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Helmut Schmidt, Published May 07 2013

'The war never leaves you': Veterans share Vietnam insights with South High students

FARGO – For Larry Reed, David Brunsvold and Russ Stabler, the Vietnam War hasn’t left their thoughts.

As the trio explained to South High School students Tuesday, the war probably never will.

“I left Vietnam this morning when I woke up,” Stabler said. “I take medication so my nightmares don’t keep me awake.”

“The war never leaves you,” Reed agreed.

The trio from the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter No. 941 were taking part in an annual visit to area classrooms to share their stories.

In each classroom, they were peppered with questions about their military jobs, what their lives were like before the war, what they ate, Agent Orange, the music they liked, booby traps, Jane Fonda and whether they had ever been in danger.

History teacher Victor Youngs said insights the soldiers shared help breathe life into the words and photos of history books and films for a generation whose parents – in some cases – hadn’t been born when the U.S. fought in Southeast Asia.

“There’s nothing like having these gentlemen come in. … They are really soaking in what these guys are saying,” Youngs said.

Brunsvold was a 19-year-old clerk for the Army’s 101st Airborne at Camp Eagle from 1969 to 1970.

Reid celebrated his 22nd birthday on an Air Force base in Da Nang, where he worked from 1970 to 1971 as an aircraft parts courier.

Stabler was also in the Air Force but ended up “in the boonies.” He was 23 when he went on combat patrols with the Marines from 1970 to 1971. From 1972 to 1973, he worked with a U.S. Army unit.

The war cost Brunsvold his first marriage.

Reid had a couple of close brushes with death, thanks to nightly mortar shelling at his base.

Stabler said no one wanted to get too close to others in their unit “because your friend might die and then you might do something stupid.”

The trio said there was no true front in the war. The enemy blended in with the populace, and communist sympathizers spied or planted bombs.

“The front line was 360 degrees,” Brunsvold said. “You didn’t know who the enemy was.”

Their problems didn’t end when they left Vietnam, either, they said.

America was a divided nation over the conduct of the war, and sometimes it seemed both sides were against returning troops.

“I never understood being called a baby killer,” Reed said.

“We’d go to the American Legion clubs and we were told to get out,” Stabler said. Older generations blamed the troops for “losing” the war.

Jeffrey Olander, a junior, said the veterans made the war seem more real.

“The book really didn’t go into detail,” he said.

“I thought they were really good,” said junior Ashleigh Abner, who said she didn’t know about the soldiers’ hardships.

“That’s what they like hearing. What was it really like? So it’s relevant to them,” history teacher Sarah Lacher said.

Reed said the students had a lot of good questions, and he urged them to cut vets some slack for all that they’ve been through.

“I hope they leave here with a lot of respect for all veterans and their country,” he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583