The South Dakota Vietnam War Memorial has recorded the first-person stories of many Vietnam veterans across the state, including some from the Black Hills. Once at the website, use the EDIT button on your browser menu, then FIND ON THIS PAGE, then add Rapid City or other Black Hills town or any research detail such as Khe Sanh.
For Fallen Sons of South Dakota during the Vietnam War, however, insert the name of your county or the combatant's last name in the FIND box.
Ken Delfino recommends this link on the HO CHI MINH TRAIL. "Definitely of interest… to anyone who was connected-to the Vietnam War. This is a series of photos taken by a photographer/researcher who has been walking, cycling and mapping the trail for several years. Beautiful colored-photos, plus some narrative interspersed regarding bomb-targets, ‘downed-aircraft’ reports, etc. It takes awhile to look at all the pics, but for those who ‘vacationed in Vietnam’ in the 60s-70s, flew missions against it, plotted missions and incursions, or maybe set foot there, it’s a fascinating-trip ‘down Memory Lane’… but w/o the danger of ‘stepping-on’ a landmine, ‘stumbling-over’ a cobra, or simply ‘dodging-incoming’."
Vietnam veteran (Capt.) Johnny L. Blye of South Carolina was reminded of his combat experience in Operation Linebacker II when he saw a mention of our Group in Indian Country Today. more
On December 10, 2011, Col. Larry Mayes (USAF ret) talked about his wartime experience in Vietnam as well as his later explorations into reading military history. "I was Port Duty Officer at the 8th Aerial Port Squadron at Tan Son Nhut AB," he says. more
Read write-up about Vietnam veterans Ed McGaa and Alan B. Walker and the Black Hills Veterans Writing Group as it appeared in Indian Country Today written by Maria Scandale. more
Dean Muehlberg has moved to Boise so that he can be closer to his family. Dean will be missed! His efforts have been enormous. We wish him Godspeed, and hope that he, one of our founders, will continue to contribute online or perhaps start up a Boise/Idaho Veterans Writing Group.
KEVN's Al Van Zee put our Group on television when Ed McGaa spoke during the June meeting. Several of you were clearly visible as his camera scanned the room. more
Maj. Ed McGaa, USMC fighter pilot during the Vietnam War, spoke to us on June 11th. McGaa fought in the Korean War as well. He represents the Sioux warrior tradition, so his insights as an author of several books were interesting. “There is a mystique about being a Marine pilot. You actually believe that you’re invincible,” he says. Click on picture to hear more about his story. more
On January 8, 2011, Mark St. Pierre of Kyle talked about his nonfiction novel Of Uncommon Birth: Dakota Sons in Vietnam, which reflects almost two decades of research, he says. "Many interviews were conducted on the Pine Ridge Reservation, and without them this story could not have been told."
Set in the Black Hills and Vietnam, the book explores the "fictional" options open to a writer who wants to faithfully construct the reality of a wartime experience. St. Pierre explores the deeply rooted patriotism, Christianity, family bonding, spiritualism and proud military heritage within the Pine Ridge community and greater Black Hills.
A bonus is the many-paged table at the end listing the names and service data for American Indian military personnel killed, missing, or captured in the Vietnam War.
"In telling this story, I had to pick and choose dramatic elements and evolve a story line from a vast collection of taped, transcribed stories, to which I added settings and dialogue," says St. Pierre, but adds that "Although the thematic choices are mine, this is a true story."
At the October 9, 2010, meeting, Col. Dale Friend (US Army battalion commander, Vietnam) talked to us about the only combat jump in Vietnam on February 22, 1967. This was conducted by one reinforced Combat Battalion (2nd Battalion 503rd) of the 173rd Airborne Brigade. Friend says that "845 of us made the jump in war zone D close to the Cambodian Border."
It was the first American combat parachute assault in the war against the enemy in South Vietnam and the first such assault since the Korean War. Starting on that day was Operation Junction City, the largest U.S. airborne operation since Operation Market Garden in WWII. The Tet Offensive ended on that day.
When not leading soldiers into jungle combat, Captain Friend was stationed at a base camp in Bien Hoa. "You'd go out for about a month and then go back to base camp for three or four days and get your act together." Those visiting the Vietnam Memorial Wall will find the names of more than 1,700 of the 173rd Brigade's soldiers.
Rapid City's Marvin Czerwonka was with us at the October 10, 2009, meeting.
Joining the US Army in 1964, Czerwonka served in the elite Golden Dragons infantry unit during the Tet Offensive of 1968 and was involved in savage fighting around the now legendary hotspots of Cu Chi and Tay Ninh.
After Vietnam, Czerwonka was assigned as a Drill Sergeant at Ft. Lewis until his discharge in May, 1971. He was fully aware that his training efforts could mean survival for young soldiers facing the rigors of combat ahead. Czerwonka joined the reserves in February, 1976, and continued until his retirement in 1997. His son has served with the Army in Iraq. See "Vietnam Survival Tips" in sidebar for cards that Czerwonka may have carried in Vietnam.
