More than just another holiday

MARSHALL – It may be a holiday, but for many Americans Memorial Day means much more than a day off work. Memorial observances for fallen military servicepeople bring up a range of emotions from pride to loss, area residents said this week. For surviving war veterans, emotions can also be heightened.

“It’s a day we remember all our fallen comrades,” said Dennis Klingbile, commander of the Ivanhoe VFW post. “We should not forget what they did.”

Klingbile said the Ivanhoe VFW will be holding memorial services and visiting area cemeteries on Monday, just like many people around the nation will be.

“This weekend is really hard for me,” said area resident Bruce Knieff. Knieff said he lost some good friends while serving in the Vietnam War. “At this time of the year, I think about it a lot. It’s hard in one respect, but I’m glad we set aside a weekend to remember.”

The sacrifices made by all the members of the U.S. military should never be forgotten, he said. It’s part of the reason Knieff has volunteered with groups like the Patriot Riders, and is working to help bring the traveling version of the Vietnam War Memorial wall to Marshall this summer.

Marshall resident and veteran Cy Molitor said for him, Memorial Day brings up memories of a lot of people, going all the way back to when he was a boy. He looked up to military servicepeople, and they inspired him to join the Air Force. Molitor also recalled an Honor Roll of local names that was posted in Tracy.

“When a life was lost, a gold star was painted next to their name,” Molitor said. “There was a lot of gold stars on the Tracy Honor Roll.”

Molitor has taken part in area Memorial Day services in the past, and he said on Monday he will be reading the names of servicepeople and veterans who have died in the past year in Marshall’s services. It’s not an easy task emotionally, he said, and neither is traveling to area cemeteries to visit veterans’ graves. But it’s important to honor fallen servicepeople, he said, and equally important to show support for their families.

“You have to think about the families, too,” Molitor said. When a loved one is lost, he said, “That hurts forever.”

Public attitudes about honoring military servicepeople have changed over the years, Klingbile and Knieff said. Soldiers returning from the Vietnam War didn’t receive the same level of support that those in World War II had. However, as more Minnesotans began serving overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past 10 years, they said, people began paying more attention again.

“I think it’s increased the awareness a lot,” Knieff said. “Memorial Day means a lot more to people locally now.” More civilians have started getting involved in efforts that support U.S. troops too, he said.

Local participation in Memorial Day observances has tended to stay strong, the three men said.

“In Ivanhoe, the Memorial Day services will usually have about 50 people. For a small town, that’s pretty good,” Klingbile said.

When American Legion members hold services at Marshall area cemeteries on Memorial Day, Molitor said, “The Green Valley Cemetery (where 1st Lt. Jason Timmerman is buried) always has the biggest turnout of any of ’em.”

“They truly believed in their country, right or wrong,” Molitor said of U.S. troops past and present. “If it wouldn’t have been for these guys, we wouldn’t be walking around free today.”

Sharing a different perspective

Editor’s note: The following was written by Vietnam veteran Charles Hettling of Minneota. While he will always remember fallen soldiers and appreciate how much their sacrifices have meant to this country, Hettling’s goal in putting this piece together was to show a different side of war. This story, he said, does just that.

Sometimes when we talk about war, we usually only have one idea of what it’s all about. But sometimes, other things are also going on.

At the Vietnam Memorial and History Center we are adding a small section related to very unique things – very unusual and one-of-a-kind things.

These are real stories, and I am trying to keep them as exact as possible. They are not Hollywood-embellished, but are real and unique stories that happened out of the clear blue.

These stories are a different kind. They are also on the lighter side and tell about how we were provided with a little but of unusual entertainment when we would be in our fighting positions and needing something a little on the lighter side to get us through the long nights.

When you are in the infantry in combat, the three necessities are the three Bs – beans, bullets and bandages.

I heard in the rear that the Vietnamese were selling beer to the soliders, but where I was you could not buy it. The unit would allow you two cans per day when it was available, and they would give that to you – the brand was Black Label. When it was the monsoon season, no trucks would be running convoys, because everything would be under water. The only plus on that was that you would not have to sweep the road for mines every morning because the roads were never open. Everything had to be flown in. Not every day would planes or helicopters fly because the weather was so overcast.

The P.X. we had on our camp was very minimal. I only was in it three or four times during my year-long tour and that was mainly for shaving cream and a pack of double-edged razor blades.

What I saw when I was in ours was a few tubes of tooth paste, shaving cream, razor blades, maybe an obsolete photo camera, cigarettes and a few magazines.

Guys would always talk about the big P.X. in Da Nang; I never got to see it until I was going home from Vietnam. I guess everybody was right about it. It was unbelievable. It was better stocked than any big department store back in the States. I heard it was because of a lot of high-ranking personnel who were in Da Nang. During the Vietnam war the Da Nang airport was the busiest in the world. Hard to believe but I guess it was true.

As far as the two cans of beer I was talking about earlier, I can only remember getting it about four to six times. Some of the guys didn’t drink, so the ones who wanted to have an extra can or so would go get them, and unless they were totally ridiculous about the price they wanted for it, they would usually get the price.

The beer was usually never flown in because flying was for priority items. Beer or so-called luxury items would usually come in by truck convoys.

Sometimes when things are good or easy we don’t realize how much even the simplest of things can be a moral booster when you don’t have much for items and you’re just trying to exist. The following story is a perfect example:

Cpl. Clay Selser and the Rat Story

Clay’s mother had sent him a box containing cookies, a Zero candy bar and a couple other treats. His favorite candy bar was the Zero, and they only made them for a short time.

He shared the treats with his squad – in infantry, your squad is your family – but saved the Zero candy bar for himself. That night when he would have perimeter guard duty he wanted to postpone eating it right away and was thinking about how good it would taste – when he could slowly eat it by himself. He scheduled his watch to be from midnight to 0300. When he was on his position they had an M60 machine gun set up. He put the Zero candy bar on the front sight of the machine gun, and he was looking at it and thinking about how good it was going to taste. He had been watching it for over an hour and was getting ready to take it off the front sight of the gun, when all of a sudden a big rat came running up and grabbed the candy bar and ran down a hole with it. Clay said it happened so fast that he couldn’t do anything about it.

By the way, the rats in Vietnam are more than twice the size of the rats here in America. Clay told me they only made the Zero candy bar for a short time. Before he went in the Marine Corps, he never saw the Zero candy bar. But when he went home on leave from boot camp he saw them in the stores and really liked them. He said it became his favorite candy bar. Then when his mother sent him the one that the rat eventually stole from him it was kind of a bummer, but he figured when he got back to the U.S. he could get some more. However, when he got back from Vietnam he could not find them anywhere, so he figured that they quit making them.

Looking for the Zero

Later, I was talking to a lady friend of mine and told her about the candy bar. She said she remembered them very well and really liked them, but then all of a sudden they weren’t available anymore. Then she told her roommate in Colorado about the candy bar. Her roommate responded that she thought she saw them in a remote truck stop along an interstate not too long ago. So my friend started doing some checking on the Zero candy bar – which can be compared to our Three Musketeers bars today – and found out they were still available in certain locals. It seems the factory burned and the company went through many acquisitions and was sold – once overseas and then later back to a company in the U.S.

Once I found that out I went looking for the candy bar and finally found the one place that carried them on a limited scale. I bought a bunch of them and took them with me to Vietnam in March 2014 for my friend Clay.