MANKATO, Kan. (KSNW) – A Mankato native says a friend tried to get him to sign up for the service, under the buddy system, but he decided to just take his chances.
About a month later Vance Tyrell was drafted, he then deployed to Vietnam.
When Vance Tyrell got his orders his grandma wanted the entire family to get together, tragically she died in a car accident that very day.
Although Tyrell wanted to stay home for her funeral, it didn’t look like that was going to happen.
A journalist then got him on the phone with then-Representative Bob Dole, who gave him a number to the Pentagon.
He made that call and within 30 minutes he had new orders, so he could stay home to lay his grandma to rest.
High school sweethearts Vance and Kathie Tyrell had just walked down the aisle.
“I am not sure that we, either one of us, really realized you know, we’d read about it and seen it on TV on the news, but I don’t think we realized,” Vietnam Veteran Vance Tyrell said. “I didn’t even know where Vietnam was at that point.”
That’s where Tyrell was headed and he remembers seeing some guys, who were returning from the jungle.
“The look on their face, it was a look, it is almost indescribable, tired, seeing things they never thought they would ever witness, it stuck in my head,” Tyrell said.
The soldier was soon serving with the First Aviation Regiment.
He was part of the Aviation Data Analysis Center.
“The helicopter was the vehicle of choice, to put people into the jungles, extract them when they needed when they were injured,” Tyrell said.
That’s why Tyrell and the others kept track of Army helicopters and all other aircraft.
They would document details of crashes and the statuses of the pilots, before sending the reports to headquarters.
“I think the first time I went to Saigon, down to headquarters,” Tyrell said.
He said the military then used that information they documented, in war.
“They went through these to see if they couldn’t make some predictions on where the Viet Cong were attacking,” Tyrell said.
He said while the troops had a mission that required their focus, that wasn’t the case for their families, who for the first time were watching details of the war on the news.
“They had to see this on a daily basis, not exactly knowing where their loved one is stationed at,” Tyrell said.
Tyrell says it took him 35 years before he would talk about his time in Vietnam.
He said it took a long time to start feeling pride for what he and the others did, to support those in combat.
He said a simple ‘thank you’ can go a long way.
“Every time I see one, I make sure to go out of my way to tell them I appreciate their service,” Tyrell said.
He said you never get over, your time in Vietnam.
“You can take the soldier out of Vietnam, but I don’t think you can ever take Vietnam out of the soldier,” Tyrell said.
When it was time for the soldier to return, his comrades made him a satirical drawing, right before he boarded the flight home, he will never forget.
“We were in the air, the pilot had cued up and it was probably with a cassette tape at the time, he had cued up Peter, Paul and Mary’s, “Leaving on a Jet Plane” and he cued it upright to that point, everyone started clapping, yelling and singing along with it,” Tyrell said.
The celebration was more than just a homecoming for Tyrell, it was also the day he met his firstborn, in the arms of the love of his life.
The Tyrells have now been married for 51 years.
Kathie was there by his side when he underwent open-heart surgery, something doctors say could likely be linked back to exposure to Agent Orange.