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Iowa veteran: 'When you have served in the military, that American flag has special meaning’

By LINDA COOK | Quad City Times | Published: November 5, 2019

DAVENPORT, Iowa (Tribune News Service) — William Churchill continues to serve his country and the other veterans with whom he feels a special kinship.

He is a member of three veterans organizations.

“I’m a very patriotic person,” he said. “When you have served in the military, that American flag has special meaning."

After he was drafted, he went into the Army in 1967, and after basic training and generator operator training, he was sent to Fort Riley, Kansas, eventually becoming a clerk at the base. He was sent to Vietnam in March 1968, where he was reassigned as a generator operator to Cam Ranh Bay.

"I was pretty scared, to be honest with you," he said. “There was a whole load of us, and we sat on the floor of a C-130 airplane. There were no seats on these planes. We all sat on the floor with ropes across, and we all hung onto the ropes.”

He was sent south to Bien Hoa, where he was attached to the 537th Personnel Service Company.

“I was going to run the generator that supplied the electricity and the power to these two big vans — like they were the back of semis,” he said.

Inside them were key-punch machines that processed records.

"The Viet Cong would throw mortars in at us all the time, almost every night." he said.

Eventually, Churchill became a key-punch operator from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.

“We would pull guard duty on the Bien Hoa base,” he said. “There'd be two of us in a bunker, and we’d have to be on guard duty all night long.”

During his off time, he went into Saigon, where he wasn't supposed to visit, and took photos of everyday life and landmark buildings, including the U.S. embassy.

“At this base where I was stationed, we actually had a photo lab where we could take pictures and develop them ourselves in black and white,” said Churchill, who has a portfolio of images including the teeming streets of Saigon and an orphanage in Bien Hoa.

During Christmas of 1968, he saw Bob Hope, Ann-Margret and the Golddiggers song-and-dance troupe at Long Binh.

He is president of the Friends of Veterans Memorial Park, Davenport; Vietnam Veterans of America 776; and Davenport American Legion Post 26, for which he serves on the executive board and in the honor guard. His other community involvement includes the Quad-City Morning Optimist Club.

“I feel a tremendous allegiance and respect," he said. "I love this country, and I want to give back every way I can.”

Churchill went on an Honor Flight in 2017, and welcomes home participants on other flights.

“The military — it’s hard to explain the commitment and the dedication you feel,” he said. “Anytime I can give Vietnam veterans something positive, it’s something I want to be a part of."

“I understand protesting the war, but I don’t understand why they took it out on us as soldiers who were just doing what we were asked to do for our country,” Churchill said. “I don’t understand why we were the bad guys.”

On the Honor Flight, “For the first time in 50 years, I felt like my service was appreciated,” he said. “I think our country is finally recognizing not just Vietnam vets, but also the Korean vets.”

©2019 Quad City Times, Davenport, Iowa
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