More than 20,000 South Dakotans served in Vietnam War Original

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Marlin Joseph Callies was 20 years old when he died on July 7, 1968, in the Vietnam War.

Callies, of Howard, was the first Vietnam casualty in Miner County, according to the Miner County Historical Society. Callies was a Lance Corporal in the Marines.

He was born on July 23, 1949. Studies have concluded the average of a soldier who served in Vietnam was 19.

Callies was one of at least 192 South Dakota soldiers died during the Vietnam War. He was one of three from Howard who died or are listed as POW/MIA, according to federal defense records.

Army Lt. Col. Roger Wendell Kvernes died on Jan. 1, 1970. Miner County Historical Society records said Kvernes was married when he died. Kvernes was born on Feb. 22, 1930.

The South Dakota Department of Veterans Affairs (SDDA) lists 209 casualties from the Vietnam War era. Audry Ricketts, the SDDA’s public information officer, said the state includes veterans who were been enlisted just before the war started which means its casualty count is higher than the Department of Defense listing.

The SDDA’s total number of South Dakotans who served in the Vietnam war will also differ from the federal number because it includes Vietnam era. “We use 28,000,” Ricketts said.

The federal number is 21,595.

“We still have seven (MIAs). That’s a hard pill to swallow,” Ricketts said.

Tommy Leon Callies of Howard is one of the seven listed as POW/MIA by the state and DOD. Tommy Callies was Captain in the Air Force. He is listed as killed in action on Aug. 1, 1969, in South Vietnam. His body was not returned, according to SDDA.

Tommy Callies. Photo from the DOD’s POW/MIA accounting agency.

KELOLAND News reached out to several individuals in Howard, but could not confirm if Marlin or Tommy were brothers or if any relatives still lived in the Howard area.

Ricketts said the search to recover remains and learn more about those POW/MIA soldiers continues.

Of the 28,000 Vietnam War era veterans the SDDA has listed, 21,876 still live in South Dakota, Ricketts said.

Just as veterans from WWII or Korea returned home to South Dakota, so did many of the Vietnam veterans, Ricketts said.

“They came back to the farm, and did their jobs. That was pretty typical,” Ricketts said.

But the return back to the U.S. was not always pleasant, said Barb McKean, the commander of the South Dakota Veterans of Foreign Wars. McKean, an Air Force veteran with more than 20 years of active duty, was born in 1970.

“My first thought was how poorly they (Vietnam veterans) were treated when they got back,” McKean said. “That and just what they endured while there (in war).”

Media reports from the late 1960s and early 1970s shared stories of how Vietnam veterans were spit on at airports and other areas. Some were called killers and were shunned or almost shunned by communities, according to news reports and recollections shared in multiple books, historical sites and similar.

The South Dakota Historical Society recorded oral histories from several Vietnam veterans who described individuals being hostile to them on the East and West Coast and a kind of indifference when they got back home as people didn’t really ask questions. Others described a more welcoming feeling once they got to their home towns.

“(Unfair, harsh treatment) created a lot of hard feelings,” McKean said. “Some are still there to this day.”

South Dakota’s Vietnam War Memorial was established in 2006. It “is a tribute to the veterans who returned home from the war to fight a sometimes more painful battle on the home front,” the SDDA said on page on its website.

It’s important that South Dakota’s Vietnam veterans reach out to help that is available, McKean and Ricketts said.

“One thing that would be nice to stress is that the rules have changed for Vietnam veterans,” Ricketts said. Federal benefits now recognize Agent Orange, Ricketts said.

Agent Orange is a herbicide mainly used during the Vietnam War. It was used to clear vegetation.

Ricketts said soldiers may have been exposed through vegetation use or at burn sites.

Agent Orange has been linked to various forms of cancer and other presumptive illnesses, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

The state’s Vietnam War Memorial is on Capitol Lake in Pierre.

The dedication of the Vietnam War Memorial at the Capitol in Pierre. Photo from Ellsworth Air Force Base.

Howard does not have a Vietnam memorial but it has a Veterans memorial in a city park at the intersection of South Dakota Highway 34 and Main Street, according to the SDDA.

Events such as last month’s Honors Flight for Vietnam War veterans who saw the Vietnam Memorial and other sites in Washington, D.C. are valued by veterans, McKean said.

“They are tickled pink. They are honored,” McKean said. They talk about as one of the best experiences of their lives, she said.

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