SOUTH SIOUX CITY | Wayne Luber got his draft card in the summer of 1968.
At the time, he wasn't paying much attention to developments in Vietnam. Instead, the Butte, Nebraska, resident was busy attending college in Chadron, Nebraska, while the war played itself out on the other side of the planet.
“You would see it on TV, but it just didn’t seem real,” Luber said.
But he would soon see the effects of the conflict firsthand, as he was drafted in February 1969. At age 21, he was the oldest among a group shipped to Fort Ord, in California's Monterey Bay.
The West Coast was a bit of a change in itself for a Nebraskan, he said with a laugh.
“It was actually quite nice there. The weather was wonderful. The infantry was not wonderful,” Luber said.
On July 7 of that year, Luber was shipped overseas to Cu Chi, about 25 miles from Saigon, with Company B, 3rd Platoon, 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry, he recalled with clarity.
He was not excited to be there, he said, and immediately began counting backward from 365 to keep track of the days until he was done with his service.
Patrols in the field occurred both day and night. He and his squad would set up ambushes for the enemy, with the single goal of staying alive and making it back home.
“I made some really good friends there. I remember when Bob Hope came with the USO show for one Christmas,” Luber said.
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Moments of respite like that were few and far between, he said. For six months, Luber and his fellow soldiers were in the field, sleeping in bushes, always soaked with water and mud, coated in a cloud of mosquitoes. Malaria pills were eaten with their rations.
The nights of gripping his rifle while trying to sleep would bring nightmares when he got home, he said.
“For a few years the nightmares would happen. Every great once in a while I’ll think of it some, but the combat only got more heated after I got back,” Luber said.
Two weeks after he returned home, he married Carol Skow of Mapleton, Iowa.
The names and addresses of those he served with were lost en route from Vietnam to Omaha, and for years he couldn’t get in contact with them.
Then the VFW stepped in. The surviving members of Luber’s squad reunited in 1989 for the first time since the war.
“It’s very important, to keep the friendships you make strong and lean on shoulders,” Luber said.
Luber is happily retired after working for Tyson Foods for 45 years, supplying shipping products. He keeps busy with his grandchildren, taking them fishing and to football games whenever he can.
These days, when he thinks of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam, Luber questions whether the nation has gleaned any enduring lessons from it.
“I don’t think we learned what we did, what we put our guys through,” he said. “We couldn’t force the Vietnamese people to change, and a lot of guys died because of it.”