For this particular fishing trip, the fishing seems to be secondary.
It’s all about the remembering, the talking, the laughing and even the crying. It about brothers in arms.
As one of the vets said Thursday afternoon, “We are our own best therapy.”
For the past week, members of Charlie Company 2/27 Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division, Second Platoon, “The Wolfhounds,” have stayed at Wildwood Resort outside of Cohasset for their third ever fishing trip. About 14 to 26 men, Vietnam vets, have made it to the Northern Minnesota fishing trips which evolved as a companion to the reunions the platoon has held in the past 10 years.
The catalyst behind the platoon’s reunions is John Quintrell of Helena, Mont. Quintrell, “Big John” to his fellow vets, first started searching for the men he served with in Vietnam about 14 years ago due to, as he explained, his own need.
“I felt kind of lost, in a deep depression,” he explained. “I thought about these guys all the time.”
With several of the vets seated, some standing and some coming in and out of one of the resort’s cabins Thursday afternoon, they talked about Vietnam during their time “in country,” 1968-1969.
Most of them were drafted, some enlisted.
The ones who were drafted were the smart ones, one of the men said. They only had a two-year commitment instead of six years.
“We went over as replacements,” said Dave “Smokes” Schimmoeller, explaining that the soldiers rotating into Vietnam were replacing soldiers who had either been killed, injured or sent home.
“You did what you had to do to survive the 12 months (the length of deployment),” another vet stated.
While vets today returning from the Middle East are welcomed and are transitioned from military to civilian life, that wasn’t the case in 1969 for those returning from Vietnam.
“In 1969, we did not admit we served,” said Dick Glover, the platoon’s sergeant. “Anyone coming back got spit on.”
One of the men told how he was in Vietnam, then 24 hours later he was discharged and let loose on the streets of Oakland, Calif. Some of them talked of being sent to sit in the back of the commercial airplane for the trip back to the United States, then made to change out of their military uniforms before leaving the airplane.
One vet, who had been injured in Vietnam and sent to a hospital to recover said the injured soldiers had it good because they were able to spend time in the military hospitals before being released into civilian life.
The guys coming back now (from the Middle East), they have more support, one vet said.
“We wanted to be unseen.”
Coming back to civilian life, as they explained it, Vietnam memories were tucked into a dark room. The veterans didn’t talk about their experiences.
“It eats you up,” said Quintrell.
It was that feeling of being eaten up that drove Quintrell to start looking for his fellow soldiers about 14 years ago. He was able to track down two men – one the godfather to Quintrell’s son – and his fellow vets both thought it was a great idea to find other Wolfhounds.
Quintrell’s wife set up a website and the search began. It was difficult, as many times there was only a nickname or a last name to go by.
A lot of times you didn’t know where they were from or what their first names were, Quintrell said.
You didn’t want to get too close, explained another.
It was 2004 when the Wolfhounds held their first reunion in Washington, D.C. It was 17 guys and some wives, said Quintrell.
“An amazing thing happened,” he said, explaining how men who hadn’t seen each other or spoken to each other in 34 years opened up to each other about their experiences “in country” and back home.
It was therapeutic for them, and it’s been a learning experience for family members who did not know any details about their veterans’ combat experiences.
After one of the first reunions – the platoon now holds reunions every other year – it was a Minnesota vet who suggested and helped arrange the first fishing trip six years ago.
Bob “Moose” Moellenhauer of Owattona said he picked the Grand Rapids area because he knows the area. Years ago, his parents had retired to the Hill City area.
His son, Matt – the Wolfhounds nicknamed him “Mini Moose” – helped with the first trip. After that first trip, Matt Moellenhauer said he knew he wanted to get his employer, Cabela’s, involved. Cabela’s has been on board with the trips ever since.
Some of Matt Moellenhauer’s co-workers came to the resort this week, on their own time, to help with the trip. He said that Clay Peterson and Aaron May have really been a big help with the trip. They all take care of all the veterans’ needs, including cooking meals.
When the men, from California to New Jersey and everywhere in between, arrived Monday in Minnesota, they started at the Cabela’s store in Owattona. Cabela’s held a welcome home for the veterans. A “huge American flag” was hanging in the store and store employees lined up to applaud the men as they entered the store. The welcome home included a meal. And the veterans couldn’t say enough about how grateful they were to Cabela’s for all the retailer has done for their group.
Like most the guys, he had no desire to hunt when he returned from Vietnam, Glover said. But with one arm, he couldn’t fish.
“It’s one of those things you get over, put behind you,” Glover said. “The fun is just being with the guys.”
Glover explained that Matt, who is a retail sales manager for Cabela’s, had noticed he wasn’t fishing on the first trip. For the second trip, Matt had set up a special rod holder for Glover so he could fish.
“They wait on us hand and foot,” he said.
The wives who came to Minnesota with their veteran husbands didn’t hang around to fish. They have spent the week in Duluth.
As the men talked, and laughed a lot, Quintrell explained that the fishing trip is part of “that healing thing.”
“These guys start opening up and connecting,” he said.
The group is continuing their search for fellow members. Quintrell said that their mission now is “supporting our guys.” Many are starting to see the effects of Agent Orange, a defoliant used during the Vietnam War. The Wolfhounds “were literally sleeping in it.”
At that moment, Bob Moellenhauer brought out a t-shirt from a previous reunion. On the back, were the words, “Arrived as strangers, left as brothers.”
“These guys are family,” said Joe Waskom.
And many plan on returning to the area for the next fall fishing trip in 2015.