Veterans share their experiences


by Gabe Licht
Vietnam War veteran Mike Yanish lit a candle and saluted.
"One of our people who should have been here today that could not is a prisoner of war, was a prisoner of war or is still unaccounted for," Yanish told those gathered at a Veterans Day event Monday in the Maple Lake High School auditorium. "We walk and talk for those who are unaccounted for."
Yanish, of the Wat-Kim-Valley POW MIA Honorguard, said the group formed when he and fellow veterans were wondering what it would be like as a family to send a son to war and never know their whereabouts.
"We decided they should never be forgotten," he said. "It could've been any one of us. We keep their hope alive."
Yanish and five other members of the group made up a panel that answered questions that students and school staff had submitted, such as the difference between the Vietnam War and current wars.
"One of the biggest things was the weapons used," John Bolvine said. "There were rifles, airplanes with bombs and hand-to-hand combat. Now there are drones, smart bombs, etc."
Bolvine also contrasted the jungle terrain of Vietnam against the urban setting of World War II and the desert terrain of recent wars in the Middle East. He added that many people opposed the Vietnam War.
"If there could be a popular war, World War II would be a good example. People got behind the troops," Bolvine said. "Imagine being proud of what you did and having people turn their backs on you and call you names."
"We never lost a battle but when we came back we were told we didn't win," Paul Heibel added.
Al Brutger talked about some of the hardships soldiers faced.
"The toughest obstacles we faced were weather conditions," Brutger said. "When it would break out raining, we could never keep dry or clean. The heat was terrible, so we'd take salt tablets. After the rain, the mosquitos were terrible. In the rice paddies, leeches were bad to deal with."
According to Yanish, a different kind of obstacle was not knowing who the enemy was.
More information appears in this week's Messenger.