All veterans were honored at a Nov. 11 program, at Little Wolf Junior/Senior High School.
“These are the people who have served you. These are the people who have put themselves in harm’s way,” said Eugene Mattke, guest speaker for the Veterans Day event. “They put themselves in harm’s way for us, for you, for Americans – never forget that.”
According to Mattke, sometimes wars are necessary.
“I believe that there are times when we must physically defend the freedom that we have,” said the Vietnam veteran and retired LWHS teacher.
Mattke described wars as honorable, but also as traumatic and grizzly. He noted that the service men and women often come home with physical and psychological problems.
“There is no way you can put that all behind you,” he said.
Being in the U.S. Air Force, Mattke took a different path than most Vietnam veterans. While his brother in the Army ended up on the ground in the Philippines, he was trained in linguistics in 1969.
Mattke served as an airborne linguistics specialist stationed in Okinawa, Japan, for three years.
During that time, he flew many missions over the Ho Chi Minh Trail listening to the North Vietnamese Army and translating the codes. There were 12 in his unit.
“We were the only people in the world who did what we did,” Mattke said. “I didn’t get to the rice paddies; I didn’t get to the jungles; and I only remember the good parts.”
Sometimes, he admits, he regrets leaving the service, but at the time “it didn’t seem like a good idea.”
Mattke said there is nothing like the camaraderie he experienced during the war.
“I would go through it again in an instant,” he said. “We all would.”
He encouraged others to join the military.
“If you think you can do it, do it,” he said, “because the military needs good people.”
Mattke said all veterans still “wear” their uniforms.
“Every breath we take, every step we make, our uniform stays on us,” he said. “We did what we had to do.”
When troops are deployed, Mattke encourages everyone to think about the families they leave behind.
“Veterans sacrifice their time, their families and sometimes their lives,” he said.
To the veterans, Mattke said, “Never forget for one moment what you did and the sacrifices you made.”
The Vietnam veterans were not honored when they returned home 30 years ago, Mattke recalled.
“People didn’t like us very much, and we were not treated well,” he said. “Today, you can’t believe how good it feels when someone comes up and thanks you.”