Remembering the Webster County men lost in the Vietnam War
Terry Griffey may have become a college professor. Tim Green may have incorporated his love of music in the practice of the ministry. Roger Olson may have become an architect and home designer. Pat Trotter may have developed turbo engines. Lee Peters may have become an attorney.
But careers and long lives were not to be for these men — among 15 from Webster County who died in the Vietnam War — as well as a 16th casualty, James S. McGough, who died years after combat from hepatitis contracted from his war wounds. All 16 of their names are etched on the black granite walls of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington and on a plaque at Fort Dodge’s Veterans Memorial Park.
On the eve of Veterans Day 2019, we honor those who died through interviews with their relatives and friends — each asked for a favorite memory, what their loved one may have become in life and how we can best honor those who died. I was unable to locate anyone who knew five of the veterans.
Two of the veterans are memorized at the city’s high schools.
The memory of 1st Lt. Terry Griffey, has been honored annually at St. Edmond High School since 1968 by recognizing a senior boy judged outstanding in athletic, academic, citizenship and leadership with the Terry Griffey Award. Griffey was a 1958 St. Edmond and U.S. Air Force Academy graduate. He died in 1966 — at the age of 25 — when the F-4C Phantom fighter jet he was piloting burst into flames after a bombing run and disintegrated near Qui Nhon in South Vietnam. His body was never recovered.
This past Friday, a plaque was dedicated at Fort Dodge Senior High School in memory of 1st Lt. William L. Peters, a U.S. Marine killed in action on June 21, 1969, when his helicopter crashed during rescue operations in Quang Nam Province. He was awarded the Navy Cross and two Silver Stars for his heroism. The Fort Dodge Veterans Council presented the plaque on behalf of Peters, a 1961 graduate who was co-captain of the Dodger swim team, and it will be displayed in a place of honor at the high school.
How do we best honor those who died — as the years pass and those who knew them best begin to leave our world? These thoughts were shared by Jodi Evans of Fort Dodge and Michelle Schenk of Preston, Idaho, daughters of SPC4 William Pease, who died in Vietnam in 1973 at the age of 22:
“We think the best way to honor veterans is to remember that people need to understand that, whether you support any war or not, these men and women put their lives on the line daily and many, our father included, pay the ultimate sacrifice with their lives. They leave behind families who are left forever with the thought of what if this never happened? How would their lives be now? All of the ‘what ifs?’ We think it’s important to remember their families. They have a lifetime of pain and questions as well.”
Dayle Olson of Merritt Island, Florida, brother of Hospital Corpsman Roger L. Olson, who died in 1968 at the age of 20, had this to say:
“As I get older I realize the results of the Vietnam War mean many different things to people. Putting all of that aside, there were 58,178 people who gave their lives for our freedoms. These are freedoms that have been given to all Americans. I think to honor these people who have their name engraved in that black marble wall is to remember, they each fought and died for a country where we are all created equal. To honor each of these men and women we need to remember they died for this equality — something everyone deserves.”
Rich Lennon of Fort Dodge, a retired Army colonel and Vietnam veteran who earned the Bronze Star, said, “It’s up to us surviving veterans to ensure that our fellow comrades who were lost in combat are remembered and we must do everything possible to honor their supreme sacrifice in defense of this great nation.”
At the Fort Dodge VFW Post 1856, photos of each of those Webster County veterans killed in action are shown on a rolling TV screen that also shows different veterans from the post; those killed in Vietnam are the only ones that have their medals and unit crests with their pictures.
While this story focuses on Webster County residents killed in Vietnam, there were others who died who had ties to the county. One was Larry Bleeker, who attended Fort Dodge Senior High and moved to Ames for his senior year. His family was in the furniture business in Fort Dodge — it was Mikos and Bleeker Furniture Co. before it became Mikos and Matt. A U.S. Marine platoon commander, he was killed in 1967, 18 days after he arrived in Vietnam. He was 24.
Here is a listing of the Webster County residents killed in Vietnam, with comment from families when available:
Lt. Col. Leslie Dewayne Crouse, Army, Aug. 31, 1968 (Age 36)
His tour began on Jan 9, 1968. He was killed in Kontum, South Vietnam.
