Remembering lost Vietnam soldiers

(From the May 26, 2016 edition of the Presque Isle County Advance)

by Peter Jakey–Managing Editor

Memorial Day is a time to honor men and women who died in the wars.

John Veihl and David Bruning are men who paid the ultimate price for their county.

For the Veihl family of Tower, Memorial Day is not only a time to remember, but it is a time that weighs heavy on their hearts. The family buried John at Forest Lawn Cemetery the day after Memorial Day 1968. The 20-year-old was in Vietnam for less than four months.

The 1966 Onaway High School (OHS) grad worked for the State Highway Department in Bay City and was involved in helping to survey the site of the Zilwaukee Bridge in Saginaw before being inducted into the Army in 1967. He could have had his job back, upon returning.

He held the record for high hurdles at OHS for a number of years. He was a good student and had a love of hunting and fishing.

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“He went overseas on March 9,” said John’s mother Arla, who still lives in Tower. She lost her husband 4Woodrow last December.

Woody was a World War II veteran and served his country well, three years in Africa and Italy. John wanted to do his part. He was the oldest of five boys and decided to serve as well.

There are letters John sent to his mother and father.

“He always wanted to know how the kids were doing,” said Arla, fighting back tears.

“He was going to get married before going into the service,” said brother Brian Veihl. “Dad told him to wait until he got out of the service.” They put the wedding on hold, but he took her to the prom while on furlough.

The family knew what could happen. The Onaway community already had mourned the loss of Charles D. Chapman in Vietnam.

Arla, like many mothers, worried about her son, and when her second oldest Gary was drafted, “I wrote to somebody so he would not have to go to Vietnam. I did not want to go through that again.”

Woody and the boys were playing baseball at the ball diamonds when the Michigan State Police arrived to tell them John had been critically wounded.

“They came to my vehicle and asked where Woodrow was,” said Arla. “I figured something had happened. They got Woody off the field and that was the end of the ball game.”

“He got hit with shrapnel,” Brian explained.

Two days later, a knock came at the front door with the tragic news.

“Evidently, he was wounded before because he received two Purple Hearts, but he did not tell us,” said Arla. The medals have been in a glass frame in her living room for almost 50 years.

“Everybody was very good to us,” said Arla.

She feels a sense of pride for her son’s service to the country, but still finds it difficult to talk about or attend services in Onaway each year.

Five years ago, the Chapman family spearheaded an effort to place a new plaque on the war memorial because John’s last name was spelled wrong for many years. His name is also on the war memorial in Rogers City and Cheboygan.

It’s a soldier and a family to remember Memorial Day, along with Sp/4 David Kenneth Bruning, who was 23.

The Advance headline from March 14, 1968 read: “Native son loses life in Vietnam War.” He was the first from Rogers City lost in Vietnam.

David was the youngest of three boys born to Kenneth and Melva Bruning, who passed away in January.

Like his brothers, David graduated from the old high school building. David graduated in 1963.

“He was easy going and funny,” said brother Tim, who still lives in Rogers City. “He was a good worker.”

“He was outgoing,” said his brother Mark.

David was working for Fletcher Paper Company of Alpena. He had been married since November 1966 and living in Alpena.

“I am thinking they said, ‘We don’t want you,’ and sent him home,” said Mark. “He got married and then he was inducted, which is very normal for Uncle Sam.”

He entered the service May 10, 1967 and arrived in Vietnam five months later. He received a Purple Heart for wounds received January 4, 1968. He recovered and was returned to action.

“I think he was wounded three times,” said Tim. “He was in the hospital for one of his birthdays. I remember that.”

In letters to his father, “He talked about what a screwed up Army it was,” said Tim.

He was killed near Tan Son Nhut, March 4, 1968.

“I was the guy that took the call,” said Mark. “I was at work and my sister in-law called me and told me and told me that they had knocked on her door. I went home and told my father and mother. Not a real good thing to do. Then, I went and told my brother.”

“It was tough on all of us,” said Tim. “We all wondered why it had to happen. It was needless and senseless.”

Mark wonders, “Was it really worth it? Now we have a president who just went over, and eased opened the doors to sell them war materials in Vietnam. That is where my brother was killed.”

David’s body arrived back in Rogers City March 12. He was buried in Alpena.

The family also remembers Russell Bruning, who is on the World War II memorial.

“They were a brave lot,” said Tim. “They went and fought for what we enjoy – what most of us take for granted. For some, it is just a holiday weekend.”

For others who lost immediate family members, it’s so much more.

“Some of us really know…” said Tim, his words tailing off, not able to finish.

Mark, who also served, said there are thousands of other to remember as well. It’s the reason the holiday has been designated.