American flags – flying against a perfectly blue sky on a perfect, crisp autumn day – lined the drive into the Jefferson Township municipal complex in honor of Veterans Day. (Photo: Maria Weiskott)

This is an insight into war as told to me by veterans I have known:

“I served in the Mobile Riverine Force 1969 and 1970. I was a 105 mm/50 gunner on a Monitor gunboat in River Assault Division 132 as a gunner’s mate third class petty officer. I was responsible for upkeep of the boat’s extensive weapon systems. I was wounded the first time when an RPG [rocket-propelled grenade] blew up 18 inches below my overwatch position on top of the coxswain’s flat flack roof during a nighttime ambush. Two and a half months later, our boat along with six other boats was attacked by a company of NVA [North Vietnamese Army] on the Grand Canal. Our Monitor was hit in a span of 20 seconds by seven RPGs on the portside at 0230 hrs. The explosive force was so great that it nearly rolled our 80-ton boat onto its starboard side. The top 20 mm gunner was wounded as were our boat captain and two others in the initial contact. After an hour or so of heavy contact, we were able to have our wounded medevaced out. My assistant gunner and I were busy fighting a large portside fire that the rockets caused as well as getting the emergency pumps rigged and running to prevent us from sinking. We got ambushed again from the opposite canal bank with small arms fire. I was able to return accurate fire, but not before getting hit. I also got second degree burns to my hands and arms. The other four men that were left of our crew were nearly out of MG ammo at this point. It was not a good night at all. But fewer than 50 Americans prevailed against nearly 200 NVA. I was proud to have been a part of this.” – Mark Vandling, Gunner’s Mate Third Class, US Navy, Vietnam, Purple Heart Recipient, 1969-1970

“When I came home from Nam in ’71, the first thing I did was walk out in the field behind my house and burn my uniform.” – Victor Manniche, Private First Class, US Army, Vietnam, 1971

“We were at an airbase when a bladder filled with 40,000 gallons of gasoline exploded. Every place was on fire and men were running to put these fires out. My colonel was putting one out when he slipped into a ditch and his uniform caught on fire. Several of us ran with CO2 fire extinguishers and sprayed him down. He was taken to the base hospital, not with burns from the fire but third-degree frostbite on his leg from us.” – Thomas Stryker, Chief Warrant Officer 2, US Army Helicopter Pilot, Vietnam, 1969

“I was in a movie theater when the picture was stopped and the manager came out and announced that we were at war with Japan. Four years later I was in a tent with about 25 guys watching a movie when a lieutenant stopped the movie and told us the war was over and Japan surrendered!” – Tony Haryn, Tech Corporal, US Army Air Forces, somewhere in the North Pacific Islands, 1944

To all veterans, past and present, we salute you and thank you for your service. Have a peaceful Veterans Day.

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