I was born in Chicago on April 28, 1947, to Vanna and Keith. Sook. I have just one sibling, a sister Pam, four years younger than I. When I was four years old, we moved to St. Charles, Illinois — population about 10,000, about 30 miles west of Chicago. That is where I grew up and was educated. Our high school curriculum consisted of English, Math, Government, which included current events and elections; Social Studies included Geography, of which I've seen more than I would have dreamed at the time. Our American History brought us to the present day including the Korean War, all the way to 1965, the year I graduated in a class of about 250.

I went to work for Furnas Electric where I worked for nearly all my adult life. The plant that was located in Osceola for several years, was based in Batavia, Illinois. There were three towns in a row — St. Charles, Geneva, and Batavia. The outskirts of one met the outskirts of the next so their city limits were hard to define. I was on the production line and we built motor controls, switches and contacters for air conditioning units, air compressors, and the like.

I had worked there about a year when I was drafted into the U.S. Army, in August 1966. I took my basic training in Ft. Campbell, Kentucky near Clarksville and my advanced training in Ft. Huachuca, Arizona and Ft. Gordon, Georgia. The Army assigns each recruit an MOS (Military Occupation Speciality). I was made a 36 C 20, which was a pole lineman. They taught me how to put up telephone poles, climb them, put up the lines, how to rig them, splice them, and hang the telephone lines at bases.

Before I completed my training, I got my orders for Vietnam. They took me out of my regular training and put me into two weeks of orientation for shipment to Vietnam. That consisted of cultural training, the cultural back ground of the country, weapons familiarization., and combat tactics for that area . We also started getting inoculation for assignment to Southeast Asia, preventing us from contracting diseases that I'd never even heard of There was a whole battery of shots and inoculations.

Late in the year, I had two weeks leave before being shipped out. I was 19 at the time. I went home to St. Charles to say goodbye to my parents and Pam, who was still in high school. I had a girlfriend but it wasn't a serious relationship. I spent Christmas and New Years at home and shipped out directly after the first of the year, 1967.

I flew to Oakland, California where they exchanged my uniforms and boots for tropical uniforms. Again more inoculations and shots. In Vietnam we had a record of shots, a shot-card, which we had to keep because we were given booster inoculations every so many months. They also started us on malaria tablets, one a week for some, for others, we took them daily. It started with a gamma-globulin inoculation, which was the most painful shot I ever had in my life. My arm sore for a couple days. When that was done we finally got orders to ship out.

Because I'd grown up seeing WWII movies, in which servicemen were always transported by ship or military transport planes, I was surprised that we flew on a commercial airline, Braniff International.

This is the one which had the painted fuselages — green, red, yellow — all different colors. Stewardesses — now called "flight attendants"— served us. All of us on board were soldiers, all flying to Vietnam. Several aspects of this seemed inconsistent with reality. Here I was on a commercial airline with stewardesses bringing me food and watching movies flying into a combat zone.All that was missing were weapons, which would be issued later.

We flew to Honolulu first, fueled up, flew to Manila in the Philippines, where we fueled up again, and into Vietnam. It was in January, 1967, right after Christmas. We arrived at Bien Hoa air base at about 2:00 in the morning. My expectations had been formed when we were given uniforms and shots suitable for the tropics, but when we deplaned from the nice, air conditioned comfortable plane, I was thinking it wouldn't be real bad when we stepped out.

They didn't have gangways. After we landed and taxied up near the terminal, which was just a big metal building, they rolled a set of stairs to the plane, opened the doors, and we filed out. It was like stepping into a sauna! Extremely hot, the temperature in the 90s, and the air very humid. We started sweating right away. We moved down the stairs and headed for one part of the building. In another part, just next to us, were all these guys who were getting on that same plane and go home. Naturally they were making fun of us, telling us we were really going to love this place, how lucky we were to be there, and how glad they were to see us since they were leaving.

We marched down to buses that were waiting to pick us up. They had no windows but chicken wire covered the openings. We asked why and they said if there are any enemies along the streets as we drove to our base, they didn't want them to throw hand grenades in at us. It sounded like a really good idea.

The airport was a military base from which we traveled to a processing center where we got orders for our unit assignment for that year. We stayed there overnight. Because we'd gotten there early in the morning we had breakfast, which was the first time I tasted reconstituted milk. I don't recommend it. It tasted terrible! 'When daylight came they assigned us to some duties, which gave me my second impression of Vietnam. While we were traveling, I had noticed smoke and fires in the distance and was thinking there must be a big war going on at their location. It turned out to be a version of outhouses. They cut 50 gallon drums in half and put diesel fuel in them. That was our commode. Every day they pulled them out and burned the contents which cause the smoke. The duty was called "human waste detail," which consisted of mixing the contents with diesel fuel, burning it, dumping out the ashes, refilling them, and putting them back into the commode. So my first day in Vietnam was being assigned to burning crap.

