Warriors with Valor

Sarah Altemeier, Editor-in Chief

The Vietnam War was arguably the most unpopular war in United States history. Starting Nov. 1, 1955, and ending on April 30, 1975, this war resulted in over 55,00 American deaths, around a quarter million injuries, and virtually no gain for the U.S. The conflict arose due to the decision of North Vietnam to attempt to unify the entire country under a single communist regime.

Around this same time frame, our school, George Washington High School was opened in 1956. As many people are aware, the draft played a huge role in the Vietnam war. 25% of total forces were draftees.

The Surveyor found three Washington graduates, Rick Skogman ’63, Bob Vancura ’63, and Douglas Beed ’65, who were all drafted into the Vietnam War, each with his own unique stories and experiences.

As this was an unpopular war, when soldiers would return, they weren’t necessarily welcomed back with open arms. Vancura said, “We were looked on as being more the enemy than being heroes because it was such an unpopular war. So, the first few years there was absolutely no recognition, there were no events for the military, all the branches of service that served.”

People seem to forget that a majority of those who risked their lives in Vietnam were not there voluntarily, they all had lives of their own and would have to leave everything, without a choice.

 

Rick Skogman

At Washington High School, Skogman wrestled, played baseball, and was an All-State football player. Skogman went to Iowa State on a football scholarship, later transferring to UNI. 20 hours short of graduating, Skogman was drafted into the army in ’68. He was drafted into the infantry and volunteered as an LRRP (Long Range Reconcience Patrol), today known as Rangers. “When you see a movie, today, of some of the bombardier elite groups, they are Rangers, and that’s what I did,” Skogman said.

   “I was on a four-man team. It was volunteers, three Americans, including me, and a young mountaineer boy, a 15, 16, or 17-year-old and we paid them, they would walk point for us. We would go out for four days, we’d be taken out in a helicopter, and our job was to do reconnaissance to find out if the Vietcong or the North Vietnam were in that area and if  they were then they would bring in large groups, so the infantry, and engage and start a battle. Our job was to get in and get out without notice, if possible. But, that was always difficult because they always inserted us with a helicopter which made all sorts of noise. I was chosen for four special missions, and on one, myself along with my team members, got the “V” device for valor and in that particular mission, the line companies had lost 13 people in the valley, and we went into the valley, but we did recover 11 of the bodies and two that we still alive.”

Skogman was in the military for about 19 months. He got both types of malaria at the same time while in Vietnam, so he got sent to Japan, “They had a rule at that time that if you were out of the field for 90 days they didn’t send you back to Vietnam, they sent you home to the States. So, I got back in the States with three months to go, and they figured that was too short of time to train me for anything, so they let me out of the army.”

 

   

Bob Vancura

While in high school Vancura played basketball and baseball. His most memorable moment at Wash was related to basketball: when his team went to state senior year. Vancura got drafted after finishing college, “I went to Iowa State and graduated Nov. 1967, and went to work for Shell Oil Company in New Orleans, a great job, and wonderful job, it was in traffic management transportation. I was only there for ten months, and I got drafted into the army. Probably one of the saddest days of my life because this was the height of the Vietnam war and the Tet Offensive started that month. The Tet offensive started in the latter part of November, just when I graduated, the first of December of ‘67, and at that time the United States was losing 500 men a week in casualties and more. So, that was a pretty sad day in my life to get my notice in New Orleans that they needed my body,” said Vancura.

“I was fortunate because I was in a joint service. Joint service means there was about 115 of us in Vietnam, not very many of us, but joint service was that we had members of the all four branches of the service, the brains, the air force, the navy, and army, and it was about evenly divided. We were in communications. So, I had a pretty good job. I was stationed at Tan Son Nhut Air force base that was Saigon at the time, they changed the name to Ho Chi Minh City. What we did was when the big red run infantry division would move from one site to another, whether it was chasing Charlie (the enemy) or trying to protect a certain area or something like that, it was our responsibility to set up communications. Now, what happened is, on occasion, being stationed in Saigon, I was in the foxhole about three or four times when the airbase got attacked by the North Vietnamese army. I got shot at a few times. Fortunately, I wasn’t hit, but I mean, the Air Force provided us bombardments and protected us, because that was the main airbase and the main United States army base in Vietnam. We got attacked a few times, and we had to protect the outside perimeter, and I was in towers or the foxhole. So, I didn’t have it bad, that was about the worst I had it. I saw some things that I won’t elaborate on that was not very pleasant, I saw a few, one of the things that the North Vietnamese were good at, they had these suicide bombers, and they would strap satchel charges to their body and ride motorcycles around and when they’d find a group of armed forces personnel together, they would ignite the veil and kill a bunch of the armed forces, and I was close to those a couple of times. It wasn’t pleasant.”

