Pausing to look up at the POW/MIA plaque on his office wall in honor of a friend who died in the Vietnam War, Norman Dalsted said, “The ultimate game is hunting another human being — until you win. And then you have to live with it.”
Sharing his story on the eve of Veterans Day, almost 40 years after fighting communism in one of the fiercest Vietnam War battle zones in South Vietnam, the agricultural economics professor said the “incidents and the experiences never go away.”
Today Dalsted, joined by more than half of all Vietnam War veterans — about 1.7 million people- — said he continues to face his memories of war everyday in his battle against Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
In order to cope with his anger issues and the tragic deaths of friends who died in the war, Dalsted gives an annual lecture and slide-show presentation before Veterans Day detailing his experience in remembrance of the soldiers who gave their lives to defend America.
“We wouldn’t have the lives we have today if it were not for vets,” Dalsten said, adding that he hopes his presentation will help students to understand their peers who have served in combat.
Dalsted said he is not sure if American troops in Iraq are going to solve “anything” as the death tolls continue to climb.
“We’ve lost a lot of young men and women there,” Dalsted said. “That’s a lot of your peers who don’t get to live a complete life afterward; it’s so sad.”
Immediately after graduating from North Dakota State University in the spring of 1968, Dalsted was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant by the Army division of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps to fight in the Vietnam War at age 22.
Dalsted said the inevitability of the war draft influenced his decision to enter into the military as an educated officer.
Out of Dalsted’s 19 fraternity brothers, two escaped the call to war because they had families; those remaining either volunteered or were drafted within 60 days of graduation.
Because his father was a highly decorated World War II veteran, Dalsted felt it was his “duty to serve his country,” and while he concluded years later that America was fighting in the wrong country, he felt “it was the right thing to do.”
“I was idealistic and we had heroes like JFK,” Dalsted said. “I thought I was doing the right thing freeing the country from oppression.”
After military training at Fort Carson and at Fort Knox, Ky., Dalsted landed in Vietnam in late October 1969 as the third oldest man in his platoon.
Dalsted’s platoon was one of three comprised of about 70 men and more than a dozen tanks that made up a single company. They were responsible for sweeping the Vietnamese areas of the Quang Tri Province, Con Thien and west to Khe Sanh in the demilitarized zone of South Vietnam.
Charged with the extraction of American troops caught under fire, Dalsted said it took him a while to realize that his platoon acted as the “bait” in those situations.
Late in the summer of 1970, many from Dalsted’s platoon were awarded the Purple Heart, which is given to soldiers who are wounded or killed in war, after they sustained a hit from rocket-propelled grenades. Dalsted said these shoulder-launched, unguided rockets can cut through a Hummer “like a hot knife through butter” and are among the greatest fears of soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Dalsted, who was hit with shrapnel in the side of his face, said he was extremely fortunate that his injuries were minimal compared to the majority of soldiers throughout the war.
“I was lucky; so don’t tell me there aren’t angels in this world,” Dalsted said. “There is a reason I’m still alive.”
Dalsten said Fort Collins war veterans and their families plan to gather at a war memorial site at Edora Park at 11 a.m. on Veterans Day to celebrate all soldiers’ lives and their service to America.
“You don’t have to like the war,” Dalsten said. “But honor those who have served in it.”
Senior Reporter Madeline Novey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org