Heat, humidity, fire ants, scorpions, rodents, and so much more plagued soldiers as they fought in the jungles of Vietnam clashing with an elusive enemy who put their lives in constant danger, and U.S. History students at Shiocton High School were recently given the unique opportunity to hear about the experiences of several local veterans. Mr. Bob Dieck and Mr. Bill Blom, both of Shiocton, and Mr. Glenn Manske, of Crivitz, each spoke of being drafted, their time in the service, and the many experiences that make their stories unique.
Dieck, a resident of Shiocton, shared his experiences in the war after being drafted in 1969. He worked as a cook who was responsible for preparing meals for soldiers on base and delivering hot meals to those fighting in the surrounding areas as often as possible. With few “creature comforts” available to soldiers, a hot meal was certainly valued; however, as Dieck noted, sometimes cooks had to work with few options but did their best to ensure the food was as good as possible. Through his responses to student questions, it was clear working on a base did not necessarily guarantee security. Dieck spoke of constant concern about the local population, some of whom worked on the base, as no one knew who was actually friendly to the Americans and who was a potential foe. Rocket attacks and booby traps posed continuous threats. Dieck also spoke honestly to students about returning home, where he, like so many other veterans of this war, did not receive a proper welcome. Also enlightening to students was his honesty about returning to “normal” life. “You’re kind of jumpy and have nightmares…takes a while to get back to normal,” he told students, showing how the war did not completely end for soldiers just because they were back in America.
Blom, the grandfather of several students in the School District of Shiocton, operated a flamethrower on a tank and spent much of his time in remote areas. As he told students, “I don’t camp. I had enough sleeping on the ground under the stars in Vietnam.” In response to a student question, Blom spoke about his arrival in Vietnam indicating their plane landed at night and all they could see as they approached were tracers and flares lighting up the sky. “Scary, scary, scary,” he said wondering, “What were we getting into?” Blom also offered compliments to the pilots his tank company would call in for air support. He explained to students how they used colored smoke signals to communicate positioning and then the pilots would fly over and drop bombs with remarkable precision. Blom was also part of the initial force to enter Cambodia, where he was wounded by shrapnel, an event that resulted in his Purple Heart.
Manske, also the grandfather of several children in Shiocton Schools, was attached to the 1st Infantry Division, famously known as the “Bloody Red One.” As part of a tank crew, he was responsible for escorting troops and ammunition and spoke of some of the unexpected challenges they faced. He shared stories about the rubber tree plantations he encountered, noting they were owned by American tire companies and the U.S. government had to pay $700 for each tree damaged during the war. In telling of these plantations, he also shared a more humorous story about fixing his boot. He told students he was struggling with the heel of his boot coming loose, so he cut into one of the trees and used some of the sap to fix his boot. Students found this amusing, but he insisted, “It held for the rest of the war!” Curious students also inquired about the medals Manske brought, so he shared the story of how he received two of them. As he told students, his tank was struck by a rocket, sending shrapnel into one side of his body, resulting in his Purple Heart. In the same attack, one of his crew members was wounded, so Manske got him out of the tank and to a medic and then helped carry him though enemy fire to a helicopter for evacuation, and for this, he earned the Army Commendation Medal with V Device (for valor).
These veterans certainly provided an authentic learning opportunity for students, helping to make the information students have studied in class more real. “Students really appreciate the veterans’ willingness to answer questions and share their personal stories,” said teacher Elizabeth Schneider. “We are very lucky to have veterans in our community who are willing to help young people understand history and appreciate those who have served on behalf of our country.”
Veteran Glenn Manske of Crivitz explains some photographs to a group of high school students. – Submitted photo