Vietnam veteran visits memorial
By Angie Landsverk
The first time Robert “Sonny” Rasmussen went to Washington, D.C. to see the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, he was unable to see the section of names he wanted to see.
That is because the memorial was under renovation at the time.
When Rasmussen returned to the capitol earlier this month, he was able to find that section.
“Seeing the Vietnam Memorial, you just feel sad for the guys that are on there. It does bother you to see your friends there,” he said.
Rasmussen was one of four area veterans who went to Washington, D.C. June 7 on an Old Glory Honor Flight.
Old Glory Honor Flight offers local World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War veterans a trip to Washington, D.C. to see the memorials.
It does so at no cost to the veterans.
Old Glory Honor Flight serves northeast Wisconsin and has flown more than 40 missions to date.
Rasmussen was 19 years old when he was drafted into the Vietnam War on Dec. 27, 1965.
“When I got drafted, they were filling up the 4th Division in Ft. Lewis, Washington,” Rasmussen said. “In September 1966, we were together. We trained together for nine months and then the whole division packed up and went to Vietnam.”
Rasmussen was a member of the U.S. Army’s Bravo Company 3rd Battalion 22nd Infantry.
“I was a gunner on the third squad. There were a total of three squads,” he said.
Rasmussen said they went to Bearcat Base when they arrived in Vietnam.
“We went out of the camp and were in the rice paddies for about three to four months. After that, we went to rubber tree and banana tree plantations,” he said.
One of the major battles in Vietnam was the Battle of Suoi Tre on March 21, 1967, he said.
“I received a Bronze Star Medal,” Rasmussen said. “Basically, the story is if you survived it, you got one.”
He served 1 year, 3 days, 4 hours and 30 minutes. He said when he returned home “…it was dropped. You just went on with your life.”
Rasmussen grew up around Scandinavia and graduated from Waupaca High School in 1964.
Prior to being drafted, he farmed with his parents.
When he returned, Rasmussen started working at Filter Materials (now Gusmer Enterprises).
He worked at several other places and then began working at the Waupaca County Highway Department.
Rasmussen worked for the county 25 years and retired 1 1/2 years ago.
It was while working for the highway department that he applied to go on an Old Glory Honor Flight.
“We had someone at the county who was a big supporter,” Rasmussen said. “He got all the veterans who worked for the highway department to apply. It’s a lottery system.”
Rasmussen applied about 4 1/2 years ago and said there were two World War II veterans, 24 Korean War veterans and 60 Vietnam War veterans on the June 7 flight. Desert Storm veterans served as their guardians.
He had to be at Appleton International Airport by 5:30 a.m. that day.
The flight left around 6:45 a.m.
Once the veterans arrived in Washington, D.C., their schedule included visiting the war memorials and watching the changing of the guard at Arlington National Cemetery.
By 6:30 p.m., they were heading back to Appleton.
“Then walking through that airport – wow,” Rasmussen said. “They shut the whole airport down for this. Sometimes that gets pretty emotional, too, walking through that.”
A band played, and a men’s choir sang.
Family members and friends greeted Rasmussen at the airport.
“We had probably 30 in our group to see him,” said his wife, Joanne.
Rasmussen said, “It’s a lot in one day. It’s a fun day. They make it fun.”
Since 1998, the company he was a member of has held military reunions every other year.
Around the time they had been home from Vietnam for 35 years, the reunion took place in Virginia, and a few of them went early to see the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Rasmussen said.
That was when the memorial was being renovated.
Rasmussen encourages other veterans to apply to go on an Old Glory Honor Flight.
“When you are with people who were in the same situation, it’s easier to talk,” he said. “There are still some who don’t want to talk about it.”