Jonathan Polecheck


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Photo 1: Roasting hot dogs obtained from the helicopter pilot--a treat!
Photo 2: Laundry day
Photo 3: Mail delivery
Photo 4: Shakey, Borges, and Polecheck

Mr. Polecheck served in the Vietnam War.

He served in the U.S. Army. He was inducted on February 4, 1969 and was discharged on December 15, 1970.

His rank was E-5. He was a gunnery sergeant for a 4.2 Mortar Squad for the American 11th Brigade. He was assigned to San Juan Hill, a firebase located 13 miles west of Duc Pho in the mountains.

Source: “Veterans’ Memorial Hall Veteran History Form” and “Vietnam Survey Questionnaire”

Some of Mr. Polecheck’s favorite memories of growing up in the 1950s were hunting rabbits with beagles in White Pine, Michigan (the Upper Peninsula, or U.P.) in the real snow country, and camping and fishing in the Porcupine Mountains in the U.P.

One of his favorite places to spend time with friends was at gravel pit parties on weekend nights after work with campfire, guitar, and drums.

His favorite musician was Roy Orbison.

He was drafted:
“I was attending Michigan Technological Institute to get my B.S. Forest Management degree. I was accepted at Northern Michigan University and MTU to work on my Masters in Forest Entomology—but the draft board said, ‘No way.’ The ‘board’ said I would be drafted in 30 days. I accepted a job as a forest manager for the State of Minnesota, worked 9 months and was then drafted.”

How he said good-bye before he was deployed:
“I met my wife in Minnesota in October 1968 and became engaged in November. I was inducted into the Army on February 4, 1969. We were married July 6, 1969, when I got home from basic, AIT, and Leadership Prep Corps. On July 7, 1969—the next morning—we headed for Fort Benning, Georgia, for NCO School. Jan was allowed to see me 1 hour on Wednesday night in the orderly room with 10 other couples. We had to be cleaning our M16.”

Thoughts and feelings he experienced as he boarded the plane to Vietnam:
“Numb, scared.”

His first impression of Vietnam:
“Battalion Headquarters at Chu Lai — booby trap training the first 3 days—rocket attacks—Burning ‘sh—‘ on the beach in ½ barrels.”

Description of living quarters:
“My entire ‘tour’ I was stationed on San Juan Hill (SJH), 13 miles west of Duc Pho in the mountains. I was a gunnery sergeant for a 4.2 mortar squad for the American 11th Brigade. Our bunkers were made from 4.2 mortar boxes, sand bags, and SSP (solid steel plates).”

Description of average day in Vietnam:
“We had four 4.2 mortar squads. We worked 24 hours: 12, 12, and then one day off to sleep or build on our ammo box hooches [dwellings]. We were in a ‘free fire zone,’ nothing was to remain alive.”

What he did when he was off duty:
“Built on my hooch, made a cement gun ring so our 4.2 mortar didn’t slide in the mud during fire missions. Dug drainage ditches to channel runoff water.”

How he kept in touch with family and friends:
“Letters as often as I could.”

What he missed when he was away:
“My wife—we were married and only had 3 days together (our trip to Fort Benning) following our wedding.
“Various types of cheese to put on our c-rations and LRP rations. Those were the only meals we had.”

What he did for R&R when he was deployed:
“After 7 months, Jan and I met in Hawaii for one week. I guess we could consider that our honeymoon. We were so broke, it took all our finances to get Jan there. But we did enjoy the short stay. I slept the first two days.”

What he experienced when he returned home:
“I made it from Da Nang to Guam to Fort Lewis, Washington, to Minneapolis Airport. The last leg to ‘home,’ I was bumped on the jaunt from Minneapolis to International Falls. Thank God, some wonderful guy gave me his seat.

“When I got to International Falls I was met by my wife Jan and her mother. We drove back to Big Falls where they lived.

“[December 17, 1970) A couple of days later we traveled to Duluth to see my new duty station. I was assigned to be forest officer at the Cloquet Valley Ranger Station (28 miles away from Duluth). ‘Buzz’ J. C. Ryan had retired in October, and I was to replace him. We moved to the outpost ranger station on January 1, 1971, where we had no mail service, no school district, nearest neighbor was 13 miles away. Every Friday night we came to Duluth to pick up the mail, do laundry, and see a movie. Oh, we had 32-volt electricity for about 2 hours each night. Had to charge up 16 large batteries each day to operate our 2-way radio.

“I was later given the Duluth Ranger District also and then moved to Duluth.

“I retired as a DNR forester after 34 years of service, and we still live in Duluth.”

One of the first things he did when he returned home:
“Eat some real food. The only real food I had in Nam was one 3-day standdown, and it ended up being on Thanksgiving. I remember the delicious turkey we had in Duc Pho.”

How experience in Vietnam War impacted who he is and what he does now:
“Disregard of politicians and the politics of the military.”

Has he returned to Vietnam:
“I do want to return to actually visit villages, the people, and taste some of their food and observe their culture. I did not experience any of that on SJH.

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