“Thank you for your service,” was not something Vietnam veterans heard.

Those who lived to come home had already seen the news. They would not find parades but protestors at the airport, some calling them “baby killers,” some spitting on them. The war had turned the country upside down, and our soldiers, sailors and Marines became targets again. Many took off their uniforms before kissing American soil.

Masterlube sponsored the Billings Gazette’s Vietnam Voices series to recognize the contributions and sacrifices of those who guard our freedoms, and tell a new generation what it was like to be an American soldier in Vietnam.

There is honor in that, honor our veterans deserve.

jimmie kerr

Jimmie Kerr

“You knew what fear was. But then, you got hard toward it”

Jimmie Kerr grew up in Laurel and graduated from Laurel High in 1966. He served in the U.S. Navy on a river boat in Vietnam. He came back and …  Read More

bob sorensen

Bob Sorensen

“By the grace of God, you’re not on the Vietnam War Memorial”

Bob Sorensen is a Billings native and West High grad. He was trained as an Army medic, but was reassigned to an artillery unit…Read More

Charles “Doc” Pickard

“How am I going to survive this?”

Charles “Doc” Pickard graduated from Senior High in 1962. A Navy corpsman assigned to the Third Marine Division, he quickly found out that every wound is different…  Read More

Paul Cimmino

“When I see you again, you better have your helmet and your .45”

Paul Cimmino served as a U.S. Army motor sergeant in Vietnam. Assigned an infantry division, he had already determined that he was not going to make it… Read More

Chuck Tooley

“We had Agent Orange all over the place”

Chuck Tooley, former Billings mayor, was drafted in 1969 and like thousands of other soldiers in Vietnam, was constantly exposed to the defoliant…Read More

Jim Abel

“I kept dreaming the same dream that I was physically blown up”

Jim Abel had graduated from Montana State University with a degree in graphic design when he was drafted. Suddenly, he’s in a different world… Read More

Tom Lowry

“You realize you’re going to a place where the lucky guys get shot, picked up and taken out”

Tom Lowry grew up in Absarokee. A United States Marine, he was sent to Da Nang in May 1969, three days after he was married… Read More

Alan Ashall

“Mom, please don’t worry. I’ll be back before you know it”

For the purposes of paperwork, U.S. Navy Lt. Commander Alan Ashall is dead. After launching from the deck of the USS America in August 1968, he was never heard from again… Read More

Ernie Flynn

“I was so sure I had made it through Vietnam without a scratch.”

Ernie Flynn graduated from Poplar High School in 1967. Drafted, he was assigned the the Army’s 1st Infantry Division… Read More

Eric Feaver

“The idea was just to kill people. It was a body count thing.”

Eric Feaver of Helena, was drafted in 1968 and entered the U.S. Army as a conscientious objector. Trained as a medic, he never fired his weapon… Read More

Chuck Gilje

“I did a lot of praying over there. A lot.”

Chuck Gilje had just passed the bar exam in 1967 when he got his draft notice. Trained in fire direction control, the lawyer ended up  a battalion clerk and would type, and retype and retype… Read More

Paul Thomae

“You’re going to have a company of dead Marines up here if you don’t get us some firepower through the night.”

Paul Thomae grew up south of Livingston. He enlisted in the Navy and became corpsman, working first in a stateside hospital, then under fire in Vietnam… Read More

Ralph McKinney

“You’re always listening. That’s one sound you’ll never forget – the incoming”

Ralph McKinney joined the U.S. Marines in 1964, volunteered for Vietnam and arrived in 1966. A radio technician, he was assigned to Hill 55, south of Da Nang… Read More

Skip Venard

“I realized that in some of those coffins could be one of my friends.”

Skip Venard is an Air Force and an Army veteran. He served a support role in Vietnam, and was an Army chaplain in the first Iraq War… Read More

Jerry Bauck

“I didn’t know that in Vietnam, nobody was safe.”