Douglas Beed

Douglas Beed graduated from Wash in 1965 and went on to attend Ellsworth Community College. However, when he was no longer able to afford any more schooling, he got drafted into the Vietnam War. This year, 2017, Beed published “Chasing Understanding of the Jungles of Vietnam.” The Surveyor published this book from Barnes & Noble and it will be available in the library to check out so you can read his story.

 

Looking Back

It’s hard to imagine the feelings one might have after having no choice but to participate in a war, a war that is so controversial, and then return home without being thanked by the U.S. as a whole.  “Well, first I want to say that the Vietnam war was a very unpopular war. It was a very unpopular war because we were attempting to stop the North Vietnamese and the movement into South Vietnam with the ‘V Mar communication line,’ and we were trying to protect that just like today, they had the D mark line in North Korea and South Korea. What was bad, Lyndon Johnson and Westmoreland, who was in charge of all the armed forces in Vietnam, were not open to the public of what was happening. In other words, the United States Armed Forces were losing many battles and many firefights in Vietnam, but all along they were painting another picture and saying that we were winning the war. And, actually, we were not doing as well as they said we were. We were gaining nothing, and we were trying to train the South Vietnamese army, and they were very weak, they were very poor people to train. When North Vietnamese attacked, the South Vietnamese army basically put their tail between their leg and ran. And the only ones that were fighting in the war was us. That was not the way it was supposed to go. We were to turn that whole country over to the South Vietnamese and the South Vietnamese Government, and that never got done. We gained nothing. We lost everything. Everything we gained at the end because the South Vietnamese Army was so weak, we lost everything we gained there. We lost 55,000 American soldiers in the Vietnam War, and there were over a quarter million that were wounded. I can truly say, I’ve always told my wife, if I would have came home maned, you would be talking to probably one of the most bitter individuals that you could possibly talk to. If I would have gotten wounded, or permanently disabled, I would be so bitter because we actually gained nothing over there through all the years we were there,” said Vancura

   Skogman, who was drafted but volunteered as an LRRP had a very different experience, but some of the same feelings, “I was kinda surprised what was going on around the country because I was in the volunteer group with guys that wanted to be there, I didn’t experience much of the dissatisfaction amongst my teammates and then when I got home, I really didn’t either. But as time went on, I started to wonder what the purpose was. We would fight for one piece of ground in Vietnam, and as soon as we would gain that then they would turn around and leave it back to the North Vietnamese, and all the casualties, loss of lives,  and the cost of the war really made very little sense when I really thought about it,” said Skogman

It wasn’t until the last 10 or 12 years that these men began being celebrated, “So, the first few years there was absolutely no recognition, there were no events for the military, all the branches of service that served. Only over the past 10 or 12 years has there been recognition on the part of the public, on the part of the commercial people. Hy-Vee has a free breakfast for everybody, and I’ve been going to that and sitting down and talking to some of those Veterans. At lunch, there is somebody in town that has free lunches, sometimes I also attend that. That’s what I’ve done, and I have an opportunity to sit down and talk to others who have served like I did,” said Vancura.

When Skogman returned home, he went to work for his family’s business, Skogman construction company. He later started Skogman Realty. Now, he spends the winter in California and enjoys playing golf four or five days a week. He works out with a trainer, and he likes to walk in the desert and climb mountains

Vancura returned home and went back to school to get his master’s degree in finance. He went into the home building business, for about 30 years. During his time he built over 2,000 houses and actually worked for the Skogmans. He considers Rick to be one of his best friends.

   Veteran’s Day was Nov. 11th, but if you ever have the chance to meet or talk with a Veteran, don’t forget to thank them for their service, they might not have even had a choice.