Four Kewaunee County brothers, Vietnam vets take Honor Flight together
Four of seven Bellin brothers from Kewaunee County who served in the U.S. military in Vietnam were among the passengers aboard a July 27 Yellow Ribbon Honor Flight from the Experimental Aircraft Association AirVenture at Wittman Field in Oshkosh to Washington, D.C., and back.
And the Bellin brothers who were not in the military during Vietnam were on hand at the convention to welcome Gary, Bernie, Bob and Ron Bellin back from the flight at a ceremony honoring their siblings.
“Our mission is to offer our local World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War veterans a memorable, safe and rewarding tour of honor to our nation's capital," Northeast Wisconsin's Old Glory Honor Flight, the flight sponsor, wrote on its website. "This trip happens all in one day and is completely free of charge to the vet! It's our small way to say 'thank you' for their service and sacrifices to this great country.”
The trip itinerary included stops at the memorials erected in the nation's capital honoring those who served in the conflicts from 1941 to 1975.
RELATED: Old Glory Honor Flight photo gallery
The Bellin brothers grew up on a farm off Washington Road in the town of Ahnapee, south of the Door County village of Forestville. “We raised cows, chickens, kids,” one of the brothers said.
Two of brothers recalled Bob picking cherries at a now-abandoned orchard near their home, earning 30 cents for each pail they filled.
“About $8 a day and the owner's wife gave us lunch — a half a sandwich and a glass of milk,” Bob Bellin said, as Gary Bellin nodded agreement.
After summers picking fruit, the brothers entered the military, one by one.
The oldest of the four, now 75-year-old Sturgeon Bay resident Gary, was a Navy medic assigned to a U.S. Marine detachment. Gary was an E-4 — what the Navy calls a petty officer third class — during his time in the service, in 1968-69.
Bernie Bellin is 72 and lives in the Milwaukee area. He attained the rank of E-6 — staff sergeant — while working in the U.S. Army Signal Corps providing secure communication among Army units.
Bob Bellin, 71, lives in the Green Bay area. He was in an artillery unit providing cannon fire in support of infantry patrols and made E-4 — specialist — during his time in 1968-69.
The youngest brother, Ron Bellin, is 67 and lives in the village of Luxemburg. He worked in communications with the U.S. Marines from 1970 to '73 and was an E-5 sergeant.
Both Gary and Ron enlisted in the service. Bernie and Bob were both drafted, the way most members of the 1960s Army were recruited. Draftees served a two-year term in service, while the Navy and Marine Corps had three-year enlistments.
"I didn't want to go in the Army," Gary said, "and the Navy took care of the Marines medically."
“I wanted to wear the [Marine] uniform,” Ron said.
In a conversation around Bob's dining room table in mid-July, the four shared their Vietnam experiences.
“This is the first time we've talked about it with each other,” Bernie said. “We've joked among ourselves, but is the first time we've shared our experiences.”
Bob recalled being overrun at an artillery emplacement, a setup of a half-dozen cannons that fired large, high explosive and anti-personnel shells at places where the enemy was suspected of hiding. Such an emplacement was generally surrounded by sandbag walls several feet high and would be a target for enemy forces to attack in large numbers.
Bob also talked about catching duty in human waste disposal using a can of diesel fuel, a match, and a 6-foot-long 2-by-4.
“Christmas Day 1968, I burned that stuff,” Bob said.
Gary spoke the least about his Vietnam experiences. His job was tending to wounded and dying Marines in the field.
Before any soldier, sailor, marine or airman was deployed to a battle zone, he or she underwent weeks of training, usually in two segments: basic and advanced training.
Recalling his Army Basic Training, Bernie said he didn't know what to expect, but he adapted to drill sergeants yelling at the recruits for 18 hours a day.
“I was used to be yelled at home," Bernie said. "So they were OK.”
Ron said boot camp was confusing. “You didn't know anybody. There were eight of us went in from Wisconsin, but after we got our haircuts we didn't recognize each other.”
“It was also eye-opening to see all the different people that the military was pulling together and sending you through all the stuff,” Bernie said.
Before the Honor Flight, Bob said, “Everyone who's been on one of the flights says it's beautiful. It's amazing.”
“I think it's really great that we're going on this flight together,” Ron said.
"I'm just glad we all got back home and can do this,” Gary said.
However, it won't be the greatest flight they've ever experienced, Bob said.
“When I got on that plane to fly home from Vietnam, I said, 'I made it,'” he said.
The other three brothers agreed — the flight home from “The Nam” is the most memorable airplane ride they have ever taken.
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: Four Kewaunee County brothers, Vietnam vets take Honor Flight together