After that I was assigned to the 267th Signal Company, a construction company, and we were part of the 39th Signal Battalion. It was located back at the air base at Bien Hoa, and we traveled around to the different bases in Vietnam in the Saigon Area and everything from there to the Cambodian border. We put in the base communication system at each of the military bases and Vietnamese bases that were in that region. We worked for the South Vietnamese in establishing their bases. They had their own bases, too, but they also occupied our bases as well. There were usually South Vietnamese troops who were on our side with our units.

I did exactly what I was trained to do. I climbed telephone poles and put up telephone lines. Usually we had one at the command center, one at the base hospital, a line going out to the different units that were in that base, and a line that would go out to Graves' Registration, where they would bring in the dead — the soldiers who had been killed. That was always on the outskirts of the base so it wouldn't affect morale. We went out to these different jobs, and set up the tents that we lived in. We did our work and went back to base camp to restock our poles, lines, all the equipment, and go on to another base.

In the company there were three platoons and each platoon probably had about 100 men, so there were about 300 people to the company. Some people worked on equipment, some people climbed telephone poles, some people did splicing. We lived in 10-man squad tents that we put sandbags around to protect us from mortar attack. Our showers were out-door ones, usually supplied by tanks filled with rain water. If it didn't rain they filled them with regular water. The water was heated by the sun, so we didn't regulate it. We just opened a valve and showered.

This "war," or police action, of whatever it was called, was different from other wars in several respects. In the first place, there were no front lines. The North Vietnamese Army, the Viet Cong, picked the time and place to make attacks. They liked to harass us at night so we didn't get much sleep. At 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning they fired mortar rounds onto our base and that would get everybody up and alert, then they would leave us alone. After awhile it became so common that unless they hit us, we just ignored it. We knew what it would be. In fact, we got so we called them "harassment fires." They were just enough to keep us awake, and not getting a good sleep for a few nights in a row had an affect on our morale.

Second, the enemy was not obvious. The Viet Cong were also Vietnamese, so they blended in with the general population and they chose whom to attack, what to attack, and when to attack. Actually, attacks weren't very common and that is one of the reasons the Army had "Search and Destroy" missions when they would go out and look for the enemy because the enemy didn't engage the troops very often.

There were times of great boredom when we would just do our job and then something would happen — like sniper fire, but it was usually not accurate because our bases were not what the movies portray. Those are usually small, and completely surrounded generally by barbed wire and mines. They often built up berms with guard houses in them. Artillery would already be focused on areas that could be fired on in case of an attack.

The bases we worked on were big and sprawling. They took up a lot of area and had strong defenses. The enemy didn't attack bases very often. That was suicide. They were a guerilla Army so they chose when they wanted to attack. They pretty much wore down the military because they could never really find them and fight them like they did in WWII in which they tried to conquer a certain area.

I traveled around the country for a year, usually convoying in trucks. One time we went by ship down to the southern tip of Vietnam to do a job. We couldn't go by vehicle because the roads were too heavily mined, so the Navy took us to the South China Sea and around to the southern tip of the country. While we were there, we were allowed to take an R & R (Rest and Recuperation), so in October or November, I took five days in Taipei, Taiwan.

I was there until just after Christmas 1967. We saw a Bob Hope show, a highlight. While we were there, we were allowed to take an R and R (Rest and Recuperation), so in October or November I took five days in Taipei, Taiwan. I saw the country-side and enjoyed the sights. I saw a James Bond movie there. We were also allowed one in-country R and R and they had one in Vung Tau located on the South China Sea. It was a peaceful, quiet area. The rumor was that even the Viet Cong, the North Vietnamese Army, took their vacation there, too. We didn't know who was who. We just enjoyed the beach and food and change of pace.

Any veteran could tell stories of the places they went and the things they did, but I've tried to tell the most important things. When you are 19 or 20 years old, and turned loose, you do a lot of funny things. It felt kind of like the wild west, and I did lots of things I don't do now. I smoked a lot, and I don't smoke at all now. We had beer parties all the time. We had ration cards so we could go to the PX and buy things, but they rationed them to prevent us from buying stuff and selling it on the Black Market. They also rationed beer, liquor and cigarettes that people could use to barter with.