1st Lt. Richard T. Flattery Jr., Army, May 20, 1968 (Age 22)
Roseann Flattery Vinsand, of West Des Moines, sister: “A favorite memory of my brother is how meticulous he was. I can still see him in the driveway polishing the chrome on his blue, ’59 Chevy until one ‘could see their face’ in, and his beautiful smile and the sound of his laughter. I have no doubt my brother’s intellect, integrity, leadership skills, and work ethic would have brought him many successes. How can we honor their sacrifice today? By breathing life into each one of their stories– the valor and the mundane — seeing that they are told with unwavering honesty shared as they might have told them. And by respecting individuals of all faiths, colors, and cultures and recognizing their value in our existence.”
Const. Man David A. Fleskes, Navy, Aug. 23, 1968 (Age 20)
His tour began on April 15, 1968. He was killed Aug. 23, 1968, in Quang Nam, South Vietnam.
Sgt. Timothy L. Green, Army, May 5, 1970 (Age 19)
Cindy West, of Cedar Rapids, and Pam Hinton, of Fort Dodge, sisters: “Tim would certainly have gone into the ministry and incorporated music as an important part of his delivery of God’s message. Tim would want us to honor his memory by thanking, respecting and honoring all veterans especially those from the Vietnam era. He would want more attention given to their physical, mental and spiritual well-being which has been sadly neglected. We have many favorite memories of Tim such as him playing guitar with our brother, Curt. But we especially smile when we think of Tim and food! He could make a sandwich out of ANYTHING! And he was always nearby while food was being prepared in the hopes of snitching some before it made it to the table.”
Peg Wearmouth Jones, of Hiawassee, Georgia: “Tim and I had been friends since fourth grade, but we didn’t fall in love till he was in the Army. I was engaged to Tim when he was killed. He was killed May 7 and our wedding was set for June 19. It was truly a sad, sad time in my life. He is buried right next to my parents at Memorial Park in Fort Dodge. He will always be a part of my life. I have since found happiness and my husband was a Navy man.”
1st Lt. Terrence H. Griffey, Air Force, March 26, 1966 (Age 25)
Pat Hassett, of Fort Dodge, a close friend of the family: “I think he would have been a professor because he loved to challenge people. He used to challenge Sister Generosa at St. Edmond. The man the Terry Griffey award is named for walked the halls of St. Edmond and hit the practice fields long before the recent honorees were born. During his school days, he was known for pursuing excellence in everything he did. After high school, that dedication cared over into a career as a U.S. Air Force pilot. On March 26, 1966, Terry took off on a bombing run that became his last flight. Terry was flying low and slow over a target when his F-4 Phantom was hit by enemy fire from the ground and exploded. Terry was initially declared missing in action. A day or two later, he was declared dead. His remains have never been found. His grave site is Binh Dinh Province at the crash site.”
Spec. 4 Donald Henry Holm, Army, Nov. 18, 1967 (Age 23)
His tour began on May 15, 1967. He was killed on Nov 18, 1967, in Binh Long, South Vietnam.
Sgt. Danny Wayne Johnson, Army, April 21, 1970 (Age 19)
His tour began on Nov. 18, 1969. He was killed April 21, 1970, in Thua Thien, South Vietnam.
Sgt. Donald Kay Lakey, Army, Nov. 1, 1966 (Age 22)
Evelyn Engel Martin, of Gretna, Nebraska: “Donnie was my first love. We met when I was in eighth grade. We dated off and on through junior high, high school and junior college. I believe he joined the U.S. Army right after he graduated from high school in 1962. The last time he was home on leave was the summer of 1965. I was graduating from Fort Dodge Junior College. We spent much of several weeks together that summer. He was my date for my junior college prom that year. Donnie escorted my blind dad, Lee Engel, with his guide dog, Brutus, to my Junior College graduation ceremony. That was the ONLY time my dad had the opportunity to attend one of my graduations!! (My dad had been a chemical engineer with 3M Co in Detroit until he lost his eyesight due to acute glaucoma. After he went totally blind, my dad operated Engel’s Rental with his dad, Albert Engel, for about 20 years.) When I was attending the University of Iowa, I received a letter from a close girlfriend. She had enclosed the extensive article from The Messenger about Donnie’s death. I cried for days after I received that news. Obviously, if Don were still living, I would expect him to be with his wife, Tammy, and maybe have had more children. Perhaps he might have stayed in the Army until he retired. To honor those who died in Vietnam, just thank them for their sacrifice for our wonderful country. Also thank the families and friends who miss those who died.”
