we let a few little things out. I’ve think I’ve learned more today
than any other time. I’ve come to respect a lot of people. I did before anyway.
Note: This ends the series on the Vietnam Veterans’ Interview. You can read the entire transcript of the March
25, 2008 interviews at www.Evansvillehistory.net