I wrote letters home. We didn't have computers as they do now, giving them opportunity to talk to folks back home, and cameras to send pictures. I only got to call home twice while I was there. One of our jobs was to put up a radio antenna. At one base, after we got it put up, we could use the radio link to connect to some place in the United States. They would hook us up by phone to whomever we wanted to call. I called home, to my mom. I had to place the call at about 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning in order to reach her during the day. When I was on R & R in Taipei, there was a telephone center, and I went there to call home. The rest of the time we wrote letters back and forth, and I received "care" packages. I count myself lucky that I was never wounded or injured, and never got in trouble. I was a good soldier, kept my nose clean, but also had fun. I did the job I was sent there to do.

After I came home from Vietnam, I was ordered to Fort Hood, Texas, where I spent the last eight months of my service. I got out in August, 1968. That was my military career. What I found interesting was that when I went into the service in 1966, the war was still kind of new and there was support for it. In April 1968, Martin Luther King was assassinated; in June, Robert Kennedy was assassinated; and the attitude toward the Vietnam conflict had changed, along with the attitude toward us who had been drafted to fight in it. There were riots, and I received training in riot control. The expectation was they would have to deploy soldiers to go to cities and put down demonstrations and protests because of the violence that was going on. I thought it was really different. I served my country but the country was a mess right then. In fact, the week I got out of the Army was the week of the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, with riots in the streets. I will never forget the question of what had happened to this country while I was gone?

But we went through it and it was amazing that the country kind of pulled itself together. We came out of it, but that year was incredibly sad to see what the country and individuals had sunk to. The drug culture was just getting started and I had friends I'd known before I left whom I hardly recognized. They weren't the same people I knew when I went into the service. They were into drugs and weren't working. They wanted me to hang out with them but I just wanted to get back to work and begin living my life again.

I enjoyed my time in the service. I never intended to be a career soldier. The draft had been in effect since WWII, and it was a fact of life that if you were 1A, healthy, unmarried and not in college, you would be drafted. I accepted that, went, did the job I was told to do but it wasn't the kind of life I wanted. I prefer to be my own man making my own decisions, and in the military, somebody else tells you what to do, when to do it, where to do it, and how. Everybody dresses the same, eats in the mess hall, so even the food is the same. There is no way to live your own life.

I was drafted, did my two years, and when they asked if I wanted to reenlist for three years, I told them no. They offered me money, and I told them no. When they offered me more money, I was tempted. I asked if they could guarantee I wouldn't be sent back to Vietnam, that I would be assigned to Germany or someplace in the United States. They said they couldn't commit to that so I declined to stay in the service. I chose to do my two years of active duty and be discharged.

I was in the Reserves for four more years. The total commitment was six years — two years of active duty and four in the Reserves. Even in the Reserves, I was never assigned to go to meetings or anything. I kept them advised of my address and all, in case they needed me for some reason, but I never was called. My two years of 1966 to 1968, were my two years in the service.

I went back to work for Furnas Electric and eventually ended up working for them in Osceola. When I first started, I worked on the production line, and when I came home I started at that same level, also going back to school. They promoted me to Supervisor, later to General Foreman where I was responsible for several departments and eventually to Plant Superintendent.

I was transferred out of Batavia and became Plant Manager for the entire operation in Osceola. Siemans bought Fumas in 1996, and we operated under that name, still building the same products until 2003, when everything was shut down and transferred to Mexico. Now they have closed Mexico and have moved everything to India and China. Siemans retained me to take care of the building and show it to prospects, open it for inspections and things like that until the building sold to Astoria this last year. Astoria was located in Chariton. They build fiberglass truck bodies such as are seen around town. They are service trucks with ladder racks and doors on the sides. I was hired to get the building set up with machinery, and production moved from Chariton to Osceola. After they were moved, I was production manager for awhile. I resigned recently. April 4, 2008, was my last day. I will be 61 in a week and I wanted to begin winding down, so I can devote full time to Maid-Rite, near the casino, which I opened it in 2004.

I married a girl I knew before I went into the service. We had been friends and when I came home we got serious, became engaged, were married, and had one son. After 13 years, we were divorced and I met my current wife at Furnas Electric in Illinois. She had been with Furnas for a long time — in fact, when we closed, she had been with them 29 years and I had been with them 37. Karen had a son and two daughters, whom I adopted. One daughter was killed in a car accident, so I now have three living children and eight grandchildren in Iowa and Illinois.





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Last Revised June 13, 2015