November 7, 2007 > War Veterans: Eye Witnesses of History
War Veterans: Eye Witnesses of History
By Anuja Seith
For many of us, war doesn't exist beyond history books. Large scale conflicts within or between nations are a collection of names or dates of some treaty or declaration that triggered or doused a bitter battle. So year after year, students sit in classroom yawning while cramming these deeds of the past into short term memory until the day of some exam. But these wars are more than boring tales of history lectures; they resonate with life in the hearts and minds of those who were part of these historical events. On this Veterans Day, TCV spoke with two soldiers from different epochs have agreed to share their memories.
It was May, 1952 when 22-year old, Denny Wiesgerber, a Marine Corps Staff Sergeant was ordered to go to Korea where he remained for 101 days. Wiesgerber had been in the service for two years serving as a tactical instructor who trained new recruits to go to war. He left for the war leaving behind his wife who delivered their first child the night before he left. Denny recalls being asked on the day he left if he would like to go back to see his 12-hour old baby girl. "It would have been more difficult to leave after spending time with her. I left without seeing her and saw her only at Oak Knoll Naval hospital in Oakland after returning from war," he says.
He manned the front line "Jamestown Line" in "Outpost Wars," which Chinese forces overran on October 2-3 1952. Wiesgerber was assigned to seize the outpost, and while bringing back one of his wounded men, he was severely injured. Remembering his days of war he says, "I use to write multiple letters to my wife in one day and number them with followings dates so she kept on getting letters even after I was injured."
Wiesgerber remained in service until 1953 when he retired after 8 months in the hospital.
He went to school and for 10 years and made artificial limbs; Wiesgerber finally retired from State Farm Insurance companies in 1995. Reflecting on his days of war, Wiesgerber feels the problem in all wars is similar; it is difficult to differentiate between good and bad guys, and every soldier has a fraction of second to decide whether he or his enemy will survive.
Another warrior who fought a war in a different era feels the same way. "In wartime, all childhood values of love and kindness blow out of window because if I don't kill the enemy, I will be on the memory plaque," says Kraig Bunnell, a Vietnam War veteran. He landed in Vietnam in 1969 as a part of Americal Division 23rd infantry. He joined at age 20 as voluntary draftee, leaving his parents and his home in Milpitas. "When I first landed, I thought a rifle would be shoved in our hands but we went through a couple of days of orientation," he says.
Bunnell and his units were mostly stationed at the Laos and Vietnam border where he confronted guerilla and regular army. "Guerillas were like anti-war mines that were hidden in ground as they usually hid behind wood lines or tunnels so, they would ambush and vanish in air," he recalls. He remembers Vietnam as a beautiful country where in happy moments he and his companions distributed candy, shoes laces and sometimes food to children in local villages.
But these moments of respite were brief often replaced by grief and the dilemma of watching comrades die during various missions. "Killing is a tough thing but when you lose a friend, you want to take revenge and you use derogatory terms for the enemy to make him less of a human being. So, when you face the enemy your mind tells you he is not a human being and you can kill him," he sighs.
His return to the United States in 1970 did not bring a heroic welcome; instead he faced angry crowds who demeaned anyone associated with the Vietnam War. Bunnell remembers that when he returned, people were not willing to sit with him on a plane, particularly if they saw his Americal patch on his cap. "I had nothing to do with My Lai Massacre in Vietnam that occurred during my high school days, but people developed preconceived notions about me as few years later, I joined Americal Division that wreaked the havoc," he says. In 1976, he bid a final adieu to the army and started a new life as a field engineer with G.E. Calma.
As we continue another year of combat in Iraq which Wiesgerber describes as "a high speed and constantly changing situation," like all modern day wars, we should learn from experiences of these living emblems of our past, as beneath a visage of valiant heroes are real people with human feelings and sensitivity.
Veteran's Day will be observed on Sunday, November 11, 2007.