LOVES PARK, IL (04/04/2011)(readMedia)-- Several Loves Park VFW members had a chance to ride in an Illinois Army National Guard Blackhawk April 2. The event's timing held special significance, as the Department of Defense (DoD) has recognized this year as the 50-year anniversary of the start of the Vietnam War.
"This felt pretty familiar," said Jim Puckett of Loves Park, a member of the Loves Park VFW and former Marine Sgt. who served in Da Nang province, Vietnam, as a member of 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Division. Puckett said he spent his fair share of time in a helicopter.
"I was only eighteen at the time," he said. "It was an eye-opening experience."
Puckett, who is also the Loves Park police chief, served as a squad radio operator in the Infantry during Vietnam.
"It was scary, but I remember it being a beautiful country," he said.
Retired Army Spc. Marvin Matthees of Loves Park shared Puckett's feelings.
"It was a scary time; there were a lot of bad aspects," he said.
Matthees, who served as a crew chief and door gunner on a UH1D helicopter with the 336th Assault Helicopter Company, was responsible for putting Soldiers on the ground, making supply runs and performing maintenance on the aircraft.
"We were pretty busy," he said. "We got mortared a lot."
Matthees said his first night in Saigon was a memorable one.
"We had just laid down in our bunks when we got hit by a mortar attack," he recalled. "It was one heck of a wakeup call."
Matthees said he was amazed at how far the military's equipment had come.
"Things are a lot more advanced now," he said. "I think the training is a little more extensive too."
There have been other positive changes, Puckett said.
"Definitely being able to stay in touch more with loved ones was a major change," he said.
"I was married right before I left and my daughter was born while I was overseas," he said.
While Matthees said it was very hard for him, his wife and daughter made it all worthwhile.
"Pamela stuck with me through the whole thing," he said.
Puckett said the day's activities reminded him of how much today's military men and women sacrifice, and how proud he is of them.
"My hat's off to them," he said. "They're doing a fantastic job. We support them 100 percent."
In fact, Puckett was recognized by the DoD as a Patriotic Employer for his treatment of National Guard Soldiers within his department.
"In our department right now we have a guy getting ready to go over," he said. "Nothing has changed; these guys are the ones in harm's way. I think the Guard is doing a great job. How can you not support your troops, when they're the ones keeping us free?"
Matthees agreed and said "We all go do our duty. I was proud to serve."
Puckett said he had nothing but good things to say about his time in service.
"I would have no problem going back in right now," he said. "I loved doing what I did and serving my country."
The flight also included several teachers from the area who will take their experiences back to the classroom, sharing the importance of military history with their students.
Photo 1/ Photo by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Rob Fafoglia, 139th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment/
Several members of the Loves Park VFW wait to receive their pre-flight briefing before an orientation flight April 2. Several of the VFW's members are veterans of the Vietnam War. The Department of Defense is recognizing 2011 as the 50th anniversary of the start of the Vietnam War, as 1961 marks the year the first full units were deployed to Vietnam.
Photo 2/ Photo by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Rob Fafoglia, 139th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
Members of the Loves Park VFW receive a pre-flight briefing before their orientation flight on April 2. Several members of the VFW are veterans of the Vietnam War. The Department of Defense is recognizing 2011 as the 50th anniversary of the start of the Vietnam War, as 1961 marks the year the first full units were deployed there.
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