In 1966, Glen Pannkuk was drafted to fight a war while still a teenager.
In Vietnam, he spent two years as a sniper while he grew increasingly disillusioned with the war.
The Globe Gazette will publish 50 stories — starting on Veterans Day — about North Iowa’s Vietnam Veterans. The stories will appear on Sundays…
But a decade after he left the service, he felt compelled to return to make the military a part of his life for decades, re-enlisting to serve with the National Guard through the first Gulf War.
In part, it was to make use of the skills he learned in war to make sure other soldiers were better trained to face combat.
"I saw soldiers in Vietnam die because they weren't prepared," said the Forest City resident, now 69. "With me, that was not going to happen.
"I've always been a realist," he said. "That's why the military has been easy for me to adapt to."
As a sniper he went on multiple combat missions in a solitary job that he said he embraced..
The job was "as close as you'll get to reality," he said. "If you see an enemy, you'll shoot him."
By the time Pannkuk shipped home in 1968 he was questioning the war's purpose.
Even so, upon landing in Oakland, California, he said he and other soldiers were met with protesters who threw beer bottles. Military police ushered the returning soldiers into bathrooms to change out of uniform.
For years, he said, he didn't realize he was struggling with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
He also battled anger issues. Rather than using drugs or alcohol, he preferred picking bar fights to deal with his emotions.
After 10 years in civilian life, in 1978, he made the decision to re-enlist in the National Guard. He was called up for the First Gulf War in 1991, working in water purification.
Even 23 years after his last trip to a combat zone, he was confident of his abilities to return to war.
"I knew if couldn't be any worse than Vietnam," he said.
Its end and how soldiers were greeted coming home was a completely different experience.
"The culture (had) changed a lot," he said.
Pannkuk retired from the National Guard as a master sergeant about a decade later.
In the end, he felt he "did the best I could to take care of my people."