Wives & Mothers of Veterans Talk about Their Experiences
May 19, 2008, Evansville Senior Center
Transcribed by Ruth Ann Montgomery

John Ehle introduced Mrs. Rene Bjugstad’s class and they sang and signed the song, “God Bless
the U.S.A”.   

Rene Bjugstad:  The students are writing to Phil Andrew.  The kids love it.  Then he writes three or
four pages when we write to him.  Thanks a million for letting us come.

John Ehle:  Fun way to start the day.  My name is John Ehle and it’s a fitting way to start the day.   

Mary Maves:  I’m from Edgerton Wisconsin.  I am not a life-long resident of Wisconsin.  I was born
and raised in North Carolina.  Graduated from nursing school there.  I was a World War II nurse.  I
graduated from nurses training and entered World War II I wasn’t in very long as I graduated in
1944, and the war of course ended in 1945.  I was inducted in Fort Bragg North Carolina.  I had
basic training at Camp Rocker and then I was stationed in Augusta, Georgia, on the grounds of
where the Masters (Golf Tournament) is played.  They had turned a large hotel into an orthopedic
hospital and I was stationed there as an Army nurse. The wounded soldiers were brought there and
were looked at there and then transferred to hospitals close to home, from whichever state they
came from. I was asked how I came to Wisconsin. I was married to a World War II veteran.  He was a
Marine and had been to the Pacific.  He had his training in California and was then went to all the
Islands.  He was wounded on Guadalcanal. He came back to the states and was stationed in North
Carolina.   As a student nurse, I met him there, in my home town where I had nurse’s training.  I got
to know him quite well.  That was one of the reasons I only spent a year in the service.  I had gone in
right after graduation.  They would only would keep you in until you got married. Well, Elroy came
back from overseas a second time and came to North Carolina, even before he came to Edgerton
and talked me into marrying him and that’s how I got out of the service and to Wisconsin.  I was just
an army nurse for about a year.  Many of the ones that follow will tell you more stories about the
war.   I’m not a public speaker and I stumbled here and there.  Many who follow will be able to tell you
more as I was only in a short time.  I came to Wisconsin in 1945.  I came to Edgerton and have been
a nurse in the area since that time.  I’m not a public speaker, so I stumble here and there.  That’s
basically what I’ve done.  I’m the mother of Bill Maves.  My husband was a Marine and of course, Bill
was a Marine.  Peggy will tell you a lot about him.  I think it was kind of unique that we were all
service persons during the subsequent wars.  Bill was in Vietnam and Iraq also.  We survived and
got through it.

Mildred Clark:  I’m Millie Clark.  I had four boys in Vietnam.  I think I am one of the luckiest people in
the world.  Having four boys in the service and they all came back.  Two were helicopter pilots and
two repaired electronic equipment on high altitude planes.  One used to be in Japan for six weeks
and then he’d come back to Da Nang for six weeks.  The other one was on a spy plane.  So I don’t
really know where he was.  It was real hard a lot of time when they were gone because I would hear
about the situation going on over there.  Nobody then sympathized with the situation at all.   They all
said, “Why are they over there in the first place.”  No one understood the situation.  I can tell you
why Glenn was there.  He was drafted.  I said, “I would rather have him in service than sitting in jail
for the duration of the service.”  I am very proud of all my children.  I’m very lucky to have four
healthy young men.

Cathy Inabnit:  I’m Cathy Inabnit.  My husband is deceased and he did serve in Vietnam.  I’ve been a
widow for quite a few years.  I’m very proud of what he did and hopefully any of these other people
that are here will share a lot more of their experiences.  When he came back from Vietnam, at the
time, it was not spoken of.  Now it’s just coming out and they are discussing and it’s ok to hear about
your war experiences.  But I didn’t know much about his experiences.  When he came back from
Vietnam it was not spoken of.  I’m glad to be here and to support and join everyone and to hear the
stories that they have to share today.    