Jerry Bauck was 25 and married when the draft noticed arrived. He quickly enlisted, trained as an Army radio technician and landed in Vietnam under fire.. Read More


Beaver Tallbull

“I don’t think I was destined to come back from there fully intact.”

Beaver Tallbull was raised in Lame Deer by his grandmother. An Eagle Scout, he enlisted in the Army in 1968 and served as a tank leader in Vietnam. To Tallbull, his Cheyenne ancestors were special ops… Read More

Ron Ledridge

“Man, this is nothing like I had figured to be.”

Ron Ledridge was a farm boy from Oregon when he enlisted in 1965. Trained as a Seabee, he knew the Navy did not run bulldozers on the ocean… Read More

Gary Booth

“Yeah, Charlie’s 18 or 20 inches tall – they’re crawling in.”

Gary Booth was a conscientious objector and trained as an Army medic. Based in a line company near Pleiku, he went out every other night on ambush patrols.… Read More

Kelly Besel

“Every five minutes a grenade was going off.”

Kelly Besel  graduated from Laurel High in 1968 and enlisted in the U.S.Navy. He was stationed on a small repair ship in the Saigon River, a ship constantly under attack… Read More

Dennis Ulvestad

“You were always worried. There was always that feeling. Of not knowing.””

Dennis Ulvestad graduated from West High in 1968. Expecting to be drafted, he joined the U.S. Navy, and spent much of his Vietnam duty aboard ship as a radio operator…… Read More

Dan Gallagher

“I think veterans want peace as much as anyone.”

Dan Gallagher was a farmboy from Charlo, the 13th of 13 kids. when he enlisted in the U.S. Army. A combat engineer in Vietnam’s Central Highlands, he found another battle waited for him at home… Read More

Steve Fenter

“We were winning the war. There was no doubt in my mind.”

Steve Fenter was raised in Montana and served in the U.S. Army as an intelligence officer. In 1965 he expected to be posted in Europe, maybe Korea… Read More

Jerry LaFountain

“I prayed to everybody, the devil, the great white buffalo … you let my brother go home.”

Jerry LaFountain is from Lewistown. In 1965 his younger brother was already serving in Vietnam, so he joined the U.S. Army, in part to make sure little brother made it home… Read More

Kurt Schulz

“We were high-value targets.”

Kurt Schulz was a U.S. Army intelligence officer in Vietnam. He carried his military id, but often traveled and worked in civilian clothes.… Read More

Allan Hartman

“Sometimes it was mayhem, but it was controlled mayhem.”

Allan Hartman enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1967 at age 17. His stepfather, who spent a career in the U.S. Air Force, had to sign for him… Read More

Dave Rye

“People out there want to kill me. They don’t even know me.”

Dave Rye is a longtime Montana newscaster who also served in the Montana Legislature. In Vietnam, he directed artillery fire, calculating quadrant, deflection and azimuth… Read More

Ilan Kaufmann

“I guess I was just in shock. I can hear people saying, ‘I’m hit.””

Ilan Kaufmann had already graduated college in 1966 with a degree in business administration. Expecting the “Greetings” letter, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and spent a year on land in Vietnam… Read More

Carl Solberg

“What else was there to do? Sit and feel sorry for yourself?”

Carl Solberg grew up in Dodson and joined the U.S. Army in 1964. Two years later he was in the Mekong Delta, supporting ARVN and volunteering at an orphanage… Read More

Clint Whitmer

“We never laughed in Vietnam, but that one day was pretty close.”

Clint Whitmer was born in Glendive, the oldest of nine. Drafted into the U.S. Army in 1968, he served as a medic on night ambush patrols… Read More

Richard Schiltz

“That’s pretty unnerving to go through a body to get the rifle.”

Richard Schiltz was raised in Billings and joined the U.S. Marines in 1966. He took part in a major battle against a division of NVA regulars at Dai Do near the DMZ in 1968, where his battalion suffered huge loses… Read More

Dale Lacher

“I learned to let go real easy over there.”