At our July 11, 2009, meeting, Rapid City's Col. Dale Friend (US Army retired) talked about his combat experiences during the wars in Korea (1950-51) and Vietnam (1966-67), leading troops into the jungle. In Vietnam, he was a captain in the 173rd Airborne Brigade stationed at a base camp in Bien Hoa. "You'd go out for about a month and then go back to base camp for three or four days and get your act together."
Friend has researched the war in Vietnam extensively in recent years and is especially aware of public misconceptions and media myths that have grown up around the war. Friend believes America, though militarily superior, made a mistake going into Vietnam because "It wasn't a war we were prepared to fight and win, since the public and the politicians were never completely behind it."
On Saturday, August 11, 2007, we heard from Bill Buckley of Black Hawk, a member of the elite U.S. Army Pathfinder unit (“first in, last out”) during the Vietnam War, describing mission-dramatic experience and details of personal remembrance. His Chinook helicopter was shot down (with the deaths of four comrades) just 2 1/2 months after arriving in Vietnam in 1967. He was hospitalized for 8 months.
George Gladfelter, US Army retired, spoke to us on August 12, 2006. Fresh from MIT in the early 1960s, he worked on combat simulation programs at West Point from 1963-1965. "The Vietnam War was just getting started," he said. He later inaugurated academic computing at SDSMT, and after retirement continues to serve as a deacon at the Cathedral. One of his hobbies is military history, and he possesses many interesting anecdotes about the School of Mines's military past.
On January 12, 2008, we met with retired U. S. Army photographer Dave Henry of Spearfish. Henry reflected on his experiences at Da Nang in the east central part of Vietnam, beginning in April 1968. At the time, Henry was part of the Army's Special Forces Psychological Operations Unit. One of his photos, of an old Vietnamese fisherman poling his boat, was the most reproduced image of the war, with 62,000,000 in the first run.
More recently, he has taken an interest in the WWII experiences of Valdemar Dahlquist of Sturgis, with whom he worked at Fort Meade.
Preserving wartime memories has been the focus of the Black Hills Veterans Writing Group since it started in 2005. “Look past the war itself,” says US Army veteran Dean O. Muehlberg of Rapid City, “and you’ll find a society trying to defend its heritage and way of life.” When writing your memoirs, it's always good to have a research library at your disposal to refresh your memory and check historical facts. He referenced Vietnam War Resources as good for this purpose, given to him by Mike Massa (Boulder Canyon, Vietnam War Navy).
His recently published autobiography of the Vietnam War (REMF "War Stories": 17th CAG--Nha Trang, Vietnam--1969) was discussed at our meeting on Saturday, January 10, 2009. Examining the “combination of war, personal history, and social undercurrents can make exciting reading,” says Muehlberg.
To write his memoir, Muehlberg relied upon letters home and photographs to anchor his memory, but “once stirred, long-forgotten remembrances began to pour forth.” He will offer how-to advice on the craft of writing and publishing a memoir. Examples from his own book will help him discuss how experiences can be later documented to earn the reader’s trust and attention.
He also shared his experiences and photographs with us on December 13, 2008. Besides his book, he talked about his poems, short stories, and polemics. He has also published memoir articles on two Rapid City combat veterans who served in WWII.
“You were on the edge of a country at war,” says Muehlberg about the war in Vietnam, “and it was always so mysterious staring out to the hills and darkness inland. There were monsters out there.”
For Muehlberg, his service was a different perspective on the 1960s than was common in media back home, then and today. “You just play the game, go home when it’s time if you’re lucky, and try to forget, make believe it was all a nightmare,” he recalls in his book. You “go home and have a picnic in the park next to the hippies and draft dodgers and watch the liberals pat themselves on the back for killing our guys, and letting these people enjoy the fruits of peace and The People’s Republic of Vietnam.”
Charles M. Summers of Rapid City spent three tours in Vietnam flying the F-100 Super Saber, becoming a member the “MISTY” Forward Air Control Squadron. During his second tour he was shot down and ejected. Injured, he was awarded the purple heart, and after recovering from his broken back and ribs, returned to fly and fight for a third tour. Over the course of his time in Vietnam, Summers received four Silver Stars (only eleven other aviators since WWII have received four Silver Stars), awarded three Legions of Merit, three Distinguished Flying Crosses, the Meritorious Service Medal, and 16 Air Medals.
Anecdote recently offered by a Vietnam veteran in Rapid City: "I ordered and received a hat that says Vietnam Vet on it, kinda like all those old vets who are proud of their service. I was in Sam's on Saturday never giving it a thought when I man of about 40 walked up to me and said "Thank you. Thank you very much for your service!" I was kind of shocked I guess because guys our age never got any kind of notice at all, except negative. I managed to mutter a goofy thanks but it warmed my heart, like it did when I watched the South Dakota coming home thing in Pierre. It was good feeling."
Read USMC platoon leader in Vietnam James Webb talk about the heroism of the men who fought with him, and how the mainstream media is trying to turn the Vietnam War into another forgotten and misrepresented war. Webb went on to become Secretary of the Navy and a US Senator.