The Morning News â€” Leslie Mielke
Retired Sgt. Maj. Bill Parker (left) received a trophy for his service to the nation from Mike Spencer, president of the Vietnam Veterans of American Chapter 972 from Idaho Falls at Firth Veteran's Assembly.
FIRTH â€” The student population of both Firth High School and Firth Middle School joined together to honor veterans Thursday.
Sgt. Maj. (Ret.) Les Chapman headlined the assembly. He was a Green Beret during the Vietnam conflict.
"I like to talk about veterans," Chapman said. "Soldiers from WWII were brought home as heroes and treated as such.
"Then came Korea and protesters had started," he said. Soldiers fighting in Vietnam carried the shame and burden of the country.
Vietnam veterans quietly returned home, changed into civvies and didn't say anything, Chapman said.
Soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq are met by veterans.
Chapman was part of a deep penetration team who was sent into North Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.
"Most of the men in my unit were lean and mean; I was just skinny and scared," Chapman said. Of the 28 men in his original unit, 25 died.
"As soldiers, we've traveled a road no one else can understand," he said.
"Do not hide your story," Chapman told the veterans. "We did what our country told us to do and we did it."
"I'm in the presence of greatness here today," Shelley coach Dwight Richins said. "Three months ago, I returned from Afghanistan. People are dying and sacrificing for us everyday.
[When in Afghanistan,] "I missed my home, my bed, my family," he said. "I missed driving down the road and not worrying about a rocket attack.
Richins said, "I'm proud to be a veteran and serve the United States of America."
Richins received a plaque to thank him for his service to the nation and community.
Mike Spencer, president of the Vietnam Veterans of America, chapter 972 (Idaho Falls) said, "When people join the military, they sign a blank check that affirms that they will pay pay up to and including their lives."
Quoting George Washington, Spencer said, "The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive veterans of early wars were treated and appreciated by our nation."
Close to 100 veterans attended the assembly.
Bud Hinckley from Pocatello was a B-17 pilot in WWII. After 14 missions, his plane was shot down and he spent 18-1/2 months in Staleg Luft 3 as a POW.
It cost $50,000 and took nine months to train a pilot, Hinckley said. They didn't train us to bail out of a plane because of the potential injury that could occur to legs and ankles during training.
"I'd go back again," Hinckley said.
Dave Johnson from Firth was in the Vietnam conflict. He was in the classified staff and drove a 2-1/2 ton truck.
"As long as I did my job, no one cared what I did. I worked seven days a week, 17 hours a day," he said. "I never saw my second CO (commanding officer).
Richard Christensen from Shelley was in the Navy in Korea. He worked on a tanker that filled aircraft carriers. He also worked on a tanker that carried oil from the South Pacific to the Persian Gulf when the Suez Canal was blocked.
Christensen's brother, Woody, was drafted into the Army in 1951. He served two years.
"Most of my outfit went to Korea," Christensen said, "but I went to Germany because they were short of mechanics."
Val Johnson was a signalman in the Navy during WWII.
"I joined in December 1940 and served active duty to December 1946," he said.
He served in the reserves from 1946 to 1963.
"I served on seven different ships," Johnson said. One was a landing ship at Iwo Jima. On this ship, one of Johnson's duties was to help bury the dead at sea.
"We would put each person in a body bag and attach three links of an anchor to his feet to make sure the body sank," Johnson said. "The chaplain would say a scripture over the dead person and we would bury him at sea."
Each day for 21 days, they buried from one to nine men at sea, he said.
"I've seen the world," said Johnson.