Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Vets Bring Reflections of Vietnam to CVTC

Personal stories, memorabilia highlight a history lesson

Article Photo - Vets Bring Reflections of Vietnam to CVTC

John Koehler, who attended Eau Claire Memorial High School, addresses a group of CVTC students and community members as the leader of Reflections of Vietnam, a project of the Vietnam Veterans Chapter 351 of Appleton, at CVTC’s Business Education Center in Eau Claire April 24. The group shared personal stories and displayed memorabilia from the war.

Gary Brynjulfson spared his listeners the most horrific details, as did his fellow Vietnam veterans speaking to students and members of the public at Chippewa Valley Technical College Tuesday, April 24. Still, he had dramatic stories to tell of carrying an 81 mm mortar and lots of rounds of ammunition through the jungle.

“I was wounded once and injured once,” said Brynjulfson, who was born in Black River Falls and now lives in the Fox Valley. “My whole arm was covered with shrapnel. It wasn’t the cuts from the shrapnel that hurt, but the burning.” He also recounted having an eardrum pierced by the sound of a mortar shell going off near him.

Brynjulfson’s story was part of Reflections of Vietnam, a program members of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 351 of Appleton started in the 1980s in which they share their stories about the war with high school students. Later, they added display lockers and memorabilia to their presentations and are now sharing their experiences over a wider area around Wisconsin.

About 50 people attended the first of two presentations the veterans made, and many more stopped by to talk with the veterans and view the locker displays that include actual equipment, clothing, photographs and other items.

The leader of the group was John Koehler of Appleton, who introduced himself as a near-Eau Claire Memorial graduate (he obtained his GED in the service).

“More Vietnam veterans have died from suicide than died in the war,” Koehler told the listeners. He said their goal is to provide an overview and background on the war, share personal stories, increase understanding and to encourage people to pay attention when there is talk of possible coming war.

Local veterans who attended agreed about the importance of keeping America’s experience in Vietnam in the public consciousness because of the lessons it can bring us today.

“We need this so it doesn’t get lost in history,” said Mike Korger of Chippewa Falls, commander of the Chapter 5 Vietnam Veterans of America in Eau Claire. “We have to know the how and the why and the who of the Vietnam War. We have to keep this front and center to fight the misconceptions about the Vietnam War and Vietnam veterans, especially with the nasty reception Vietnam veterans received when we got back.”

Korger served in the Marine Corps for more than a year in 1969-70. “There are only about 800,000 Vietnam veterans left, out of 2.5 million who served,” Korger added. “That’s mostly due to Agent Orange and PTSD.”

“This brings back memories of what happened,” said Joe Heil of Eau Claire, a Chapter 5 member and Navy veteran who was in Vietnam in 1966-67. “We need to let them know what we went through and what we saw in combat compared to what it’s like today.”

Some CVTC students who are veterans stopped by to talk to the group, like Marine veteran Nicholas Guest, an IT-Network Specialist student from Chippewa Falls.

“I wanted to share my stories and his stories,” Guest said. “The students are mostly young, and they haven’t had to experience this sort of thing, except in movies, which are mostly inaccurate.”

Other students came to listen out of curiosity and respect for veterans.

“I came to hear their personal stories,” said Bryce Erickson, a CVTC Liberal Arts student from Cadott. “I sympathize with them. My grandfather was in Vietnam too.”