Spec. 4 James S. McGough, Army, January 23, 2014 (Age 62)
Sherry McGough, of West Des Moines, wife of Jim McGough, who died 43 years after being wounded in Vietnam of hepatitis C caused by the injury: “Jim’s dying wish was to have his name added to the Vietnam Wall. One of my daughters, Leigh, worked to make it happen and we were all very proud when we went to Washington to see it for the first time. I was a little melancholy about it. It symbolizes the terrible loss that so many have had. Jim’s ashes were buried at the Veterans Cemetery in Van Meter. I just stand there when I visit and talk to him, and wish he could talk back. It takes time. It would be nice if everyone would think twice before we offer up our children for a war. It was true then and it is true today. A book I wrote shortly after Jim’s death — “Now Comes the Hard Part” — was a way of giving myself grief therapy. People don’t realize what you go through with the loss of a loved one and I thought, you know what, someone might really benefit from reading this.”
Hosp. Man Roger L. Olson, US Navy, March 26, 1968 (Age 20)
Dayle Olson, of Merritt Island, Florida, brother: “I think of Roger daily. I guess the loss of a sibling does that to a person. Roger was the first of two siblings losses in the family as my only sister, Marilyn was killed less than five years after Roger, as she walked with a friend toward my parents’ home north of town. Thus, I daily think of them both. As I remember, Roger was a free spirit, maybe back then it was considered mischievous. As far as I know, he was never in any real trouble, but I would guess his antics kept my parents on their toes. My most vivid memories of him are my father, Raymond, talking with Roger after one of his antics, and Roger flashing his ‘I’m innocent’ smile. I don’t think my parents ever fell for that smile — but I would guess it got him off the hook in more than one situation. What would Roger be doing today? It is impossible to think Roger would be 70 years old. He was four years older than me. But in my brain, he is still 19. I know Roger wanted to be an architect. He would spend hours creating detailed drawings of buildings. Today, he would have retired from a successful business where he designed homes — maybe even a dream home for me in the mountains around Asheville. I still have contact with Roger’s good friends from Fort Dodge, Neil Dilocker and Dan Archibald. The three of them seemed to have been together all the time. In fact it was Neil who escorted Roger back from Vietnam when he was killed. Every few years I meet with these two as we share stories of the years we were all in Fort Dodge, before the war. I always smile during the stories. However, I think I have tears in my eyes as I walk away. As I meet with Dan and Neil I realize life was simple before the war. But the results of the war complicated many lives.”
Spec. 4 William H. Pease, Army, Oct. 16, 1973 (Age 22)
Jodi Evans, of Fort Dodge, and Michelle Schenk, of Preston, Idaho, daughters: “Unfortunately, Bill passed away at a young age because of injuries he sustained in the war. He was never able to function on his own because of his physical disabilities. We are unable to share any memories because Michelle’s mom put her up for adoption and I was too young to remember any. I would like to think that if things were different, he would have been allowed to have a relationship with his daughters and we would have been able to know him as a person. The hardest part of being a child with a father who passed away is not having that relationship and getting to know who he was versus hearing about who he was from others. We were fortunate to have become friends with Darrell Burkhalter, the pilot of the helicopter our father was in when he was shot, and he was able to provide answers for us and become a great friend to us. Many people do not have that closure that is needed. For Michelle and I, we were fortunate to have found each other. We didn’t know either of us existed until about 10 years ago. A little piece of Bill lives on through us.”
1st Lt. William L. Peters Jr., Marine Corps, June 21, 1969 (Age 26)
Portia Peters Bauchens, of Hampshire, Illinois, sister: “Lee Peters was a real war hero. He lost his life piloting a helicopter back into battle so that no wounded would be left behind. If you have been to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C., you know that uniformed men are there to help you find the name on the wall. When I asked for William Lee Peters Jr., he quietly asked, ‘From Fort Dodge, Iowa?’ I surprised myself and burst into tears. I want Lee remembered as the kid from Fort Dodge who loved his family, loved to swim, loved his friends and to have fun. Lee was the leader of the five kids in our family. He was always looking for physical challenges. He started climbing trees at a young age. My Dad would bet him that he couldn’t climb the tallest tree in Dolliver Park. He always could. One day he took a hammock about 30 feet up into our neighbor’s tree and strung it up. Then he got a bottle of pop, which was a prized possession among his siblings, and drank it swinging in the hammock above the ground. When I later asked my mother if she was worried about Lee up there, she said no, he can handle it. That’s the way we all thought of him … capable, indestructible. When Lee went to Vietnam, he had a serious girlfriend who had a 4-year-old son by a previous marriage. If he had lived, I feel sure that he and Susan would have had a family together. Lee had finished one year of law school. He probably would have become a lawyer. I hope the plaque at the high school will inspire kids to do their best when called upon. That was what Lee did.”
