SERGEANT BLUFF | Jim Ashmore doesn't mince words when asked why he joined the Iowa Air National Guard 185th Tactical Fighter Group.
"I joined to avoid the draft and avoid going to Vietnam," Ashmore said.
He laughed before adding, "It didn't work."
Ashmore, a 1964 East High School graduate, attended Nettleton Business Training College in Sioux City and completed a two-year accounting program. He signed on at Williams & Co., a CPA firm, and joined the 185th in May 1966.
"In January 1968, we were activated," he said, noting how the USS Pueblo had just been taken by North Korea.
Ashmore shipped out in May 1968, headed for Phu Cat, Vietnam, in the central part of the country. He flew on a cargo plane overseas.
"I was not familiar with Phu Cat," he recalls. "It was like we weren't supposed to know. I stepped off the plane and it was a different world."
Ashmore, 21, was assigned to outside receiving. Anything that came to the base and weighed more than 50 pounds passed through Ashmore's work station. Everything but munitions entered the base at Phu Cat through his place in the supply chain.
"Within our first week, the base came under mortar attack," he said. "We were sleeping, I remember. I also know we were in the bunkers before the sirens went off. I could hear the debris from one of the mortar hits."
Ashmore took extra weapons training a short time later. He soon was called to join a police squadron that helped surround the perimeter of the base, offering an extra level of protection.
He served in his supply role for 12 months, save for a five-day period of "rest and relaxation" in nearby Sydney, Australia.
At Christmas, Ashmore saw entertainers Bob Hope and Ann-Margret, who dropped by for a holiday show.
Ashmore wrote letters home at least once a week, including those to Jan Fletcher, who would one day become his wife.
"I was with guys from Sioux City, friends of mine, and that alleviated homesickness," he said.
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"I had a job to do and I did my job during the day and then went to the NCO club at night," he said. "For being in Vietnam, it wasn't that bad compared to a guy going through the jungle."
A low point in his tour came when a letter arrived from Sioux City. It told of one of Ashmore's buddies, a soldier who did go through the jungle in Vietnam, a soldier who ended up losing part of one of his legs. The tale still saddens Ashmore, causing tears to well in his eyes as he stopped talking.
Ashmore befriended a man who was hired to offer interpretation services on the base at Phu Cat. Ashmore and a fellow soldier traveled to the man's village in Vietnam to deliver lumber that U.S. soldiers were going to discard.
"When we saw their village, we could appreciate what this lumber meant to them," he said. "Their living conditions were so primitive."
If Ashmore took home a lifelong lesson when he left Vietnam on May 14, 1969, it would involve that notion of appreciation.
"What I did gave me an appreciation for veterans in general and for what my uncles went through (in previous wars)," he said from his home in Sergeant Bluff. "It also gave me an appreciation for what I have. I think people in the U.S., at least some people, don't realize how good we have it."
Ashmore received the Commendation Medal for outstanding performance in the line of duty, a medal he thinks has something to do with the extra training he took and the work he did to help guard the perimeter of the base.
Interestingly, Ashmore never owned a firearm, either before or after his military service.
He arrived back in Sioux City in mid-May 1968. His parents greeted him at the airport, as did his grandmother, a brother and his brother's family.
Jan Fletcher stood with a friend in Morningside as the plane circled over Sioux City and descended toward the airport. She and Jim would go out on a date the next night.
Jim Ashmore returned to work at Williams & Co. two weeks later. After he and Jan watched Neil Armstrong step foot on the moon on July 20, 1969, Jim Ashmore took his own "giant leap." He asked Jan to marry him.
The parents of two and the grandparents of five, the Ashmores recently celebrated their 45th anniversary.