Hunter Peckham studies photos and memorabilia from the Vietnam War while Jim Drake speaks to the class. Photo by Jacque Estes

Veterans who served in Vietnam shared their stories

Getting a history lesson from the people who were there was a powerful experience for some Seabreeze students.
By: 
Apr. 3, 2017

Bob Adkins asked the students in Leah Putting’s Seabreeze history class how old they were. The answer: 16 or 17.

“When I was 18 I was leading men in Vietnam,” Adkins said.

The students leaned toward their subject and few eyes left Adkins and the four veterans and one woman at the front of the room for the next half hour. Adkins, Terry Schaak, Jim Drake, Brad Purdom, Ken Kinsler, and Schaak’s wife Diana, visited Leah Putting’s Seabreeze classes on March 30.

Many veterans do not speak of their experiences, but on this day these veterans spoke candidly and the class lessons came from people with first-hand stories to tell.

“My kids never heard anything about Vietnam from me,” Ken Kinsler said. “I held it all in, suppressed it.”

The students were encouraged to ask questions, Adkins told them nothing was off limits.

The students asked about the draft, getting time off, and how they felt when they returned home.

Purdom, who was in the Marine Corps, talked about flying into Travis Air Force Base in California to protestors and finding more “camped out” when he got to San Francisco.

Kinsler, who wrote a book about his experiences, “Think Snow,” was drafted into service when he was one month shy of his 26th birthday, a life-changer for the frank speaking veteran.

“Something that could kill you, saved me,”  Kinsler said, explaining that he was on his way to becoming an alcoholic before he went into the service and had a series of personal problems.

Diana Schaack didn’t serve in the military, she waited at home for her husband Terry. The couple was married on July 1, 1967 and less than a week later Terry was called to duty.

She told about sending packages to her husband, and about one very scary afternoon when a man in uniform knocked on her door. In the service if a soldier is killed in action the next of kin was notified in person at home – by someone in uniform. In Diana’s case the man served with Terry in Vietnam and stopped to see her.

“He wore his uniform thinking I would be more likely to open the door,” Diana Schaack said. “I wrote to Terry and told him to tell anyone else coming by not to wear their uniform.”

There was also the popcorn. Diana emailed “Jiffy Pop” popcorn to her husband who managed to cook it, with some creativity, in the field. Soon the smell of fresh popcorn made its way past every soldier’s nose and there was a line for just one kernel, something Terry Schaak said made him “the most popular guy there.”

CeCe Cvercko was one of many taking notes during the presentation and said she was surprised there weren’t more war stories, but got information she had been curious about. The Seabreeze junior said she had been to the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. and described it as “pretty intense.”

Along with copies of Kinsler’s book, photographs and pages from scrapbooks were handed from student to student. Some just passed the photos on. Others, like Hunter Peckham, spent their time looking at the images of soldiers.

When the bell rang for the next class, many students rushed for the next class, but not all. Some lingered a bit to speak to their guests one-on-one and thank them for their service.