IONIA | Bob Havner said his experiences as an operating room technician during the Vietnam War are always with him.

"I wake up with it in the morning and I go to bed with it at night," said the former Charles City resident who recently moved to Ionia.

Havner, 69, has visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., eight times. He also visited the Traveling Memorial Vietnam Wall during Operation LZ this summer in Forest City, an event for Vietnam veterans that he helped organize.

He said it is difficult for him to visit the memorial wall with all the names of those who died during the war.

"There are so many names on there because I couldn't save them. But that's war," he said.

Havner, a 1965 graduate of Charles City High School, went to Mason City Junior College for a year before enlisting in the Navy in October 1966. 

After boot camp he want to hospital corps school in San Diego, and then Naval Hospital Oakland near San Francisco. He got his orders to go to Vietnam in 1969. 

As an operating room technician in the First Medical Battalion, "the front was wherever you were," Havner said.

They were attacked with rockets and one night a member of the Viet Cong managed to get inside the wire.

"It just wasn't too much fun," Havner said.

His duties included triage. One night when casualties were heavy, he was given a black pen and a red pen. The red pen was to mark which of the wounded would be sent to surgery and the black pen was for those who would not be treated.

He returned to the United States after a year in Vietnam, initially settling in California.

Vietnam veterans were not well received when they returned, according to Havner.

"I had coffee tossed on me," he said.

Another veteran he knows had mustard and ketchup thrown on him, according to Havner.

"For some reason they thought we were baby killers," he said.

Havner continued to work in the medical field after returning to civilian life. He became a registered nurse, working with premature babies.

He returned to Charles City in 2000 and commuted to Rochester, Minnesota, to work at the Mayo Clinic. He retired in July 2010.

For many years very few people in his life even knew he was a Vietnam vet, and he never talked about his experiences.

That began to change after he became involved with Honor Flight Winnebago, which allowed North Iowa World War II veterans to fly to Washington, D.C., free of charge on a one-day trip to visit war memorials and other landmarks.

Havner, who visited veterans who had health issues to make sure they were healthy enough to go on Honor Flights, said they asked him about his own service, so he told them. 

Havner, who has post-traumatic stress disorder, said his experiences during the war have negatively affected his relationships with others. He has been through two marriages that ended.

"I'm not the easiest person to get along with," he said.

But ever since Operation LZ, "I'm a nicer person to be around," he said.

Looking back on his service in Vietnam, "If they called me up today and wanted me to go, I would go again," Havner said. "My nation needed me."

Outbrain