GETTYSBURG — The fourth annual Decorated Veterans pheasant hunt was hosted by the Gettysburg VFW Post 8530 over the Veterans Day holiday. Nine purple hearts were awarded to these five veterans for injuries suffered while serving in Vietnam. The veterans, whom were selected by lottery included: Larry Ellis (Indiana), Darrell Baker (Ohio), Robert Bruton (Oregon), Lynn Walker (Montana), and George Kiesel (Connecticut) were busy all week and participated in a flag raising ceremony, a Veterans Day program, and five days of world class pheasant hunting at different locations around Gettysburg.
The new VFW Commander-in-Chief, William “Doc” Schmitz has a slogan this year that challenges members, “Dare to Care” and VFW Post 8530 strives to promote this mission with the event.
“For these veterans to take time off and for the community to open their arms and allow us to come in, treat us like one of the family, it is just amazing,” said Kim Deshano, VFW assistant adjutant general. “Some of the veterans with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other issues they struggle with on a daily basis, and to be able to come here, get some great hunting, be with other veterans, it is just so amazing,” he added.
Barbara McKean, Department of S.D. junior vice commander and membership chairmen for South Dakota, welcomed the decorated veterans and participated in the hunt. “From talking with the veterans, this is an experience they will never forget, some great weather, and all of the support they received from the community is just overwhelming and they are absolutely in awe,” McKean said. “Recruiting and keeping our membership strong is the backbone of our organization, we want to reach out to Veterans and make sure everyone of them is being taken care of,” she added.
Ellis got drafted right out of college in 1967, being 20 years old, married for six week, headed for basic training at Fort Knox, Ky., then to Fort Ord, Calif., for advanced individual training (AIT) in the U.S. Army. Ellis trained for light infantry, and was attached to the Ameriacal division at Chu Lai.
Ellis was awarded two purple hearts. The first one was from being hit in the back by a grenade on May 17, 1968, which he survived but it took out four team members. They were re-supplied with ammo and the choppers took them right back to action. On Sept. 2, 1968, he stepped on a command detonated mine, now called improvised explosive device, that injured him and took out five members of his squad.
Ellis said he loves to hunt, fish, and has hunted pheasant on preserve’s in Indiana and Illinois and is preparing for archery deer season.
Ellis has never been to South Dakota and the words “pheasant hunting in South Dakota” was enough for him to apply and try and get drawn; he had applied the previous three years and was not selected. He also looked forward to meet the other vets and the members of the VFW 8530 in Gettysburg.
Ellis is a retired letter carrier with the United States Post office after 33 years of service.
He currently manages a trap and skeet club in Indiana, and is married to Trish for 32 years and has two sons.
“The VFW magazine clearly states that nobody does more for Veterans than the VFW, they had to come here to get that slogan, because these people here are first class, there is no other way to put it, just first class,” said Ellis.
George Keisel, Waterbury, Conn.
Keisel was in the Army from 1967-1969 and completed his basic training at Fort Gordon, Ga., AIT, at Fort Polk, La. Next stop was to Fort Benning, Ga., where he attended non commissioned officer school, went back to Fort Polk as a drill sergeant and then spent his last year in Vietnam. Keisel was in the 9th infantry division company A 3/39. He was drafted when he was 18 years old.
Keisel was a sergeant in an infantry company and was a staff sergeant and a platoon sergeant while in Vietnam.
Keisel received three Purple Hearts from injuries while in Vietnam. The first two were due to shrapnel and the third from a booby trap. He has hunted pheasants and partridge when in high school, but never with a dog, and thought it would be a great experience and a great time.
Keisel is 72 years old and retired and hunts bear and deer in Vermont and Connecticut. He also fishes fresh and salt water in Connecticut and also some in Alaska. Keisel has been many places but has never been to South Dakota and looked forward to the experience. “It will be a new and interesting experience for me and I am getting antsy until I get there,” said Keisel.
“This was so awesome, a once in a lifetime experience, I have not shot a pheasant since high school in 1965, and I have been doing very well, got my limit,” said Keisel. “This is so amazing, I have never seen this part of the country, the roads are so straight and you can see so far, where I am from it is all cities and congested,” he added.
Grants Pass, Ore.
Bruton was drafted into the Army at age 20, in 1968, in Detroit, Mich.
He was sent to Fort Polk, La., for basic training and then to Fort Sam, Houston, Texas, for medic training. Bruton was sent to Vietnam in March of 1969 and was assigned as a platoon medic with the 25th Infantry Division in Cu Chi.
On Dec. 31, 1969, he was on patrol with his platoon and was behind a young soldier who was killed instantly when he stepped on a land mine, and Bruton was peppered with massive amounts of shrapnel. Bruton was evacuated to a field army hospital and remained there until he recovered and was sent back to his unit.
