Steve Hanson is a true American patriot. The Vietnam War veteran, who works at Chapter 2 in Lake Mills, enjoys a quiet life today living in Minnesota Junction, in the Town of Oak Grove, Dodge County.
Hanson grew up as a farm kid in Viroqua, graduating high school in 1968.
“A friend wanted me to join the Army with him, but I thought I’ll put it off for a little while,” he said. His friend became a combat medic in Vietnam.
That winter the draft lottery started and they drew his number.
By August 1969 he was in the Army and sent to Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, where he did his basic training.
“From there I went to Fort Devens, Massachusetts. I went in for electronics, but that was a little over my head. I ended up going back down to Leonard Wood for carpentry. I had some skills there and did all my time out at Fort Devens.”
They bounced him around from station to station training and ended up back at Leonard Wood for a temporary duty station for more training.
“My unit, almost the entire unit shipped out to Nam and for some reason they kept me back,” he said with tears in his eyes. At the time Hanson says he was upset his buddies were shipped out and he stayed behind in 1970.
“Several guys I was real close to, they didn’t come back,” he said. “Sometimes you wonder,” he trailed off in emotion.
His unit was an engineering unit.
“A lot of those guys didn’t really do their job. They ended up pounding the bush. That’s when I found out some of those guys were killed, because we weren’t fighting uniformed soldiers anymore. If they didn’t have a job for these guys, they picked up a rifle.”
Hanson stayed at Devens doing the jobs he was assigned.
“I had a sergeant that actually came to me and said, ‘Hanson I’m not picking on you,’ because he’d have these really dirty jobs and he knew I was a farm kid, so I’d do them.”
He came back into formation once covered from head to toe in mud.
He finished his service at Fort Devens and said on the East Coast soldiers weren’t popular at the time.
“I flew into Logan International in Boston and a beautiful brunette walked right up to me, I was in my dress greens, and spit in my face.”
When 9/11 happened, Hanson says he wanted to join back up, but they told him he was too old. His son Jacob, who had just graduated high school joined the Marines.
“He makes Dad proud and my youngest son David did five years in the Marine Corps.”
He’s been in the Marines 13 years and gone on seven deployments. Eventually he was a Marine recruiter and named the 2015 recruiter of the year.
“He recruited numerous young people into the Marine Corps Band. He got an award for that and was recruiter of the year. I was proud of him, real proud.”
His son is now transitioning to Fort Leonard Wood to be a Motor T instructor.
“They make Dad real proud.”
David is now in school studying to be a lab tech. He also has a daughter Heidi.
Hanson says the training in the Marines is much better than what they received in the Army all those years ago.
At 70-years-old Hanson says he can still handle himself, but arthritis makes it difficult sometimes.
As a former farm kid Hanson says he will probably work until he dies.
“Everybody asks me why I don’t retire, especially with arthritis, I’ve heard it said you either keep moving and keep busy or you’re going to rust up.”
He said the military helps to bring out that work ethic too.
“Both of my sons when they went in, I said I give you my absolute support, but I said this is a wartime situation.”
He said his son has been on a lot of dangerous deployments, sometimes not being able to tell his family where he was. The last one was the worst.
“He was mixed in with the Iraqi Army and they knew there were insurgents mixed in. Their main goal at that time was to take out U.S. soldiers.”
Hanson sees the differences between the Vietnam era and today for soldiers.
“The soldiers are finally getting respect,” he said. “It’s a different war. It’s almost like the Revolutionary War where they would hit and run, but they use IED’s.”
In 2017 Hanson’s home in Watertown caught fire after his neighbor was cooking methamphetamine.
“That was not one of the best times in my life. I moved into a new place, but I still haven’t unpacked all my stuff.”
He now lives in a quiet rural spot.
“It’s nice and quiet and I love it,” he said. “I’ve got my bird feeders out and my cats watch the birds and I watch the cats.”
Hanson had taught hunter’s safety for many years teaching many kids the proper way to handle firearms.
He said there are things in this life worth dying for including his family.
“I’m not a hero but, I’d die for my country,” he said fighting back tears. “Thinking back to my friends they died in a war where they weren’t appreciated. They never got that thank you.”
He said he is still willing to fight for our freedom. When he was in the Army he says he thought he was bulletproof.
“I think a lot of veterans feel that way, duty, honor country.”