Carolyn Sperry.  I’m from Evansville, actually all over Rock County, because I was born on Fellows
Road.  My husband was Scott Sperry.  He was a Vietnam Veteran.  He always wanted to be a
Marine.  I knew him in grade school.  I met him in 1964 when I was in nurses training and I told my
mother that “I met the man I’m going to marry and he joined the Marine Corp.”  I never saw him for
four years.  When he came back, we connected again.  We got married and he didn’t talk about it.  
He did to me, but his family said, “you’re home and you were wounded on your second tour and we’
re just glad you’re home and safe and don’t talk about it.”  In 1986, he went through a program at
Tomah.  It was a three month program for Vietnam Veterans, or any other veterans, actually.  He
found out he had post traumatic stress syndrome.  There were reasons why he didn’t sleep and
drank too much.  He had night mares all the time, two hours on, two hours off, you guys know the
schedule.  We finally were able to start talking about a lot of other issues.  He started feeling better.  
We went to some Marine reunions and we took our kids.  We talked to other wives which helped me
to understand that we all dealt with not talking about things.  Fourth of July, anniversaries of being
wounded were very hard on them.  We were able to understand, the other wives and I, and the kids,
why Dad had his quiet moments.  Why he didn’t always talk about things.  I think that was
enlightening for us because we couldn’t understand.  So when he had those moments, he wasn’t
angry with us.  It was something that he just didn’t want to talk about it.  It was just too private for
him.  I think things improved over time.   

I joined in 1990, during Desert Storm.  We talked so much about the military, I thought, well, I’m a
nurse.  I think I’ll sign up.  Well, I talked to a recruiter and three weeks later I was signed up.  That
was pretty quick, I was kind surprised about that.  I had my basic training in San Antonio and I was
commissioned in November of 1990.  Because the war was so quick, I had not gone to basic training
until May of the following for six months.  I got to know the nurses that came back.  It was very difficult
for them.  They went to different hospitals over in Europe. They took care of a lot of soldiers, even
though it was only six months.   It was kind of disruptive for their families.  So for the nurses who were
taking care the soldiers, they were trying to deal with all the issues they were trying to cope with at
home, their jobs.  They weren’t expecting to be activated.  They were reserves.  They got their
education.  They were in the reserves for a period of time, five or six years, and they were activated.  
It was kind of a shock to them.  They thought “we’re not going to have to go anymore.”   It was kind
of a shock to them.  When I joined there were 700 in this 44th hospital group.  When we came back
there were 400 in the unit.  A lot of them just left the service because it was very stressful, on their
families and other issues.  I listened to a lot of their stories and it t took them a period of time, I’d say
a year, to get comfortable talking about it.  I think the good ones stayed. I hate to say that but those
that left didn’t want to stick it out.   I’ve been a nurse at the VA for six years.  Right now I’m working in
mental health and research.  The positive thing, I feel, is we are getting Vietnam Veterans and the
Iraqi Veterans and talking about mental health and getting them back in the system faster.  They are
talking to Vietnam Veterans that are saying, “maybe I should go talk to a psychiatrist or a medical
doctor because I’m having mental problems, depression, and nightmares.”  So the positive thing I
feel is that we are really getting Vietnam Veterans and the Iraqi Veterans back into the system and
getting the care they need right away.  They are not waiting like the Vietnam Veterans did.  It is not
like they can’t talk about it and people didn’t recognize there were some problems.  So I’m really
pleased to be working in that aspect of it.  I like marching in the parade.  I have to work hard to keep
up with the guys. They are still going strong after all these years.  Thank you very much.

