Jerry Ascherl had just turned 18 in November of 1968 and had nothing to do after he was laid off from a job.
"It was a seasonal job, and they didn't have any work for me in the winter," he said.
Ascherl, a lifelong Webster County resident, went to the federal building in Fort Dodge the day after his 18th birthday, planning to register for the draft. He wanted to sign up for the United States Air Force, but his plans changed when he discovered the recruiter was out of the office.
-Messenger photo by Peter Kaspari
Vietnam veteran Jerry Ascherl looks out over his farmland near Fort Dodge. He served 34 months in the United States Army, and worked as an equipment operator and truck driver during the Vietnam War. Ascherl said his proudest accomplishment was helping in the construction of a road in Thailand that carried supplies for the Army.
"While I was there I started talking to the Army recruiter," Ascherl said. "Before I knew it, I had signed up for a 36-month enlistment."
In March 1969, Ascherl went down to Fort Polk, La., to begin basic training.
"We were training in an area that they called tiger land," Ascherl said. "It was probably the one part of the country that came closest to matching the climate of Vietnam."
While at basic training, he also trained as an equipment operator.
Everyone at Fort Polk was expecting to be deployed to Vietnam, he said, but the week before they graduated they learned they would be sent to Thailand instead.
"They needed semi drivers there in Thailand," he said. "We were going to be building a 60-mile, two-lane road. They wanted to make it an all-weather road so they could use it year-round."
For the next several months, Ascherl drove trucks carrying supplies for the construction crews who were working on the road.
From there, he was sent to Fort Dix, N.J., and then moved to Germany where he was stationed with the Third Infantry.
While stationed in Germany, Ascherl received word that he would be deployed to Vietnam.
"When I got home, I had gone to the wake of a classmate of mine who was killed in Vietnam," he said. "Then one of my other classmates came back after being seriously hurt over in Vietnam, so I was pretty nervous about going."
He was deployed to Vietnam from Fort Lewis.
"We landed at Cam Rahn Bay," he said. "I was stationed with the tractor-trailer outfit."
Ascherl's unit wasn't located far from the Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone. While there, he took part in Operation Lam Son 719.
"That was when South Vietnam was trying to get into Laos to the Ho Chi Minh Trail," he said. "We got there in April and learned they had more drivers than they had trucks."
As Operation Lam Son 719 wrapped up, Ascherl got a job in the maintenance platoon as a clerk.
"When the Army started to stand down, we hauled everybody back down to the shore," he said.
Near the end of his enlistment, Ascherl drove vehicles around to wherever they were needed.
"I did that for the last five months of my enlistment," he said. "I went home in January of 1972 and was discharged not long after."
Ascherl served exactly 34 months and one day.
After he was discharged, he went to college on the G.I. Bill.
Ascherl worked for the Fort Dodge company Pederson-Sells before he became a farmer with his father-in-law.
"That's what I've done ever since," he said. "I now live a couple miles east of Fort Dodge on land that was deeded to me by my father-in-law. We were able to build a house on that property."
The military tradition in Ascherl's family didn't end with his discharge; his two sons, John and Chris, are members of the U.S. Army Reserve.
Both sons served in Operation Iraqi Freedom, according to Ascherl, and John Ascherl also served in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Both sons served in Iraq at the same time; Chris Ascherl was an engineer and John Ascherl was involved in transportation.
Jerry Ascherl said he looks back on his time in the Army as a honorable phase in his life.
"I'm proud of it all," he said. "The most fulfilling part of my service was when I was in Thailand helping to build that road."
Ascherl said it was impressive seeing the environment change over the course of a few months.
"There was this modern road right in the middle of the country," he said. "We really put that road up."