Stars and stripes, forever
GYPSUM – Dave Schneider’s Army uniform jacket tells the best and worst of a military veteran.
Along with all the other ribbons and medals, the uniform he wears carries both a Bronze Star for valor and a Purple Heart, side by side.
Schneider, who lives in the valley, was with the 11th Army Cavalry in Vietnam. He was in the Eagle Valley High School auditorium Tuesday, along with other local veterans trying to impress upon students what military life is like, as those students try to figure out what to do after high school.
“One is for being shot, the other is for saving other people from being shot,” Schneider said of the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star.
And that was all he needed to say.
His unit’s job was to patrol the “boonies” and draw enemy fire. They were very good at their job. They’d call in artillery and air strikes and would mostly make it out, sometimes qualifying for Purple Hearts and Bronze Stars.
The veterans were at the school to help students observe Veterans Day, which is Thursday.
War is a full-time job and it’s fought by people their age.
“It’s not some faceless robot, it’s people just like you,” says a young Marine in a short video the students were shown.
Bernie Kreuger is a retired Marine. He’s big and tough and still wears his uniform proudly. He teared up briefly talking about life as a Marine – a life he absolutely loves.
“It’s part of who I am,” Kreuger said.
Pat Hammon understands. She was a captain and talked about being a nurse in Vietnam.
“Mr. Kreuger had a little trouble in the beginning of his talk. A lot of us do,” Hammon said. “The guys from World War II never had the chance to talk about it. When they came back they were told to buck up. The older guys had a lot of demons and never had the chance to talk about it.”
Local veterans teach a class at Red Canyon High School, helping students learn what military life can be like before they learn it first hand.
“Sometimes it’s the questions that get to us. Sometimes we’re telling a story and the emotions will come rushing back,” Hammon said.
Hammon paused briefly, looking out over the hundreds of students in the auditorium, then plunged in.
In Vietnam, life was different for nurses and doctors. They didn’t learn weapons and they didn’t get good at giving or taking orders.
A couple attempts were made to teach them to march, but they weren’t good at that either, Hammon said.
But they were great when they needed to be, she said, adding that modern EMT procedures were developed in Vietnam.
Their patients, the war’s wounded, came in on helicopters, eight to ten at a time.
Most shifts lasted 12 hours, sometimes 18 to 24 hours depending on how often the helicopters flew in.
The hospital was a series of quonset huts with 425 beds. The air conditioners worked most of the time. They had lots of water on the floor during monsoon season.
“I learned to keep my mouth shut and learned from other people. I was very, very young and had a lot to learn,” Hammon said.
We remain a nation at war, Kreuger said.
“This is a long fight and we’re comfortable in our little valley because we’re insulated,” Kreuger said.
Kreuger grew up here, graduating from Battle Mountain High School in 1980. His dad designed the Vail golf course and his mom is a local artist.
“The enemy that did that to the Twin Towers is still out there and they want to do it again,” Kreuger said. “There are soldiers, sailors, Air Force and Marines out there trying to stop them. We have no idea how much they’ve prevented.”
Sometimes the political lines are blurred, but sometimes the good guys and bad guys are clearly defined – Saddam Hussein and his two brothers, for example.
“They were all thugs and they all needed to go,” Kreuger said.
The mission in the Middle East is also relatively uncomplicated.
“Our job was to help them live their lives the way they want to live,” Kreuger said.
Combat troops are pulling out of Iraq, but it’s still a war zone.
“Anywhere there’s the potential to die, it’s combat,” Kreuger said.
Kreuger believes in the Marines and will recruit anywhere and at any time. He sees himself in the students’ faces.
Grades matter, starting in your freshman year, he told the Eagle Valley crowd.
Work, take hard classes and get good grades. Everything you do now will matter for the rest of your life.
“I’m not telling you anything I don’t tell my son all the time,” Kreuger said.
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