Evelyn Cantrell:  I’m Evelyn Cantrell.  I am the coordinator here at the Senior site and I’m not a
Wisconsinite by birth.   I’m from Kansas and my husband was from Kansas.  We got married shortly
after we graduated from high school.  The plan was when we were engaged that he was going to join
the Air National Guard.  The town I grew up in, Wichita, had a big air base there. He was going to join
the Guard and go to school and I was going to go to work and go to school.  Then we found out we
were pregnant and going to have a baby the following summer.  It was January 1968.  The Pueblo
was seized and the Tet Offensive started and he was gone.  He was no longer right there to be with
me while I was pregnant.  He never really got to see her.  He went to training and he came home for
three weeks and then they were gone to Korea.  He did not go to Vietnam.  He was an air plane
mechanic so they were working on airplanes in Korea. He was supposed to be home in a year and
he didn’t get home for almost 18 months.  In that time I had our first child, a preemie.  He never saw
her.  It was very difficult as a young wife to have all this happening, even though family was around.  
I look back and I was lucky because my husband was in Korea.  My friends, their husbands were in
Vietnam.  We didn’t have anything to talk about, my husband and I, as far as Korea was concerned.   
He was there.  He worked on things and then he was back home, safe.  His friends came home and
we had a party one night and this is when I realized for the first time, how hard it was over there in
Vietnam.  We were all sitting around talking and one thing and another.  All the guys were sitting with
their backs to the wall.  The doors were open, it was summer.  We lived in a four-plex apartment
complex.  This young girl came running across the yard, screaming at the top of her lungs.  Every
one of those men jumped up and looked for their guns.  It was then that I realized that I was the lucky
wife.  Some of those wives, their husbands hadn’t come home.  It was hard.  They got through it and
I got through it.  I really hope that these young families are going to come through it as well as I did
because it was difficult for my friends.

Good afternoon.  I’m Pat Cook Engendorf.  I’m here as the daughter of a veteran.  My father was
Francis Cook, better known as Cookie.  I come from a long line of warriors.    My mother’s brothers
fought in World War I.  One is buried in France.  The other did make it back.  The McKinney-Hatlevig
Legion is named after one of her brothers.  My mother was a McKinney.  They fought in World War
I.  My brother, James Cook was in the Army.  My daughter, Lisa was in the Army.  My nephew Kevin
was in the Navy.  Now for the World War II and my dad.  My father, Francis Cook joined a naval
construction battalion.  He was a Seabee.  He was stationed in the Pacific.  He was gone 26 months,
which for me, at the time I was 10 years old.  I thought that was a very long time with a Daddy gone.  
He was discharged in November 1945.  One of the things that always worried me and I had quite a
time.  The teachers did not think it was important, but I sure did.  We used to hear Tokyo Rose on
the radio at home, with all her wonderful propaganda.  Somewhere along the line I had heard that
she liked to have some of the captives skinned that were tattooed, and made into lamp shades.  My
dad was tattooed from here to here, inside and out, all over his arms.  So, I spent a lot of time
worried about Dad and his tattoos.  I remember a few of the things that we did as kids.  We took our
wagons around and collected junk.  We collected milk weed.  That was used for lining in pilots (life)
jackets.  They had several other drives we were always in on.   On Fridays we bought our ten cents
stamps to put in the books to save toward Saving Bonds.  My father was instrumental in forming the
VFW Post 6905 with a lots of his friends that had been in the Service.  He was always proud of his
country and his flag.  He always had to carry that flag in every parade we had until he died, every
parade that we had.  There were a lot of other things, but I cannot think of right now.

Dave Erpenbach:  Cookie was one of the few guys who could wear his uniform his whole life.  Along
with Nate Kelly and Merlin Reese.  

Pat Cook Engendorf:  There was one year that we had to do a lot of pulling to get his uniform on.

