Eye on KELOLAND: Vignettes From Vietnam

Eye on KELOLAND

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — An Augustana University professor will soon begin another fall semester of teaching a class on the Vietnam War.

Adrien Hannus’ military service in Vietnam is its own textbook example of the fight for survival in a warzone. Hannus, the director of Augie’s Archeology Lab, has written his own memoir, chronicling the year he spent in Vietnam as an army intelligence officer.

Given Adrien Hannus’ academic background, it’s no surprise he’s a diligent note-taker. It’s a practice he took with him to Vietnam during his deployment starting in the summer of 1967.

“I didn’t keep a journal, I just now and again, if something stood out in what was happening, I’d write it down,” Hannus said.

Hannus misplaced those writings when he returned home after his hitch ended. But those notes resurfaced about ten years ago, bringing back a flood of frightful memories of Vietnam.

“It didn’t take much looking at those notes to remember these things almost exactly like they were happening, which is fairly amazing,” Hannus said.

Hannus says he was involved in 197 firefights as an intelligence officer during the war. His service earned him a Bronze Star. His duties included the grim task of counting the dead on the battlefield.

“That was something that got me up many times in the middle of the night, dragged out to these outposts that have been overrun, and so on,” Hannus said.

Hannus also recalls his assignment as a so-called “tunnel rat,” crawling through a narrow, pitch-black enemy tunnel, hauling plastic explosives to blow it up.

“I think that really did create a level of claustrophobia that’s never left me. That was one thing that does still haunt me, much of it doesn’t, but that particular thing did,” Hannus said.

Hannus shared many of his war stories with students here at Augustana while he taught a class on the Vietnam War. And that’s when he decided to put those stories into a book.

“It’s hard to get one’s arms around the biggest foreign policy disaster in American history. But here is one man’s view about his experiences and you can get your arms around that and you can identify with him,” Augustana economics professor Reynold Nesiba said.

Hannus says writing the book titled, A V.C. Water Buffalo: Vignettes From Vietnam, has helped heal some of the emotional wounds the war inflicted.

“The intensity of which we were all scared, frightened, absolutely out of our minds to be very truthful. It sets up something which condition then comes back and lives with you for the rest of your life,” Hannus said.

Sometimes the enemy took the form of local wildlife. Hannus says many nights he’d wake up with a large rat crawling on him.

“We had open sewers and there were hundreds and hundreds of rats and really, they were the size of small house cats,” Hannus said.

Then there was the time Hannus was bogged-down in a rice paddy, as a water buffalo charged at his group.

“Whenever it got within about 10 or 15 feet of me, it was pretty darn scary because I wasn’t going anywhere. I couldn’t move, I mean, I really couldn’t move,” Hannus said.

Hannus says he hopes readers will gain a better insight into the futility of a conflict he says the U.S. should never have entered. He says the thousands of American lives lost in Vietnam are a tragic legacy of the folly of war.

“It was insane, it was absolutely like a lunatic asylum, absolutely like a lunatic asylum and it accomplished nothing. Nothing! I mean nothing,” Hannus said.

You can purchase Hannus’ book at Zandbroz Variety in downtown Sioux Falls as well as at the Center for Western Studies on the Augustana campus.

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