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1969 - 1972


Aircraft Specialist


While some choose a life in the military, others aren’t afforded the option and instead serve through military conscription, more commonly known as the draft. The United States has employed the draft in only six conflicts: the American Revolutionary War, the American Civil War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Paul Sutherland’s father was drafted into WWII while his mother served the war effort as a machinist; he and his brothers were drafted to serve in Vietnam.
Paul entered the United States Army in 1969, the same year he married his high school sweetheart, Peggy. He did basic training in Washington and Alabama followed by advanced training in Virginia before heading over to Vietnam. He completed his service in Fort Benning, Georgia in 1972 as a Specialist 5.
He praises the training he received in order to become an Aircraft Specialist, but nothing could have prepared him and his comrades for what they faced in the war. Paul was a Mohawk Crew Chief and worked with infrared radar, primarily tracking movement up the valley during night flights. The trouble was that in the northern part of the country where he was stationed, they couldn’t get the parts they needed to do their jobs. This made an already difficult work nearly impossible. As he succinctly summarized, “It was terrible.”
Upon his return to civilian life, he settled in Brandon, South Dakota, where he was able to build his own house and enjoy a 45 year career as an electrician. Currently, his full time job is caring for his wife. As they approach their 55th wedding anniversary, he credits her with always taking care of him and is honored to be able to return the favor.
Paul’s frustration and sadness regarding the war is palpable as he recollects so many who died ‘for no reason at all,’ though he is able to look back fondly on the sense of brotherhood they were able to achieve in such awful circumstances. He feels terrible for all who had to experience such extreme loss and see what they saw in the Vietnam War, but he’s proud to have been part of such a ‘great bunch of guys,’ and proud of the work they did. “We had a job and we did it,” he said. “When you’re in the moment you don’t really think about it. We just worked; a lot of that ethic has gone now. You don’t think you just work.”
He hasn’t kept in touch with many of his former unit members. Occasionally he’ll meet up and chat with one from Mitchell, SD but, unfortunately, many didn’t come back and many who did were never the same after experiencing the realities of war.
In the spring of 2024, Paul Sutherland participated in the Midwest Honor Flight, a non-profit organization in Northwest Iowa, South Dakota, Northeast Nebraska and Southwest Minnesota dedicated to providing Veterans with respect, honor and closure with an all-expense-paid trip to our nation’s capital.
Accompanied by Todd Stone, CEO of Stone Group Architects and fellow Veteran, Paul boarded a plane before the crack of dawn one morning and spent the day in Washington D.C. visiting various monuments, including the revered and poignant Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
It is no secret that not everyone supported the war in Vietnam and those who did failed to hide their resentment towards the Veterans for losing. The resultant tragedy of this is that the suffering the service members endured in Vietnam continued when they returned home. Despite the fact that many didn’t choose to fight, Vietnam Veterans dutifully served our country and many never received any appreciation or even acknowledgement for the sacrifices they made. Anxious to return home, they arrived only to find a fractured nation lacking the support systems their newest Veterans required. Clearly, we can’t go back in time and change what happened, but there are many working to make up for the past.
Perhaps the most wonderful part of the Midwest Honor Flight is the welcome home they receive at the end of their very long day. Exhausted, eager to get home and unaware of the trip’s finale, many of the Veterans are initially annoyed by the perceived detour they encounter after they disembark the plane. That annoyance often turns to confusion as their buses enter the Sioux Falls Arena and then to overwhelmed elation as they realize they are finally receiving the long overdue hero’s welcome they deserve.
This time when they get off the bus, instead of returning to a community that seemingly has no place for them, their friends, families and hundreds of community members are there, properly thanking them for their service with raucous cheers and a standing ovation. Many of the Veterans are less spry than they used to be, and it takes a while for the buses to unload, but the applause persists, making sure that each and every Veteran is properly honored.

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