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In honor of those we lost
Lt. John T. Krebs, Jr., was killed in action in the Republic of South Vietnam while serving as platoon leader in Company A, 1st Battalion, 46th Infantry, Americal Division. (Photo supplied)

"A Salute to Vietnam Era Veterans"

• When/Where: Sunday at Monroe High School

• Schedule: Exhibits, including photos and memorabilia by Army photographer Peter Finnegan, from noon to 1:30 p.m. Program begins at 1:30 p.m. Speakers will include Finnegan; author Steve Saunders; Monroe veteran Junior Robertson; Kay Krebs, family member of a deceased veteran; and Clayton Ruegsegger of Green County Veterans Services.

• Cost: Free and open to the public.

MONROE - During the Vietnam War, more than 58,000 United States citizens gave their lives to fight in the conflict through service in the Army, Marines, Navy and other branches of the military.

Seven of those people were young men who grew up in Green County and who enlisted in the military to fight in what would become known as one of the worst wars in U.S. history. They will be honored in a ceremony Sunday to remember the soldiers from the war called "A Salute to Vietnam Era Veterans" at Monroe High School.

John Thomas Krebs Jr. was one of the seven. Growing up on a farm in the Township of Jordan, John was one of four children who helped with chores and attended a one-room school house as a child with his siblings. Not quite the youngest, he bonded with his brother and two sisters over games of tag and was well-liked as he grew up. He showed off his agility and strength on the football field and also excelled in the classroom. When he was 17, he decided to join the Army. Seeing potential, the servicemen gave Krebs Jr. a domestic detail to oversee before he turned 19, when he began his tour in March 1970 in the Quang Tin province. Wounded his first month into his tour, he did not leave the men he trained with and stayed in the country to continue fighting. In the infantry as a second lieutenant, he was one of the soldiers on the front line. On June 8, 1970, Krebs Jr. was added to the roster of 22 casualties that day.

His oldest sister, Kay Krebs, said losing her younger brother was the most difficult experience she has had to endure in her lifetime and that the family still looks back at both happy and sad memories.

"In the days afterward, you wake up and find yourself worrying," she said. "Then you realize you don't have to worry anymore; the worst thing has happened. Our hearts were just shattered. I was just always so proud of him and loved him so much, that my feeling was "He chose this. If he can do that, I can get through this.'"

Krebs said Peace Church in Browntown was filled past its capacity the day they held the funeral for her brother. Special moments she recalls were when local resident and WWII veteran George Wells arranged two jets to fly over the procession to the cemetery and later, when taps played. Krebs said the absence of her brother is still felt among her siblings.

"It's been the three Krebs kids for way too long now," she said. "We miss him every day. I didn't know if I was ever going to put myself together again; my heart was broken."

Slated to speak at the event Sunday, Krebs said she still recalls a majority of the moments she was able to spend with him, and every moment of when he went to war and what happened after he didn't come back. She said their mother took the news the worst, a theme she noted was prevalent among those looking back on the moment they received word of their loved one passing away while at war.

Judy Sepsey said that also was the case when her mother received a hand-delivered letter about her younger brother Kris Blumer, who died at war at the age of 19 as well. Her father had passed away 10 years before, and the seven siblings were left with another absence after Blumer was killed in the line of duty June 25, 1969. Among 18 total casualties of that day, the private was taken out by a land mine that his sister said left him severely injured in the abdominal area. Too ill to return home, the young man sent letters home with updates for more than four weeks before the correspondence became less and less decipherable and eventually were written out by Army nurses instead of Blumer himself.

"I don't think any of us could bear to talk about it," Sepsey said. "It's just very difficult. It's still fresh. It was such a helpless feeling."

Like Krebs, Sepsey, who was 29 at the time, said she recalled a large funeral service of more than 300 people that had to be held at Albany High School to accommodate for the number of people wishing to pay their respects. During the ride to the cemetery, through cloudy vision, she took in the sight of dozens of half-staff flags flying in the streets.

"I cried," she said. "I noticed people I hadn't expected and that a great many people, including men, were crying."

An especially nice gesture she recalled was the proprietor of Dehmer's drugstore, Wilbur, who put an ad in the local newspaper honoring Blumer with the quote "God didn't make boys to grow up to be soldiers." She said she had always thought of it as a "nice" thing to do for a young man who was not a relative.

Sepsey creates written works, and made one especially regarding an important story concerning her younger brother, her mother and a nearly empty bottle of whiskey. The night before Blumer went overseas, he celebrated his going-away with a party among friends. A bottle of whiskey was included in the celebration out on the town but was not quite finished off. The day he left, he asked his mother, Virginia, if he could keep the small bit of liquor in the refrigerator until he returned from duty. When that day never came, she continued to honor his wish. Until just a year before Virginia passed away, Sepsey said she had never pondered too much about the bottle in the back of the fridge but when she was told the truth by Virginia, who was in her 80s at the time, it caused a tide of emotions fit to include a poem about the experience.

"Just before she died, she took it out and showed it to me and said, "It's still waiting for him,'" Sepsey said. "I wrote something like, "I wonder who among us will be brave enough to clean the refrigerator when the time comes.'"

In the end, the family decided the best course of action was to include the bottle, along with Blumer's teddy bear, in the casket with Virginia so her mother, father and Kris could all finally enjoy it together.

"The wounds are basically just as deep as they were then," Sepsey said, recalling the moment they heard Kris had died. "I remember my mother waiting all the time and then it came. At first I was really angry; I swore at the president when we got the letter. It's a constant sadness. You might not weep as often, but you still cry."

A young man from Brodhead is also among the seven slated to be honored during the ceremony. David Timm, a chief warrant officer at the age of 25, died in an effort to save others. The young man was a casualty among 33 U.S. servicemen on April 5, 1968. Barely six months into his tour, Timm was successful in his time with the Army. Ranked as a tough pilot, David had allowed his partner to fly the chopper when it lost power and started plummeting to the ground. His uncle, Lyle Timm, said if David hadn't taken control of the machine, a number of the soldiers aboard would have been killed. Instead, just three fatalities, including David, were a result of the crash.

"It was just hard," Lyle said, noting how difficult the time was for Ray and Margaret Timm, who lost their only child. "He gave his life for his country, but that didn't seem to console my brother."

Lyle said David went into the Army voluntarily, not sure yet where his life was going to lead. David, who died at the age of 25, had attended the University of Wisconsin and had joined the ROTC while in school. Ambitions for the young man included a possible path into the ministry. Lyle said his nephew, an only child, was popular and outgoing. Until about high-school age, he had raised animals.

Lyle said he was proud of his nephew for serving his country and is glad to see the ceremony being put in place because of how soldiers were treated after the Vietnam War due to the controversy surrounding it.

"Vietnam veterans and soldiers didn't get anything after the war ended," Lyle said. "I think it's great that they're doing something like this."