Combined Locks, Wis. (WFRV) – Ron Vandenberg always dreamed of being a teacher.
“When I go back in my lifetime, high school was the best four years of my life and I wanted to get back there somehow,” he said.
Vandenberg would eventually get back to his high school days as a long-time math teacher, but not before he did a six-year stint in the military.
First stationed in Germany in ’63, Vandenberg had just a short time left in his commitment with the active-duty Army reserves when his life changed.
“In March of 1968 we were sitting on the couch watching the national news,” he recalled.
“President Johnson had gotten on and he said two things that really hit home; He said number one, ‘I’m not running for office.’ And two, ‘I’m going to call up the reserves for Vietnam.’ I didn’t realize how that was going to affect me,” said Vandenberg.
Less than a year later, Vandenberg was off to NaTrang Vietnam to work in a psychological operations unit.
“I had no idea what psy-op did when I got there, so fortunately I had a month to do some research with the different people that were in our office, I was fortunate that I didn’t have to go out in the field,” he said.
Vandenberg became an adjutant, handling administrative matters in the unit.
Serving past his commitment while in Vietnam, it was finally time for Vandenberg to go back to the States. One of the ways to do that- Get a job. So, he called his wife.
“I had gotten a hold of Betty, and I said, ‘If you can find me a teaching job I can get out of here and get back home earlier.’ So, she checked around, and I actually interviewed for me. I got my teaching job at Brillion based on her interview,” Vandenberg said.
Eventually, he went on to teach at Kaukauna High School, but Vandenberg couldn’t fully adjust to the life he always wanted.
“For me, it was a long, long time dealing with all that had gone on. It took me, good gosh as I think back, probably the better part of 20 years to get to a point where I could talk about it and wouldn’t get extremely hyper, and lose control,” he recalled.
As we’ve heard many veterans say, it was an Old Glory Honor Flight that allowed Vandenberg to make peace.
“That flight was something that made it all better. I guess it was the most memorable day of my life outside of my wedding day,” said Vandenberg.
And while Vandenberg honorably served his country in Vietnam, he says he’s not the hero.
“You know, there’s been so much over the last 10 years about heroes. The real heroes are the ones that didn’t come back,” he said. “I’m happy I did what I did, I’m proud I did what I did, all of the people that were there should be proud of what they did. There are memories that will always be there. I saw something the other day where somebody said, ‘You know, I left Vietnam, but part of me is still there,'” said Vandenberg.