Shane Olson, with Olson Iron Works (far left) and Mike Bierl, Director of Greene County Veterans Affairs (far right) attended a special ceremony on October 24 recognizing the six veterans residing at Ever Greene Ridge. During the ceremony the metal flag, which was crafted by Olson and painted by Bobby Egeland, was presented along with miniature flags from Bierl. Pictured (second from left): Joe Stephens, U.S. Army; Don Yepsen, U.S. Army; Les Fister, U.S. Army; Jack Lint, U.S. Army and Joyce Kurth, U.S. Navy. Hubert Vannatter, U.S. Air Force, was unable to attend the ceremony.
JEFFERSON, Iowa – On October 24, a special reception was held at Greene County Medical Center Foundation’s senior independent living community. There were all but one of the six veteran honorees who live at Ever Greene Ridge on hand for the presentation of a specially designed metal American flag—crafted and donated by Shane Olson with Olson Iron Works and painted by Bobby Egeland. Director of Greene County Veterans Affairs, Mike Bierl, was also in attendance, giving each of the veterans a miniature American flag.
Foundation Director, Nancy Houska, and Greene County Medical Center CEO, Chad Butterfield, read excerpts from the stories shared by these veterans. Each described a different experience.
Joyce Kurth was only 18 years old and a self-professed naïve Iowa girl when she boarded a plane in January of 1974 to attend boot camp for the United States Navy in Orlando, Florida. From there, she was sent to corps school at the Great Lakes Naval Station in Illinois and then stationed as a corpsman at a naval medical center in Newport, Rhode Island. It was heart wrenching for Kurth to see veterans struggling as they returned from the Vietnam War. “Veterans were coming back deformed or missing parts. There were also a lot of mental health problems,” she said. “The shock and horror of what they saw and what they had to do changed who they were. It was devastating to see them come back incredibly helpless.” Kurth is proud of her service and to be counted as a United States Veteran, and a patriot. “I am very patriotic,” she said. “I don’t think flying our flag necessarily designates you as a patriotic person. Military service is about learning. Learning about other people. Learning how to get along. Learning how to work.”
Jack Lint learned he would be drafted in December of 1962, so he went ahead and joined the Army in the volunteer draft on October 1 of that year instead. He is grateful he was stationed in the U.S. after his basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri and then being assigned to the 27th Artillery at Fort Chaffee in Arkansas. However, even though he was stateside, he was still exposed to what it might be like in a battle situation. “Two months before I got out, we were playing war games amongst ourselves in Parker, Arizona,” Lint recalled. “The train just stopped and they let us out and I spent about a month in the desert with nothing.” The other situation involved the test firing of artillery shells. Lint’s duty included driving a battalion commander who had him take him to where second lieutenants were stationed in the field—right near where eight-inch howitzer artillery shells were striking. “You could hear those rounds coming through the air and it would land right in front of you. If one number is off, that could be a bad situation,” Lint said. “I am sure there are second lieutenants that lost their lives out there in front.”
Even though he was drafted in December of 1965, Les Fister is proud of the two years he spent in the United States Army and how he grew through that experience. “When it comes to patriotism, it was a lot different before I went in until I came out. It was a good experience overall,” Fister said. After basic at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, Fister was stationed at Fort Gordon in Georgia as a member of the Military Police. This position later led to a 20 year career as a peace officer in Jefferson, from which Fister retired in 2003 at the rank of captain. During his time in the Army, he was also assigned to driving a colonel. It was in this role that he was put into the path of meeting two quite famous entertainers. “I shuttled Anita Bryant and George Jones,” Fister said. “They were big names back then and they were very nice people; Anita Bryant was a sweetheart. They both put on good performances, but the difference was when she got done on stage, she would mingle, answering questions and singing a few requests. When George Jones’ time was up, he just walked off stage. He was famous for that.”
When seventeen-year-old Hubert Vannatter joined the Air Force in 1956, his main two goals were to get out of Canton, Minnesota and see some of the world. In just over three years, he realized both of those. “This little country boy has been to French Morocco, Casablanca and Spain,” he said. Vannatter’s military career began at Parks Air Force Base in Dublin, California, a place he said was really nothing but desert. He was then stationed in San Antonio, Texas before signing up to go overseas. He didn’t see any conflict, but he did have limited options because he is color blind. “I served in a supply unit, but when you were color blind in the Air Force, you weren’t going to get too far,” he said. “I actually hated it until I got to Spain, then I loved it.” In retrospect, Vannatter says he really did grow up through that military service. “I was 17 years old when I went in, that’s pretty young. I got out of town you know, but when I came out, I was around 20; a lot older, a little bit smarter and a lot more mature.”
The draft was still on at the end of the Korean War when 18-year-old Don Yepsen entered the Army in October 1953. “I wanted to volunteer to go overseas, but the captain said the only way I could do that was to be Airborne,” Yepsen said. “I told him, I don’t want to jump out of planes, no thank you!” Instead he went to Fort Leonard Wood for basic, then the Army’s 6th Armored Division. He went to school for large equipment operation, which led to a six-month stint on the world’s largest island near the top of the world, Greenland. Yepsen said he didn’t see a sunset the entire time. “We were in big trailers with skis on them. We hooked up our D-9 Caterpillars (bulldozer) and pulled supplies up to the Air Force base in the ice caps,” Yepsen said. The trip took days at about a mile per hour in treacherous conditions with markers so the caravan did not fall in crevasses. If there was snow, they sat, sometimes for days, waiting for it to end. He recalled one harrowing incident when he spotted someone waving in his rear view mirror. They had not been able to jump back onto the trailer. “They were way back there. I called the lieutenant. We disconnected and rode back to get him, and saved his life. He would have frozen to death,” Yepsen said.
Joe Stephens and his wife Kayla are originally from Perry and have just recently joined the Ever Greene Ridge family. Stephens served from 1953 to 1956 as a member of the U.S. Army Airborne 87th Infantry at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. During his time he saw the onset of the Vietnam War in 1955, but was not called to serve overseas.
And even though each and every one of these Ever Greene Ridge veterans served in different ways, the vast majority, surprisingly, said the same thing. They are all proud to be called veterans and they are extremely proud of all other veterans for stepping up, serving their country and ensuring our freedoms. They also strongly believe that every American citizen should serve their country through one of our military channels. “It teaches you a real sense of patriotism and it just makes a better person out of you,” Yepsen said. “You take a lot of these kids and the trouble going on in the world nowadays, ship them into the Army for a couple of years, they will not be that way when they come out,” said Vannatter. “Service to their country is something all citizens should do,” Fister said. Lint pointed out that he believes military training would benefit everyone, speculating that he would have likely remained in if he hadn’t been married at the time. And Kurth said, “I am a believer that if everyone in the United States had to do two years of mandatory military service, we would have a completely different country today.”
Everyone at Greene County Medical Center wants to thank these men and women of Ever Greene Ridge and all other veterans and their families for their service and sacrifice, not just on Veterans Day, but every day of the year.