Appleton, Wis. (WFRV) – “My grandpa was in WWI, my Dad was in WWII, my Uncle was in Korea and then naturally it was my turn,” said Kaukana native Jack Van Den Heuvel.
Van Den Heuvel says his father took him to just about every war movie when he was a kid.
So when he was drafted into the army in 1964, he was ready.
“I was proud to go, I left on New Year’s Eve which was my birthday,” Van Den Heuvel said.
Twenty-two-year-old Van Den Heuvel shipped off with the 509th Engineer Company to Pleiku, Vietnam initially as an engineer.
“They needed mechanics to take care of all their equipment and they didn’t have any and I was a mechanic before I went to work at Thilmany and that because I liked working with my hands, always did,” Van Den Heuvel said.
Maintaining trucks, building roads and bridges, Van Den Heuvel became close with his comrades.
“We had 16 of us from Wisconsin and over there, there were eight of us that went there. We all knew how to play Sheepshead, in our off time we all stuck together,” he said.
Van Den Heuvel now suffers from several disorders due to Agent Orange exposure, but he’s grateful for all that he has, and for those comrades that he’s stuck with years later.
“The service made him a better person,” said Shirley Van Den Heuvel, Jack’s wife. “He loves working with other people, helping other people and whatever he has volunteered in, I seem to help out. We join in and work together,” she said.
While the effects of Agent Orange have certainly taken their toll on Jack, he still does everything he can to continue to serve. He and a group of other veterans at the Vietnam Veterans of America visit assisted living facilities throughout the Fox Valley, visiting with residents and sharing their stories. But for Jack, that connection is a little more personal.
“I guess it’s because, when my Dad passed away in ‘92, there was nothing, nobody recognized these people and he passed away in a nursing home,” said Van Den Heuvel. “These people need help, and I don’t mind helping them, it makes you proud,” he said.
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