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9/11 This 'day of infamy' through the eyes of veterans

September 10, 2011
Story by Deb Gau and Steve Browne , Marshall Independent

The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, created a wide range of emotions and memories for everyone. No two people's experiences and thoughts on the subject are exactly the same, but conversations with area residents do reveal a general theme - 9/11 changed many things. For area men who served in the military in the past, the changes were noticeable, mainly in the reactions of the public to the attacks, and in the new dangers faced by troops in Afghanistan and Iraq during the past decade.

The news that the World Trade Center towers in New York had been struck by airplanes was shocking, veterans said, but in some ways the terrorism wasn't unexpected.

"I think it was a wake-up call," said Minneota native Dick Tillemans. Tillemans, now a Texas resident, served in a military research and development unit during the Korean War.

Article Photos

What started out as billowing white smoke eventually turned black as fires continued to burn in both towers. Eventually, the fire had burned long enough to make the
towers give way and crumble
to the ground.

Listening to the news of the attacks on the radio, "At first I thought it was a small private plane," said Royal Hettling of Minneota. Hettling is a veteran of the Vietnam War. Hettling said for him, feelings of shock and anger gave way to questions, a sense of "What does this all mean, now?"

The public reaction to 9/11 was still quite different than it was in 1941, when Japanese forces bombed Pearl Harbor, said Howard Bromen of Marshall. Bromen was a staff sergeant in the U.S. Army during World War II.

"Some people didn't even take 9/11 seriously, like 'So what?' There are too many of them," Bromen said. "Pearl Harbor was really disastrous; not that many people know what 9/11 was about."

The lack of a military draft was another big difference, veterans said.

"One difference is in my era thay had the draft, people just planned on going in. Now you've got people going in because they want a job, they don't have to go in," said Don Blayloch of Marshall. Blayloch was a lieutenant junior grade in the Navy, serving on destroyers from 1959 to 1962. "The big change is the feeling toward the military got worse in the Vietnam era and now it's gotten better."

But while the public may feel more supportive of soldiers serving in Afghanistan and Iraq, it's also easier for people to put the conflict out of their minds. That wasn't possible during WWII, said Jim Winn of Marshall. Winn served as a tank gunner in the European Theater of the war, and saw action in the Battle of the Bulge.

"In that time it was a big deal. I knew we were going to get called up in school," Winn said of the fighting in Europe. When it comes to the war on terror, he said, "A lot of people aren't paying attention, they're not worried about it. Out of sight, out of mind. They're so busy with things at home, lives, making a job, that kind of thing."

Having relatives in the military makes the fighting harder to forget, Winn said. His own grandson is a Marine.

The fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan is not the same as what U.S. troops faced in earlier wars, area veterans said. For example, during WWII, there were battlefronts and clearly defined enemies. Now, troops face roadside bombs and unknown insurgents.

While medical care for soldiers has improved over the years, Tillemans said, "I would say that psychologically, now it's worse, because of the way that the Taliban and Al Qaeda fights."

Although the cause was important, nearly a decade's worth of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan was enough, some veterans said.

Compared to his own service with U.S. Army occupation forces in Korea at the end of WWII, Bob Hirmer of Marshall said the war on terror "Is a whole different ball game."

"I think it's sad truthfully, that we have to fight all these wars," Hirmer said. "Iraq, now Libya, I don't know why we got to be in all those places."

Harvey Beavers of Granite Falls, who served in Korea in 1951, was direct in his thoughts. "Whatever they're doing now, it's been going on too long. It's been 10 years, hasn't it?" Beavers said.



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