Peggy Maves.  I’ve worked at Evansville Manor for 35 years, now.  We’ve always lived close to
Edgerton and Evansville.  I’ve been married to Bill Maves for 38 years.  We have two beautiful
children, Mike and Shannon and six grandchildren, now.  I met Bill after Vietnam.  I didn’t know a lot
about Vietnam, just saw it on TV.  I was living in Madison.  I was young and free.  So I met Bill about a
year after Vietnam.  I think what I saw in Bill, after we were married, was he showed very little
emotion.  He would have a hard time saying, I’m sorry.  He was a Marine and you know, a Marine,
everything had to be perfect and I wasn’t like that.  I came from a family of 10 and with a family of 10
you didn’t have things perfect.  That was hard.  That was real hard as the years went along things
got better.  Everyone has hard times in our marriage and we did.  But we stuck it out and everyone
said to me, “Peggy you are a saint.  You’re just a saint.”  I don’t know what a saint I was, but I had a
very wonderful family, a mother-in-law, such a wonderful family.  Bill, I think, really loved the military.   
Bill was treasurer of Khe Sahn Vets.  That’s where Bill served over in Vietnam was in Khe Sahn.  We
went to all the reunions.  We met some wonderful, wonderful people.  They are the ones who helped
me get through.  They are the ones that showed me what he went through.  They really helped me
to grow and understand him a little better.  The wives showed me how to get through this.  Bill had a
pastor too that served over there and he was in pictures in Life Magazine.  He talked to me, when I’d
go to these Khe Sahn reuions.  He did a lot for me.  Then years later, Bill wanted to join the National
Guard.  He was gone a lot.  Once a month he would go to his meetings.  He left us for six months
and went to Nicaragua and that was hard.  But I got to go to Nicaragua and visit him.  Some of those
trips I got to go on were really, really something.  He always teased me and said, “You probably
wouldn’t have gotten to go anywhere, if you hadn’t married me.”  You know Bill.  That was Bill.  I was
very bitter when he went to Iraq.  He’d just come back from Nicaragua.  He was gone six months and
did all that humanitarian work over there.  I wondered, “Why are they sending him to Iraq.”  He was
59 when he went to Iraq and I think he was too old to be over there. When he was in Iraq, he was
hit.  He and another guy, Herbie, were hit with an IED, roadside bomb, and he should have been
killed.  I don’t know how they survived.  He always said there was a rosary hanging from the mirror
and that is probably what kept him alive.  He should have been killed.  He showed me some of the
equipment that was in this vehicle and it was just like Swiss cheese.  It was just riddled.  His helmet--
he brought home--and it had shrapnel sticking out of it.  I don’t know how they got through, but they
did.  Herbie sent me a letter after they got home.  I got a letter after he came back.  Herbie said they
could never have made it in his unit without Bill.  I’m very proud of Bill and I think he’s come a long
way and so has our marriage. Thank you.

Mary Maves:  So many families that came up to me and told me what a wonderful man that Bill was,
that he would take care of their family.  His group, they were going into Iraq, and he had gone
through Vietnam, so they thought that he was almost taking care of them.  They were so happy to
have him along and I think Bill felt that.  He was like a father figure.  His father died while he was over
there.  Elroy being a Marine, he said to Bill before he left:  “Now you are to take care of your
soldiers.  You are not to come home.”    Bill had seen him when he was diagnosed with Brain cancer
and he died while Bill was over there.  He said, “You will stay with your troops.  Don’t come home for
my funeral.”  So he did not.  He stayed with his troops.  I just thought I would add that.