Dale Lacher graduated from Billings West High in 1968 and served in the U.S. Army as a dustoff (medevac helicopter) medic, picking up wounded soldiers for transport to a base hospital… Read More

Greg Childs

“I certainly did not expect to be sent to a combat theater.”

Greg Childs was a U.S. Air Force pilot in Vietnam. Assigned to fly the C130 Hercules, he flew troops, supplies and even elephants… Read More

Douglas Kirn

“You have to pay a price to live in this country.”

Douglas Kirn was raised in Poplar, and volunteered for U.S. Army service in Vietnam. A radio operator with an infantry unit, he packed 160 pounds of gear all day, every day… Read More

Will Crain

“This is nothing like any of those creepy Hollywood war movies.”

Will Crain got his draft notice just shortly before he got married. Assigned to the U.S. Army’s Mobile Riverine Force, in October 1967 he turned 21 in the rice paddies of the Mekong Delta… Read More

Lloyd Metcalf

“I got to shoot an elephant. What a mess.”

Lloyd Metcalf went to school in Custer. He enlisted in the Marine Corps on his 18th birthday in 1967 and became a “grunt rifleman,” posted near Khe Sanh… Read More

Elwin Valley

“Grab all the ammo you can carry and a brand new rifle.”

Elwin Valley was 20 when he went into the U.S. Army in 1962. His trip to Vietnam marked the first time he flew in an airplane… Read More

Lynn Walker

“I realized we were in a mine field and I was trying to get us out of it.”

Lynn Walker graduated from Bozeman High in 1969 and served as a U.S. Army “LRRP,” a long-range reconnaissance patrol. Using stealth and silence, his six-man unit searched out the enemy, and took the fight to them…. Read More

Ivory Robinson Jr.

“And now I look back, ‘Why didn’t it bother me?'”

Ivory Robinson Jr. left a ranch in Melstone to become a U.S. Marine. In 1966 he became part of a unit tasked with burning destroying everything – just to detect the enemy… Read More

Marvin Besel

“We had incoming rounds virtually every day, incoming rockets or mortars.”

Marvin Besel graduated from Billings West High in 1963 and served with the U.S. Army from 1968 to 1999. A combat officer, he was on a Huey with a gunner headed to the Cambodian border within 24 hours of arriving in Vietnam… Read More

Gary Bradshaw

“That’s what we dealt with – a lot of trauma.”

Gary Bradshaw was raised in Billings and served with U.S. Marine Corps in Vietnam as a corpsman. He was in college in 1966 and planned to join the U.S. Navy Reserves, but didn’t keep up his grades… Read More

Larry McGovern

“It was very hard to watch these connections of family. It was great to watch it.”

Larry McGovern was born into a Navy family. joined the U.S. Navy in 1966 and  served as a medical corpsman, caring for the wounded returning from Vietnam… Read More

Les Mattern

“When they handed out extra bandages before you went into the field, you knew there was going to be trouble.”

Les Mattern graduated from Billings West High and attended Eastern Montana College before enlisting in the U.S. Army in 1968. In Vietnam he took part in frequent night ambush patrols where he learned to sleep very, very lightly… Read More

Don Agan

“We had to get down on our hands and knees and pray to the gods that there would be a war in Vietnam.”

Don Agan graduated from Billings Senior High in1963, joined the U.S. Marine Corps was assigned to Vietnam in March 1965. The climate was so hot and humid, he could hardly breathe. Read More

Keith Fahey

“The real adventure comes after, when we try to rebuild our lives.”

Keith Fahey was raised in Great Falls. Drafted in 1966, he served in a U.S. Army infantry company as a radio technician, and had many doubts about the war… Read More

Ron Knutson

“I got to figure out a way to get out of this. I got to escape.”

Rod Knutson was raised in Billings and served in both the Navy and Marines as a carrier fighter pilot. Shot down and captured in 1969, he spent 2,673 days as a prisoner of war… Read More

Tom Helwick

“You realize, ‘Man, this is a war zone, isn’t it?’ It settles in after a while.”