DCC James Alphonso Rial, Navy, Oct. 22, 1964 (Age 38)
He was killed on Oct. 22, 1964, in Gia Dinh, South Vietnam.
Cpl. Daryl David Shonka, Army, Aug. 5, 1970 (Age 20)
Cheryl Shonka-Adamczyk, Lake Wylie, South Carolina, sister: “One of my favorite memories of my brother Daryl was at our cabin at Spirit Lake, Iowa. He used to go to the dump and look for treasures. One day he found a small boat, hauled it to our cabin and began restoring it. Well, he and his friend, Bill Roberts, launched Noah’s Ark which ended up being the Leaky Teakey! Luckily he had a 1-pound coffee can which they used to bail the water out! Had he lived, he would be enjoying his family, working on cars, possibly racing but definitely enjoying family! We are grateful and blessed to have his beautiful daughter Jayne who was given up for adoption at birth even though Daryl wanted to marry the mother. I searched for her all my life but she found me two years ago! Praise God, she found me! And my mother! We have been incredibly blessed to have Jayne and her two amazing sons in our lives! Honor their memories by not forgetting them! When I told my Aunt Marilyn about Jayne, she said, “I knew Daryl was too beautiful a person to leave this world without leaving something behind.” Thankfully, we have Jayne, Andrew & Dominic.”
Spec. 4 Patrick J. Trotter, Army, Feb. 4, 1971 (Age 20)
Mike Trotter, of Fort Dodge, brother: “Pat was 19 years old when he went to Vietnam. I remember vividly a Sunday morning in February 1971. My brother Tom came to my apartment. Two Army officers had brought the news of Pat’s loss to my parents’ house. The news was devastating. After almost 49 years the pain has diminished, however the loss remains. Pat worked on helicopters during his time in the Army and was very interested in turbo engines. Had he returned I believe he may have found a career related to developing these engines. Pat was four years younger than me so we didn’t spend a lot of outside the home time together. I remember he developed good understanding of math and science regardless of the limited time he spent studying. He was curious, witty, quick to find humor. He was a bit of a shyster. I spoke to a former classmate who recalled algebra class. Pat sat behind her. When a question was asked by the teacher, Pat would tell her the answer and she would repeat the answer. Unfortunately for her, the answer was incorrect. Regardless she said she and Pat were good friends and developed a strong relationship. Pat was very loyal. If he liked you, he would support you without question. The years have made the loss easier to accept. Acceptance is being at rest with life. If you believe in God, you may understand that everything is exactly the way it is supposed to be. Even if you don’t like it. I still have difficulty with the impact politics has on everyday people. When the Vietnam vets returned, they were treated with disrespect. Today this disregard for the sacrifice these people made continues. When the veterans return, they want to return to everyday people. The powers that be should support them.”
Pfc. Dennis James Yetmar, US Army, Apr. 13, 1968 (Age 20)
John Yetmar, of Fort Dodge, brother: “Denny and I grew up best friends. My best memories of Denny are working on his cars – old cars, ’57 and ’58 Chevys. He was drafted out of high school (St. Edmond). He was 18 when he left for the Army. If he lived, he would have been a helluva family man. I think Denny would be somewhere in automotive, be a mechanic, he loved working on cars, had a talent for it. He would have been a good dad. He was engaged to be married when he left. A legacy to those who died? I’m a vet myself and the VA clinics in small towns like Fort Dodge need to get all the support possible. They are so badly needed. I was on my way to Vietnam the year after Denny died and they sent me back home. I ended up serving in Germany. My oldest brother Larry was killed in a car wreck near Eagle Grove after he got back from Vietnam, five months after Denny died. It was really hard on my mom.”