ARLINGTON, Iowa --- Ron Soppe wanted to forget the Vietnam War when he returned to U.S. soil. Remembering events 42 years later generated both tears and smiles.
In 1968, Soppe was an infantry medic bandaging wounded near Saigon. For a year, he kept a diary and took photos with a 126 Kodak Instamatic, sending the film to his mother in Iowa.
At a reunion 20 years later with his Army buddies, fellow veterans discovered the keepsakes in Soppe's box of memorabilia. One, Ron Henry of Nashville, Tenn., suggested Soppe get the material in print.
But Soppe was occupied with life and shelved the idea.
Henry didn't forget, though, and about a year ago offered to publish the book.
"When I first met him at the reunion I didn't know who he was, but he said I saved his life," Soppe said.
Henry, 73, produced "Diary," which features the Vietnam combat medic's daily entries.
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Tuesday, Aug. 20, 1968: Today was one of the saddest days of my life.
First off we went on a sweep through the rubber plantation and found 8 N.V.A. [North Vietnamese Army] after we finished our sweep we rested and the 4/23 was in trouble again. They called in air strike and artillery.
After that we went on and tried to sweep. We had tracks on line and one men sweep. Our I-6 was killed (Lt. Connell.) After that they finally realized it was time to get out. I fell apart after that and cried.
It's not a war it's suicide. The Lord is with us.
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Soppe, 63, was attached to the 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry. He received a Distinguished Service Cross and three Purple Hearts. He said he was lucky to graduate West Union High School in 1966 because he wasn't much of a student.
He was drafted in 1967, completed basic training at Fort Lewis in Washington and had 10 weeks of training as a medic in San Antonio, Texas.
In Vietnam, Soppe witnessed death. He remembers the emotion he felt treating soldiers because most believed an injury meant a return trip to the United States.
When Soppe got home in September 1969, he tried to put the experience in his past.
"I was done with Vietnam," he said.
Soppe admitted to spending the next two years drinking heavily and wondering what to do with his life.
He got married and with his wife, Deb, raised a son, Derrick. They later divorced.
Two heart attacks later, Soppe has a pacemaker. He also has had surgery for cancer and sees a counselor for post-traumatic stress disorder.
He finds solace in plants and flowers and is nurturing 5,000 potted calla lilies for a friend's wedding this summer.
He recently moved to an acreage near Arlington where he hopes to have a greenhouse.
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Wednesday, Aug. 21, 1968: Today I drove and I'll tell ya it's not the best. Our guys were on a sweep first about all day. 4/23 were surrounded by N.V.A. and were hit bad. I believe that they lost 4 guys and 5 wounded. Our guys went to help.
On the afternoon, we had around 700-800 Arvn Rangers Eagle flighted in. They were to stay with us a couple of days. This was one of our biggest missions yet. We don't know how many body count.
God Bless Us All.
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Soppe signed the first 100 copies of his book and donated one to the West Union Public Library. Cost is $44.95. To order, go to www.knives-ceramic.com/soppe.