Tom Helwick served in the U.S. Air Force as a pilot, flying electronic reconnaissance missions in an airplane built in 1939… Read More

Carl Wolf

“A lot of innocent people died over there – their people.”

Carl Wolf served in the U.S. Navy from 1960 through 1964. Stationed on the aircraft carrier USS Ranger, he was in the Gulf of Tonkin in 1962… Read More

Roger Thomsen

“If the dog says there’s something there, you better figure it out.”

Roger Thomsen was in graduate school at the University of Montana in 1968 and knew he was going to be drafted. He enlisted in the Army and became a scout dog handler. He always liked dogs… Read More

Larry Palmer

“I never saw any time I was in Vietnam that the battle was lost.”

Larry Palmer joined the U.S. Army in 1957, trained in tank school and was posted to Germany during the Cold War. Later, after officer candidate school, the Army needed helicopter pilots… Read More

Bob Beebe

“Oh Lord, what have I gotten my self into?”

Bob Beebe served in the United States Army from 1963 to 1968 and fought in the Battle of the Ia Drang Valley, the first major engagement of the war… Read More

Beverly Stewart

“The only thing that was open to me was to volunteer to go to Vietnam.”

Beverly Stewart grew up in Sidney and served financial specialist in the U.S. Army from 1969 to 1977. Stationed at Long Binh, she found that soldiers longed to talk with a woman from home… Read More

Fred Dietz

“It’s amazing how many rounds can be fired and nothing hit.”

Fred Dietz was in the U.S. Army from 1967 to 1969. His folks wanted him to go to college but he went to Germany, then volunteered for Vietnam… Read More

Rose Kilroy

“It was a real operation. Lives were put on the line.”

Rose Kilroy served in the U.S. Air Force from 1972 through 1981. Her job was to brief pilots and commanders about the sorties and missions they’d be flying into Vietnam… Read More

Robby Robinson

“I’ll give you $20 for a team going to ‘Nam. I was afraid I was going to miss out.”

Robby Robinson was with the U.S. Army from 1960 to 1972 and with the U.S. Navy from 1974 to 1984. Read More

Mike Wyrwas

“Most of us thought we’d be home in six months.”

Mike Wyrwas served in the United States Marine Corps from 1965 through 1968. “This is going to be a cake walk and we’re Marines…” Read More

John Tomek

“The first night I’m there – there’s supposed to be a cease fire – a Christmas cease fire.”

John Tomek served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1967 to 1970. He arrived at Phu Bai on Christmas Eve, 1967. Read More

Tony Brilz

“You didn’t really get frightened until I saw the airplanes come along letting off the napalm bombs.”

Tony Brilz graduated from Fromberg High School in 1963 and served in the United States Navy from 1964 to 1968, trained as an electrician… Read More

Gunnar Hagstrom

“We had our war for a day.”

Gunnar Hagstrom was raised in Billings and graduated from Billings Senior High in 1967. Christmas, 1968 he joined the Army and went to Vietnam to fly helicopters… Read More

Wayne Bucher

“The whole city was alive and then … nobody on the streets.”

Wayne Bucher was in the U.S. Navy from 1964 to 1968. He trained as a radar technician and helped build a television station for the South Vietnamese government… Read More

Don Lorash

“We got even more Agent Orange than guys who were drinking the water on the land.”

Don Lorash went to school in Joliet and was in the U.S. Navy from 1965 to 1968. He served in Vietnam as a diesel mechanic aboard swiftboats, the “Brown Water Navy”… Read More

Dave Swoboda

“Quiet in the daytime, but it sounds like the L.A. freeway at night.”

Dave Swoboda graduated from Billings West High in 1965. and enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1966. In Vietnam he repaired or replace electronics in helicopter gunships and troop transports…  Read More

Thomas Rockroads Jr

“You got to watch this butterfly.”

Thomas Rockroads Jr. grew up in Busby and in 1968 enlisted in the U.S. Army at age 17. In Vietnam he served in the Airborne Infantry, parachuting into spots too hot for helicopters to land… Read More

Ken Olson

“I needed a change.”

