Mark Reinsmoen, 70, grew up in Joice, graduated from Luther College and became an English teacher before he was drafted for Vietnam.
“In June 1969, I received that infamous letter that said ‘Greetings...’,” Reinsmoen said. By then, Reinsmoen was married.
He made a personal appearance before the draft board where he was told that he already received two deferments, one for college and a two-year deferment for work when he taught in New Hampton.
“They told me that if I were a math or science teacher then maybe I could get a deferment, but I was an English teacher and the country had a lot of those,” Reinsmoen said.
From Worth County he left for Fort Polk in Louisiana for training and was sent to Vietnam on Thanksgiving Day.
Reinsmoen said he was scared to death and didn’t know what to expect when he arrived.
He served as an M16-carrying infantryman in the 3rd Brigade of the Ninth Infantry Division at Rach Kien.
For a while he patrolled in rice paddies. They would also run ambush patrols.
He later became a combat photographer.
“I would go up in a helicopter and shoot pictures of soldiers doing their jobs,” Reinsmoen said. “If I have one claim to fame, it’s that one of my photos appeared in the Pacific Stars and Stripes.”
Reinsmoen continued to serve until March 1971 when he was honorably discharged. He worked his way up from private (E-2) to sergeant (E-5).
Reinsmoen ended up going “back to the world” to Fort Benning after a little less than a year in Vietnam from November 1969 to November 1970.
“While I was there I believe I had a whole entire fleet of guardian angels watching over me,” he said. “When I came back I was physically, mentally and emotionally unscarred and I was able to step right back into society.”
Veterans of different wars cannot be compared, according to Reinsmoen, because veterans of other wars left and came back in groups while Vietnam veterans left and returned as individuals.
“When I came back from Vietnam, I didn’t tell anyone I was a vet,” he said. “We didn’t expect parades but we didn’t expect to be spit on.”
When he returned, he went to graduate school and taught elementary school in Rosemount, Minnesota, for 34 years.
“I was living a good life after the conflict,” he said.
Like many others who served in Vietnam, Reinsmoen was exposed to Agent Orange and was unaware that his health was at risk.
“In 2006, at age 60, the hammer fell and I was diagnosed with prostate cancer,” he said.
When he was diagnosed, his mother, Lois, told him he needed to get in touch with the Veterans Administration. According to the VA, he is considered “permanently and totally disabled.”
“I go the VA monthly for treatments and medication,” he said. “My wife, Dianne, is just a wonderful supporter.”
In the summer, the Reinsmoens live in Burnsville, Minnesota, and they spend the winter in Surprise, Arizona, closer to their children and grandchildren.
Though he no longer lives in Iowa, he still feels connected. In 2013, he self-published a fictional book, “J-Hawk Nation,” about growing up in Joice by following a basketball team in their final season before school consolidation.
Even 45 years since his return from Vietnam, he thinks about the destruction and the loss of life.
“I find that if I ever watch a Vietnam film, I find myself sinking further and further into my chair,” he said. “I wonder if it was worth it.”