By Ron VandenBoom
It seems like ancient history to the young, but to those who served in America's wars, the memories and the sacrifices are often all to recent.
"I think about it every day," said Joe Zygmond, a World War II veteran who was in the battered and surrounded city of Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge.
The German dictator, Adolf Hitler, was gambling everything he had on one last ditch attack through the Ardennes a heavily wooded area in Belgium the Americans were using as a rest area for troops just coming off the line.
"I remember a shell landed about 100 feet away and something hit me in the head and knocked me over," Zygmond said. "But I had so many clothes on it didn't hurt."
Zygmond was with the 482 anti-aircraft self-propelled. He and his unit were cut off in the beleaguered town with no chance of escape and no rescue in sight.
Memories might fade, but Zygmond still remembers the cold, the K rations, and the constant bombing and shelling. Most of all, he remembers the men who died.
"Even today, I see a statue on the lawn and I'm reminded of the frozen corpses," he said.
It was a far cry from his days in Havre working nights and going to school that he had known in 1941 when the war broke out.
"I didn't think I'd have to go. You see, I was too young," Zygmond said.
But two years later in 1943, Zygmond enlisted in the Army and was trained on 50-caliber machine guns.
"I just didn't want the infantry," Zigmond said.
He was shipped to New Jersey where he left for Liverpool, England, on Aug. 24, 1944. From there, he went to Utah Beach in France on Sept. 17, 1944. In addition to the Battle of the Bulge, Zygmond was to participate in the Rhindland Campaign and the Central Europe Campaign.
Even before the horrendous battle for Bastogne, he got his first glimpse of the German's secret V-1 buzz bomb that, according to Zygmond, sounded like a motorboat going across the sky to England.
"They were like sitting ducks, but we weren't allowed to shoot at them," he said.
Zygmond also crossed the Rhine River on the Remagen Bridge where he first saw another of Germany's secret weapons a jet airplane.
After the war in Europe ended in May, 1945, Zygmond worked helping ship displaced civilians back to their homes.
Many had fled the violence of the war or the Russian occupied countries of eastern Europe.
Ask Zygmond what he remembers most about the end of the war and he'll tell you: finally being able to crawl into bed between clean sheets and eating hot food.
"It was like heaven," he said. "We ate K rations for almost a year.
After being discharged in February, 1946, Zygmond returned to Havre and went back to work for the Great Northern Railroad.
Retired now, Zygmond says he does feel a bit like a hero for what he did, but that was not a consideration at the time.
"I didn't know what we were getting into, but it's something that you're never going to forget," he said.
The year was 1952 and the war in Korea was raging.
The communist Chinese had invaded from the north and almost succeeded in pushing American forces off the Korean peninsula.
Otto Stuber was a young man living in North Dakota who wanted to learn sheet metal work, welding, and pipe fitting. But he also felt he had an obligation to serve his country. And besides, maybe he would be able to learn his craft in the Navy.
"It was just something that you went ahead and did," he said, of his reasons for joining the Navy. "I thought I might be able to get some education."
Stuber had four brothers whot had fought in World War II and one had been killed on the Philippine island of Luzon. Korea was the first major conflict with America's newest enemy communism.
"That was the mood of the country back then," he said. "It was just something that needed to be done."
Stuber enlisted in March, 1952, and was sent to Great Lakes, Ill. for basic training before being assigned to a ship where he was trained as a gunnery mate.
Assigned to the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Point Cruz, Stuber was sent to waters just off the coast of Korea.
Several of the men on the ship had survived kamikaze raids during WW II, he said, adding that their feeling was that we were doing our job."
The military situation was good when Stuber arrived in Korea and morale was high. There was less than a year left before the peace treaty would be signed.
WW II vintage Corsair aircraft from Stuber's ship would fly low level missions over Korea.
"Some of them would come back pretty shot up," he said.
Some would not come back at all.
On at least two occasions, Stuber helped rescue downed pilots who were stranded at sea, but his main job was operating a 40-mm cannon.
"I don't think of myself as a hero," he said. "I just did what was expected of me."
Stuber was discharged in March, 1956, and moved to Havre, where he finally got to learn the pipe fitting trade. He later started his own plumbing business in Havre.
The year was 1968 and the Vietnam War was at its height and a helicopter base at Don T-tam was experiencing one of many rocket attacks
A tall lanky kid from Montana scrambled from safety to help a fellow serviceman to safety.
Hot shrapnel from a rocket that hit too close pierced the side of the rescuer.
The young man's family and the government will call him hero for saving another's life, but to the slim Montana farm boy a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star don't make him feel like a hero.
"I didn't do anything any other Montanan wouldn't have done," said Havre resident Jim Matter.
Matter was one of two brothers who were left with the family farm after the death of their father. No lottery had yet been devised that would give young men an idea when, or even if, they were going to be drafted when they were classified 1-A.
"I thought I had a farm deferment," said Matter, remembering that early time.
It came as a surprise when he learned that as the younger of the two brothers, only the older brother had a deferment.
"I thought if I enlisted before being drafted, I would have a little more say in what field I got into," he said.
Matter said he felt pretty typical of young men at that time.
"At the time, I felt if the country needed us we should go," Matter said.
Matter, who spent eight months at Don T-tam and four months at a fire support base in the delta area of Vietnam, had been trained as an airplane mechanic. At Don T-tam they didn't have any planes, but Matter found his skills useful on helicopters.
Matter came to question America's involvement in Vietnam while he was there.
"When we originally got in, we probably had the right idea," he said.
But like many veterans of that time, a lack of commitment at home and indecision on the battlefield led Matter to question how right we were.
"We shouldn't have fought it like we did," he said.
Because of America's failure in Vietnam, Matter believes the military and the public have learned a valuable lesson.
Today, Matter is the manager of Pennington's in Havre.