Father and son share two different stories of their return to the States

MARSHALL – Two generations of veterans shared the meaning of their service with a new generation at Marshall Middle School and Marshall East Camus Learning Alternative on Monday.

Amid welcomes, student speeches and music, MMS guests of honor Sgt. Gale Dennis Otto (retired) and his son Sgt. James Robert Otto told students about their experience of military service and the lessons each drew from it.

Gale Otto is a former history teacher from Tracy and a Vietnam veteran. Robert Otto is full-time Army National Guard, currently stationed at the Marshall National Guard Armory.

“My son was a volunteer, I was a draftee,” Gale Otto said. “We had a draft lottery then, and when my birthdate was drawn and I was number 61, I knew I wasn’t going to be a coach and a teacher, I was going to Vietnam.”

When Gale Otto came back from Vietnam wearing his uniform he noticed the reactions of people in the airport. Some looked away, trying to ignore him, and some looked at him with disdain and contempt. Some of his comrades tried to hide that they’d been to Vietnam, some were called murderers and baby killers. There were no parades for them, no appreciation.

“Sadly, it was an unpopular war and there were bad feelings,” Gale Otto said. “If you want to show your appreciation for veterans, all you have to do is say ‘Thanks.'”

Gale Otto urged students to learn from the mistakes of the past.

Gale Otto’s son Robert James Otto joined the National Guard after high school in 1998 and has been deployed twice, to Kuwait and Iraq. He returned to a far different welcome.

“On our return we were welcomed,” Robert Otto said. “People bought us meals, taxi rides, it’s a great feeling to have people glad you’re home. Not like Dad. Make sure we never treat people like that again.”

Nonetheless, Robert Otto said life for military families back home is stressful both emotionally and financially.

“I didn’t have a wife or girlfriend then,” Robert Otto said. “I can’t imagine going now that I’ve got a wife and two kids.”

Sgt. Jason Anderson is stationed at the National Guard armory in Montevideo. His wife, Angela Anderson, is a teacher at MECLA.

“There are 400,000 veterans and 20,000 active duty military personnel in Minnesota, most of them in the National Guard,” Jason Anderson said. “You can show your appreciation by teaching your friends and classmates how to respect the colors when the flag is displayed. Urge employers to hire veterans, they’re used to working in teams and have skill. Become active in the Marshall Yellow Ribbon Community.”

Angela Anderson spoke to students about the stress of being the wife of a deployed serviceman.

“The Internet wasn’t like it is now back then, we could only email about once a month,” Angela Anderson said. “Sometimes he’d interrupt a phone conversation, ‘I love you, gotta go, good bye,’ and I’d worry what just happened.”

Angela Anderson told the students about the day a van pulled up at the house causing her to fear the worst – that a notice her husband had been killed was coming. Hustling the children out of the house, she found it was a flower delivery from her husband.

“It’s just as hard (for loved ones) being back here,” Jason Anderson said.