Cerro Gordo County Iowa
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 The Globe-Gazette
Mason City, Cerro Gordo County, Iowa
May 23, 2015

Vietnam’s forgotten heroes honored on Memorial Day
by Ashley Miller

CHARLES CITY -- Fifty years ago the United States dramatically increased its involvement in a controversial Southeast Asian war. More than 2˝ million U.S. troops would participate before it was over 10 years later.

But Vietnam's heroes weren't welcomed home with ticker tape parades or grand homecoming celebrations like veterans of wars past.

Instead, some were greeted with insults and derogatory chants. Shame later led others to conceal service records.

Those who have since died will publicly receive due honor Monday during Memorial Day services across North Iowa.

Relatives of Vietnam veterans remember their loved ones as having staunch commitments to patriotism, hard work, family and community.

Judy Jurrens' husband, Ray Jurrens, entered the U.S. Army in 1969, serving as front-line machine gunner until 1970. He took pride in his automatic weapon, nicknamed Buddha.

"He could take it apart and put it back together in his sleep," Judy said.

Known for his sharpshooting skills, Ray led troops into battle. As a member of the 101st Airborne Division, he was trained as a paratrooper.

After his honorable discharge, Ray returned home to Charles City, a place where he seemingly knew everyone.

He earned a Bronze Star for his service and was a member of the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and VFW Honor Guard, regularly giving military honors at funerals and participating in parades.

Friends called him "Skeet" or "Skeeter." While Judy is not entirely sure how that nickname originated, she's traced it back to her husband's childhood.

Ray is remembered as a humorous hard worker who was glad to serve his country.

"He'd say, 'I got this letter that says my friends and neighbors are requesting my service," Judy recalled. "'I asked the whole neighborhood, but nobody requested me.'"

Ray died from cancer in 2005 at the age of 56.

A well-known war motto is engraved in his handwriting on his headstone: "If I had a farm in Vietnam or a home in hell, I'd sell my farm and go home. Vietnam is the land God forgot, but I've been there and I remember."

George Gerdes, a man known for being supportive, funny and courageous, ensured his family remembered the importance of patriotism, daughter Lisa Cooper recalls.

“We always had a flag hanging at our house and he always wore his Vietnam veterans hat very proudly," she said. "He made us proud of who he was and what he had done for our country."

George, a Mason City native, entered the U.S. Army in 1969. After being shot and sustaining an injury to his arm in 1970, he was honorably discharged and awarded the Purple Heart.

But injuries didn't fully subside after he left combat.

As a child, Lisa witnessed her father dive under a truck, screaming, after friends lit fireworks.

"It was very hard," she said of seeing her father suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. "It was even harder as we got older and recognized what it was."

He overcame a difficult step, seeking treatment and counseling in later years.

George was a member of the American Legion, VFW, Vietnam Veterans Association and the Disabled Veteran Association.

In 2013 at age 63, he ultimately gave his life for his country. He died from complications related to Agent Orange, a toxic chemical defoliant sprayed on trees and vegetation during the war.

Lisa hopes others will continue to recognize veterans, no matter what day it is.

"Anytime you see someone with a hat like my dad's, think of their service and thank them," she said.

Local Vietnam vets who died in 2014-15

Loren Larson, 78, Alden   Gary Heggestad, 69, Northwood. 
Vernon Findling, 67, Mason City.   Richard Carpenter, 65, Rockwell   Terry Green, 62, Mason City.
Dennis Strong, 64, Mason City.
   Robert Hart, 68, Mason City.   Craig Monson, 65, Forest City.
Harvey Bailey, 75, Mason City.   James Duryee, 65, McIntire.   Robert Larson, 76, Klemme.
Loren Hennigar, 86, Northwood.   Bernie Zrostlik, 69, Garner.   Martin Boomgarden, 68, Britt.
Steve Northup, 68, Osage.   Richard Hanson, 63, Forest City.   Bill Mayland, 69, Meservey.
David Crowe, 66, Nora Springs.   Robert Eden, 65, Britt.   Russell Ragsdale, 63, Northwood.
Rodney Hanson, 66, Clear Lake.   Dennis Finch, 68, Carpenter.   Ron Bergdale, 67, Mason City.
     ~ Globe Gazette obituary files

Photographs courtesy of Globe-Gazette
Transcription by Sharon R. Becker, November of 2016

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