Bruton left Vietnam in April of 1970, and upon discharge he continued his college education under the GI Bill.
“I am truly grateful to the Gettysburg VFW for selecting me for this once in a lifetime experience,” said Bruton. He is now a retired funeral director living in Grants Pass, Ore., and is a member of VFW Post 2302.
Bruton has never been to South Dakota, and has never been pheasant hunting. “I applied for the VFW pheasant hunt as a way to connect with other veterans and their fellowship,” said Bruton.
“The hunt was fantastic, the people were great, this was a once in a lifetime experience, and I am so thankful and appreciate everyone that has helped,” said Bruton.
Lynn Walker, Livingston, Mont.
Walker served with Company G (75th Infantry) Ranger, May, 1970 through Jan., 1971, and was attached to the Americal Division at Chu Lai, Republic of Vietnam (RVN). He enlisted in the Army at age 18, and was 19 while serving in RVN.
Walker served as point man for Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP), team Tennessee, running six man long-range recon teams behind enemy lines and sometimes crossed the border into Laos.
His first Purple Heart was received when he was fragged while on patrol and the second Purple Heart was awarded after he was injured by stepping on a land mine.
Walker had a little advice for other veterans that he wanted to share. “If you had Agent Orange exposure, play close attention to all cancer signs, as I have survived cancer two times,” Walker said.
Walker has hunted pheasants and most other game at one time or another. He was excited to come to South Dakota as it sounded like a good time and a chance to meet some other vets.
He is currently working on retiring from being a certified public accountant with degrees in both accounting and agriculture from Montana State.
Walker has been to South Dakota before, when the Rangers had a reunion in Deadwood a couple years ago.
“It has been a wonderful experience, some comradery with fellow Vietnam vets, experience world class pheasant hunting with absolutely wonderful people,” said Walker.
Darrell Baker, Proctorville, Ohio
Baker was drafted on Oct 29, 1969, at 22 years of age, married with two children.
After basic training in the Army, he went to Ft Polk, La., for mortar training. He also had some infantry training during that time. When he got to Vietnam, Baker was assigned to the 199th Light Infantry Brigade at Long Bingh. He was put into an infantry unit, A-5/12 first platoon. Baker was sent to Vietnam on May 5, 1970, spending some time at Long Binhg before going to Cambodia where his unit was. They stayed there another month before going back to Vietnam.
On Aug. 10, 1970, his unit was securing a firebase Guinn, south of Saigon. They had sappers trying to infiltrate their base with no luck and later that evening they were hit from two sides. Baker took his position to engage the enemy on his side of the perimeter. He was eventually hit by shrapnel from a rocket propelled grenade that landed near his sleeping position nearby.
“After laying there for a few minutes checking out how badly I was wounded, decided that I was well enough to keep engaging the enemy. After things calmed down, a medic came to my aid and bandaged a few of my bleeding areas,” Baker said. “I didn’t realize how badly I was wounded till I was put on chopper first,” he added. A couple weeks later, he was sent to Japan 249 General Hospital for a couple of months to recover.
He was then sent to Fort Benning, Ga. in November where he worked in a weapons pool till he ended his time of service on Sept 7, 1970. While in Fort Benning, he received a letter of commendation for his actions at Firebase Guing, earning a Bronze star with “V” device for valor.
Baker last hunted pheasant in 1974 in Illinois, and he has never seen another one in the area since that time. “I enjoyed hunting them and was looking in the VFW magazine and seen the article about pheasant hunting and got excited, sent my request and here we are,” said Baker.
He is retired from strip coal mining, where he operated heavy machinery, operating vertical drills, 200-ton trucks, dozers, large shovels and draglines, along with welding.
Baker got his orders in the mail regarding the Purple Heart, and he went to supply and picked it up. The Bronze Star and “V” device he was awarded was sent to him in the mail.
“Getting this privilege of coming here with the VFW Post 8530, footing the bill, wining and dining me, made me fill a lot better about my situation, I have carried this feeling since 1971,” said Baker. “This experience has made me feel so privileged that I served and I would serve again, I feel accepted with this program that they are doing and I hope they can keep doing it, to acknowledge Veterans.”
Hosts sites for this year’s hunt was the Robbennolt Farms, Browns Hunting Ranch, Nauman’s Hunting, Larson Farms, Potts and Sheldon farms. VFW Post 8530 has 58 members, and those living in the area helped with the annual hunt.
The Gettysburg VFW Post 8530 plans to continue the tradition and will be accepting applications for the 2020 Decorated Purple Heart Veterans hunt following the announcement in the May or June/July edition of the VFW magazine.
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