David Erphenbach:  I guess I’m one lucky male I get to follow all of these wonderful females that told
these stories.  I can relate to all of these stories.  I knew Bill and I knew Mel, I went to school with him
and I knew Scott.  I knew all of these guys.  I’m now the Commander of VFW Post 6905 and I’m
following Francis, Cookie, except I can’t get into my uniform.  I’ve got to take my uniform to a tailor
and have it let out.  I got broader shoulders after I got home.  It’s an experience and the stories they
have told, a lot of it I haven’t heard.  When I came home from Vietnam, we did not talk about our
experiences.  Everything was hushed.  We got out of our uniforms as soon as we could when we got
to the airport.  We tried to bury everything.  We want to talk about it now and we want to let the new
vets know that they don’t have to be ashamed of their service.  We want them to know there is help
available with Carolyn and the VA and other groups.  And try to encourage them to seek the help
that is available to them so they don’t have to go through nightmares and try to get over some of
those experiences.  The suicide rate of Iraq veterans is twice as high or more than what it was for
other veterans.  It’s such a traumatic thing and we are losing too many young men and women that
we should not be losing.  I want to thank you ladies for getting up and giving your stories and letting
the people know.  One other thing, if you happen to know a veteran, serving now.  If you can,
sometime, write a short note, a little post card or something.  Having been in the service, getting
mail, any kind of mail, is important.  It brings you back to your home and makes you feel better.  It
lets you know you are appreciated.  So if you can, if you know of anybody, even if you are not
acquainted, that doesn’t make any difference.  Just so long as they get an envelope.  Just so they
get something.  Just get an address.  Write them a note, even if you don’t know them, just a thank
you.  That would be important.  I’ve been in the VFW with Bill and I talked with several of the people
that served with him.  Like they said, Bill was their Dad in the service over there and he was their
protector.  Bill was one lucky man to have a mother and wife.  Everyone says “Well, that’s Bill”.  They
all really love him and they take him for what he is and know that his gruff exterior is caused by
something else.  He really does care for people, as most everybody does.  One other thing, if you
happen to be out and about, in an airport or on the streets, and you see a veteran in a uniform,
there is a sign now.  Put your hand over your heart like you were saluting the flag and then turn it
over with the palm up, and it means “Thank you from the Bottom of my Heart.  That’s the old sign
language for Thank you. It’s now a new sign that is going around.   If I see a veteran, in an airport, or
some other place, I go up and say thank you for their service.  It means a lot to them, to let them
know that they are appreciated.  

Janice Ringhand.  My husband, Gordon, was also a Vietnam Veteran.  Like the other ladies have
mentioned, he did not really talk about his experiences over there.  What really started to turn his life
around was when the VFW, in Evansville, became more active.  He became more active in that
organization and I could tell a difference in his personality, where he had the opportunity to talk to
former Service members.  It did help him.  Then John came along this year, in March, and had the
veterans remember their experiences in Viet Nam.  It’s been in the paper for several weeks here.  I
think that really helped all of these guys, just to get it out and put it to rest.  I think it really helped
them a lot and I want to thank John for doing that for them.  I think it really helped them a lot and I
know you enjoyed it too, John.  I am here also as a representative of the Ladies Auxiliary for the
VFW.  Pat is our president.  I’m secretary of that organization.  Unfortunately, it is a dwindling
organization.  Ladies from World War II, there aren’t many left any more.  The wives of Vietnam
Veterans wives are still pretty active in jobs.  The new Iraqi veterans’ wives are just too busy with
families.   So unfortunately it is an organization that is shrinking.  If anyone is interested in attending
our meetings, or being a member, we meet on the 4th Saturday of every month at the Red Barn, at 9:
30 and have breakfast.  So you can join us.  The meetings always seem to go better if you have
food included.   It has increased our membership.  So it’s just a little plug for the Auxiliary.  I’m also
the interim director for the proposed Community Senior Center.  Within that building we hope to have
room for organizations to hold their meetings.  I’m wearing a lot of different hats.  It is great to be
here today and I was glad to help John put this organization together today and invite all you ladies.  
It was John’s idea to invite all these wives and female veterans in.  I thought it was great idea,
because we never hear this side.  It was really a great opportunity for the ladies to come forward to
speak and for us to listen to the stories.   

John Ehle:  Other veterans in the audience are Don Hawkins, Ron De Kelver, Dean Arnold, and
Glenn Clark.  Ladies, thank you so much and it’s not a program without a nice audience.   It’s
important let’s keep talking about it.