Dave Haugen spent 10 months and three days on the Mekong Delta during Vietnam.
He only remembers about two weeks.
"That’s probably a good thing," he said.
The Globe Gazette will publish 50 stories — starting on Veterans Day — about North Iowa’s Vietnam Veterans. The stories will appear on Sundays…
Haugen, of Hanlontown, was a radio telephone operator in the 9th Infantry Division, 6-31st Infantry.
They were in the jungles and rice paddies, dodging booby traps while searching for enemy soldiers. Haugen was responsible for maintaining communication between the squads in his platoon and the commander of Charlie Company.
"Many times we’d get ambushed out on the rice paddy and the bullets would hit the water and it would splash in your face and didn’t make any difference," Haugen explained. "It didn’t bother me until I thought about it later. And I’ve thought about it for years since."
Even now, he often wakes up at night wondering about a frightened young soldier who was wounded by a booby trap. Or, he'll think about seeing a man walking behind him killed by a bullet to the head as they crossed a river.
"He was like one or two guys behind me and a sniper shot him in the head. And I think about that daily," Haugen said. "I was talking to him one minute and the next he’s laying there and he’s covered up with a poncho, just his boots showing. And I can’t ever forget that."
He credits his wife, Marilyn, for helping him through the years after the war. The first 10 years were particularly rough, he said.
“The good thing that came out of it is I met a wonderful woman, got married and been married almost 44 years," he said. "And, she's been a saint. She deserves a medal of honor. She's a trooper."
The post-war years were made worse by the hostile reception Haugen experienced when he got back to United States.
In California, he was spit on and called a baby killer. Things were better in the Midwest — Haugen remembers reactions being more indifferent, as opposed to outright hostile.
It's much different now. Haugen participated in Operation LZ, a massive welcome home held this summer in Forest City for Vietnam veterans.
He volunteered at the event's museum, telling school kids about the war. He and other volunteers left out the graphic details, of course, but the younger children were still fascinated, Haugen said.
Even before Operation LZ, the tide of public perception had turned.
“I wear a Vietnam veteran's hat and I've been thanked hundreds of times and met tons of nice people, but back in the day when I just got home you didn't do that," Haugen said.
Looking back, Haugen thinks about how hard the war was on his family, especially his parents.
"It was a trying time and I think what I feel bad about is I think it had to be harder on my folks back home than it was on me," he said. "Because, I didn’t get scared of what happened in Vietnam until 10 years later when I thought about it."