After Dan Bilharz graduated from Charles City High School in 1970 he enlisted in the Army, hoping for a better job opportunity.
"I got the heaviest equipment that the Army could produce — a rock crusher," said the 64-year-old Vietnam veteran, who now lives in Nashua.
When he arrived in Vietnam, "They put me on an asphalt plant in the middle of nowhere."
His job was to haul asphalt from the plant to build paved roads.
"You never knew if you were going to make it back or not," he said.
When going past the rice paddies with people working in them, "You never knew if they were going to turn around and start shooting at you."
Fortunately, Bilharz was never shot at. However, he now has post-traumatic stress disorder and is easily startled.
If someone makes a loud noise near him or taps him on the shoulder, "I react really badly," he said.
Bilharz also forgets a lot of things and has ringing in his ears. He thinks the ringing is because of being around the asphalt plant. He said they didn't use ear protection then like they do now.
Bilharz is one of seven brothers who served in the military. He also has two sisters.
After Bilharz returned home from Vietnam, he worked at White Farm Equipment for eight years. He then worked for a hog farming operation. After that, he worked at Five Star Cooperative for 22 years.
He is now retired.
Bilharz and his wife, Patty, have two sons who both served in the U.S. Marine Corps. The couple also have six grandchildren.
Bilharz said he never talked about his experience in Vietnam until six or seven years ago, when he attended Rendezvous Days in Fort Atkinson. Others who were there who served in Vietnam saw he had his Vietnam cap on and they started talking to him.
He said the other veterans told him the best thing to do is talk about his experiences and to "stay away from the booze."
Bilharz, who has been arrested twice for operating while under the influence, doesn't drink anymore. He also quit smoking and chewing tobacco.
He even took up running, competing in lots of 5K events. However, running is difficult for him now because he has arthritis and a spur in his heel.
Bilharz attended Operation LZ, a homecoming event for Vietnam veterans that took place in August in Forest City.
"It was great," he said.
He knelt by the Fallen Soldier cross, said a prayer and put a small American flag beside it.
Bilharz said he never got his medals from Vietnam. He said he still hopes to get them, but it would mean dealing with a lot of paperwork.
He always wears his Vietnam cap in public and people come up to him and thank him for his service.
"I wouldn't trade it for anything," he said.