Howard Lake Herald, May 18, 1998

Book tells of Minnesota veterans' stories in Vietnam

By ANDREA VARGO

Wallace Schmidt, son of Eugene Schmidt of Howard Lake, was one of a group of young men sworn into the United States Marine Corps at the June 28, 1967 Minnesota Twins game that became known as the Minnesota Twins Platoon.

Chris Sauro of Forest Lake, Minn. is telling Schmidt's story as part of a book, "Silent Heros," he is writing about the Vietnam war.

According to Sauro, Schmidt is one of the many soldiers who came home physically, but he never really came back emotionally.

In the beginning, Schmidt joined the Marines because he felt an obligation to help another country remain free from communism.

Schmidt felt the pull of patriotism.

His country was calling upon all able-bodied men to help in South Vietnam's fight for freedom.

The strong sense of right and wrong instilled in him by his parents guided him toward the final decision to enlist.

Also, his dad, Eugene Schmidt, was a Marine who distinguished himself in the service of his country and was a role model for his son.

Schmidt, son of Eugene Schmidt of Howard Lake and Monica Leach of Forest Lake, was a casualty of the Vietnam War.

No, he didn't die there, but he suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and eventually took his own life because of the inability to cope with his experiences.

This was not an unusual occurrence for the men who fought in that unpopular war.

The numbers of soldiers who committed suicide are not known for certain, but one published estimate is over 150,000.

Nothing was known about PTSD when Schmidt was discharged from active duty, due to wounds he sustained in action.

Eventually, more than 200,000 Americans sought treatment for PTSD related to the Vietnam War.

War experiences

Sauro was a friend to Schmidt and one of the Minnesota Twins Platoon.

Sauro was stationed aboard the Iwo Jima, and the wounded were evacuated to the ship for treatment.

During the period of April 28 through May 5, 1968, the helicopters made 462 trips to the Iwo Jima, loaded with wounded and dead soldiers.

Eventually, there was no more room, and the casualties were flown to other ships and locations with medical facilities.

Sauro said he went looking for Schmidt. The last time he saw Schmidt, the hangar was full of Marines. Now those soldiers were in body bags.

Hoping for the best, Sauro found the infirmary, and to his relief, Schmidt was lying in one of the beds.

But Sauro saw the fear in his eyes and heard the hysteria in his voice.

When Sauro asked Schmidt what happened, the torrent of terror poured out.

"We got ambushed! When they started shooting, I looked for cover. There wasn't any!

"The rifle got shot right out of my hand. That's when I lost my finger," he yelled.

As Schmidt continued, his fear of dying and the pain of the shrapnel wounds was apparent in his tone.

Then, he got quiet, said Sauro.

Schmidt turned his head towards Sauro and said, "Everyone I know is dead!"

His eyes pleaded for answers, said Sauro. There were none.

The heroic things Schmidt did, in that battle and others, earned him the Silver Star Medal and a citation from the Secretary of the Navy, posthumously.

Return home

Returning home was not what the wounded Schmidt expected.

While he was watching his buddies die next to him, the anti-war protesters were influencing the general mood towards the soldiers that returned from Vietnam.

Like the majority of the Minnesota Twins Platoon, Schmidt learned to keep his war experiences to himself.

Forty-three of them would fill out questionnaires in preparation for Sauro's book and over eight years and 15,000 hours of research were required to give some order to the events these men experienced.

They fought for a cause they believed their country supported and got little support once they returned.

The war events were not left behind in Vietnam.

Most of these men thought about the war on a daily basis, but they rarely spoke of it. They never told a soul.

Decorations and ribbons won at risk of life and sanity were hidden; the veterans never sure of the reactions of family and friends.

Sauro provided the first chance for these men to speak out about their experiences to someone who had been there and wouldn't criticize.

However, when they returned home, they quickly discovered they were considered murderers.

They were the objects of ridicule and, many times, violence.

Many of the veterans lived with the fear of going to sleep; afraid of the nightmares.

Sleep deprivation, in addition to the emotional problems caused by living through the war, made many of the ex-soldiers difficult to get along with.

Families and friends were alienated or torn by the behaviors exhibited by the men of the Twins platoon.

Schmidt even received some psychiatric counseling from the Veterans Administration Hospital, but his personality continued to change.

In November of 1972, Schmidt could no longer deal with his life and committed suicide.

Schmidt left for Vietnam, secure in the knowledge he was doing the right thing.

He came home to discover being a patriot was a bad thing in the eyes of the populace.

He was shocked and hurt, said Sauro, that he would not be recognized for the effort he put forth for his country.

Because of Vietnam, the trauma suffered by war veterans has finally been recognized and is being taken seriously.

Schmidt contributed to this recognition, even at the expense of his life.

Sauro was responsible for the recognition finally awarded Schmidt, and 24 years later, Schmidt's family learned the details of their son's service record.

"Perhaps, with Memorial Day almost here," said Sauro, "we can forget whether the Vietnam War was right or wrong, and pay our respects to those veterans who served their country with honor and pride."

"When the last page is read," he said, "what will stand out most is the human spirit."


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