Museum display to honor Vietnam era veterans at Harvest Festival
A project to recognize and share the story of soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen serving in the Vietnam War era will be on display in the Prairie Village Museum’s Almquist Building during the Rugby Harvest Festival today.
A collection of poster boards imprinted with vivid images and information about the people, nations, technologies and strategies involved in the war sit on easels atop tables spaced apart for easy viewing near the building’s entrance.
Clarence Larson American Legion Post 23 Commander John Gustafson created the project, which he had intended to present to the public the week of March 29, which is National Vietnam War Veterans Day. Gustafson enlisted the help of I Design’s Bailey Nelson to enlarge and imprint the posters on sturdy boards mounted on easels.
However, the global COVID-19 pandemic caused the March presentation to be canceled.
“The whole point of the display is to recognize those men and women who served during the Vietnam War era,” Gustafson said. “That’s the whole idea behind the posters and me being here. Even if (visitors) didn’t serve in that timeframe, this is part of our nation’s history, regardless of the political aspects or whatever. This gives you an idea of what happened. Most young people today weren’t even born (during the Vietnam era). A lot of them aren’t really aware of what happened over there.”
The federal government defines Vietnam War era veterans as those who served in the military between Nov. 1, 1955 and May 15, 1975.
“This exhibit will be open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday,” Gustafson said. “I’ll be here that whole time to answer questions and describe all the different posters.”
Gustafson said he will encourage veterans and surviving spouses from that period to apply for commemorative pins to mark their service.
“There will be a clipboard on a table there for any ladies who might be surviving spouses to take their names and all their other information so at some point later down the road, we’ll be able to get some recognition for them as well,” he said.
Gustafson pointed to a poster outlining several categories of service members recognized by the pins: “They are for former/living American military POWs, unaccounted for, in memory of, and deceased Vietnam veteran surviving spouse.”
“That’s part of my mission as well, to fulfill the objectives of the Commemorative Commission as well as give people a visual. This is a visual display to show the different aspects of the war – our allies, women in the military, military nurses. It shows a number of different aspects of the war,” Gustafson said.
Gustafson, a Navy veteran, noted, “I served in the Vietnam era. I didn’t serve in country, but I was off the coast on active duty during the period from January of 1967 until October of 1970. I was stationed in Japan. The unit I was in had military helicopters that were a part of Vert. Rep. That stands for vertical replenishment. What happened was the supply ship we were on had huge wire baskets seven feet square. And they had hooks and cables going up with a ring. Our helicopters would hover down, and we had a fiberglass pole, and we’d hook the ring onto the cargo hook of the helicopter, and they’d take it to the ship that was taking the supplies (to troops in Vietnam). We had two helicopters, and they would just be making a circuit.”
Gustafson said he was also based in Imperial Beach, Calif., and Okinawa.
Would he recommend military service for today’s youth?
“I think the military’s not for everyone,” he said. “But it’s a great place to see the world at the government’s expense. I saw Japan for two years, I saw Hong Kong, the Philippines, I lived in Okinawa for six months. You get an opportunity to travel and see different things. When you’re younger, you have that energy and that enthusiasm. Many people make a career out of the military. There aren’t many jobs that pay you 75 percent of your salary after 30 years like the military. There’s a lot of avenues you can go to – the Marines, the Navy, the Army, the Air Force, even the Coast Guard’s an option.”
“People don’t understand how involved the Coast Guard’s mission is,” Gustafson noted. “They do a lot of drug interdiction. They don’t simply rescue people at sea. In fact, there was a big involvement of the Coast Guard in Vietnam. A lot of people aren’t aware of that. I’m going to have some posters that Bailey will be making that talk about the different branches that were there as well as the individual units that were represented by that branch of the service.”
Gustafson said he also hopes to visit Rugby High School to share the story of the Vietnam War once the COVID-19 pandemic subsides.
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