Veterans share military memories
Voices of history echoed through Basehor-Linwood High School as students gathered Wednesday to hear stories from the Basehor Veterans of Foreign Wars.
VFW Commander Fred Box, Quartermaster Daniel Stueckemann, Senior Vice Commander Bruce Adams, Third Year Trustee Wilbur Grisham and Chaplain Forest Tuter visited the school on the anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War.
Grisham took the microphone first to talk about his time as an Army medic during World War II. He enlisted in the Army right after high school graduation.
“Little did I know, my plan to be in for two years turned into four years,” Grisham said. “You hear about soldiers now serving one year, six months overseas then coming home. I did mine all in one stretch.”
He told the students he was trained to be a company aid man, a first respondent for 250 men. In February 1942, Grisham was on a ship bound for the Philippines. Word came of a raid on the ship ahead, and Grisham’s ship turned around, pulling in at the Hawaiian Islands. During his time in Hawaii, Grisham tended to injured comrades.
Tuter, who was in the National Guard for two years before joining the Air Force, said he got involved with the military because of its almost certain promise of adventure.
“I wanted to travel and see the world,” Tuter said. “And I was stationed in a place very far from here: Forbes Field in Topeka. I wanted to get out of Kansas.”
And he was able to get out of Kansas, as Tuter served in the Vietnam War and traveled to Turkey, Greece, England and Italy, among others. Through his tenure with the military, Tuter said he learned the men and women in the armed forces were all working toward one common goal.
“The military is really designed to make peace, not create war,” he said.
Stueckemann said he joined the Navy in 1975 and spent much of his time on submarines during the Cold War. At the end of the Cold War, he decided to stay in the Navy, earning his degree from Kansas University and then being selected to fly planes on and off a 20-story Naval aircraft carrier housing 6,000 people.
“Let me tell you, that was a blast,” Stueckemann said of his time as a “fly boy.” “You get airborne and you stop within 300 feet.”
Young men and women like those sitting in the high school’s bleachers that day are the future, Stueckemann said, and the world needs them more than ever.
“(The Iraq War) is unlike any we’ve ever fought,” he said. “We have no country to sign a surrender document. It’s a difficult time.”
Adams joined the Army during the Cold War, as well, and served 25 years. He was stationed in Germany during Desert Storm and was there when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. He was in Baghdad before his 2008 retirement, and aided the Army in capturing Saddam Hussein.
“I was proud to be part of that October 2005 trial of Saddam Hussein,” Adams said. “Here you have a tyrant being tried by his own people. He didn’t look too majestic behind bars.”
Adams urged the students to carve out their own paths in history, saying the military was one way to become part of the nation’s past, present and future.
Box ended the assembly telling the students about his experiences during the Vietnam War.
“I was trained to find the enemy and kill the enemy,” Box said. “I was there for the bad stuff. I never had a bed to sleep in. I slept on the ground, in the jungle.”
When Box returned from war, he said he struggled with nightmares and flashbacks from the horrific events he witnessed. Alcohol was his only escape from the painful memories.
“I had post traumatic stress really bad from standing next to my friends when they were killed,” Box said. “I looked in the mirror and saw an old drunk, wasting away.”
From his successes and mistakes the students could learn, Box said. He recovered from his alcoholism and turned his Vietnam service into something positive, joining the VFW and helping the community.
“Everybody has problems, it just depends on what you do with them,” he said. “It’s a tremendous honor to be here today and to be part of this community.”