Ken Olson served in the U.S. Navy from 1969 to 1973. He is the former mayor of Laurel and graduated from Laurel Senior High in 1967…  Read More

Doug Braun

“How many of these guys are coming back?”

Doug Braun was from Terry, served in the U.S. Navy from 1965 to 1993. He went to electrician school in San Diego and was assigned to the USS Enterprise… Read More

Dr. Ron Smith

“We think we’re going to win the war because we’re going to pave all of Vietnam.”

Dr. Ron Smith is a Wyoming native. In 1966 he had just finished his residency at the University of Washington when he was drafted, the “doctors draft”…  Read More

Hal Haefer

“The enemy is within and without.”

Hal Haefer was in the U.S. Army from 1965 to 1968. A graduate of Montana State College, he became an intelligence specialist and was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam in 1966… Read More

Sam Rankin

“I thought, ‘Oh, this is not good.”

Sam Rankin was born in Billings. In 1968, two weeks after graduating from Eastern Montana College he was drafted, and went to Vietnam as a combat medic…  Read More

John E. Howard

“To my dying day, I will always regret not going to Vietnam.”

John Howard went to one semester of college, and joined the Army after running out of money. He volunteered for the Army’s honor guard at Arlington National Cemetery… Read More

Ernie LaFountain

“I looked at everybody to see who I could follow. There wasn’t anybody.”

Ernie LaFountain served in the U.S. Army from 1965 to 1968 and again from 1970 to 1975. He went through several tours in Vietnam…  Read More

Jesse McMurtry

“Guys, they want your film … Give it to them.”

Jesse McMurtry served in the United States Air Force from 1961 to 1989. Trained in radio and radar, he was sent to Da Nang in 1963 as an advisor… Read More

Russ Ponessa

“When the firefight was over, you’re just wringing wet because of the tension, the adrenaline.”

Russ Ponessa graduated from Hysham High School in 1969. He served in the U.S. Army from 1970 to 1971 and was assigned to a firebase near the Cambodian border…  Read More

Richard “Dick” Derbyshire

“You grow up quick.”

Richard “Dick” Derbyshire served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1966 to 1969 and was part of a 155mm self-propelled howitzer outfit in Vietnam… Read More

Richard Tangel

“You’re alert all the time. If your not alert, you’re going to die.”

Richard Tangel was with the U.S. Army from 1967 to 1968 and spent much of his time in the bush running point when the platoon was on patrol…  Read More

Monte Dvorak

“To this day, when I hear a helicopter – oh my God.”

Monte Dvorak was with the U.S. Army from 1967 to 1970. He had been raised on a farm and ranched, but in Vietnam he was a mechanic with a rifle… Read More

Gary Burrow

“Once they start shooting at you, you have a different feeling.”

Gary Burrow was in the U.S. Navy from 1966 to 1970. He graduated from high school in California and completed basic training at Great Lakes…  Read More

Dean Batten

“It was horrible. A lot of gun shot wounds to the chest.”

Dean Batten graduated from Billings West High in 1970 and turned 18 in Army boot camp. In Vietnam, he was dustoff helicopter crew chief… Read More

Dr. David Roberts

“You do what you have to do.”

Dr. David Roberts joined the United States Air Force in 1965 and was tasked with providing health care to Vietnamese civilians…  Read More

Jose Riojas

“It was probably the scariest part of my life.”

Jose Riojas is from Laurel and served in the United States Marine Corps from 1966 to 1970. He landed in Da Nang on April Fools Day, 1967… Read More

Tom Schumacher

“We were targeted right regular. Right regular.”

Tom Schumacher was trained as a truck driver, motor transport, and served in the U.S. Marines from 1968 to 1970. His first impression of Vietnam was that the country stunk…  Read More

Gordon Cormier

“The world wasn’t young in those days. I was.”

Gordon Cormier doesn’t have many memories of Vietnam. That may be the only positive thing about his battle with Alzheimer’s… Read More

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