Vietnam veteran thrust into history

<p>Bob Shippentower earned two Purple Hearts in the Army during the Vietnam war.</p>

On Friday, Vietnam War veteran Bob Shippentower wants people to take time to remember.

“Recognize the sacrifices so many men and women have made for the greater good of our community and our country,”?he said. “I also ask all of us to remember those veterans who suffer from unseen scars from psychological trauma.”

Shippentower, 65, during his year with the U.S. Army in Vietnam earned two Purple Hearts, one during the Tet Offensive in January 1968, he said.

“It was a situation we were called into as a draftee but I believe we all met our duties as we were expected to do,” Shippentower said. “Basically, we were just doing our duty.?I don’t know how else to describe it. At that age, we didn’t know about history.”

He and the other soldiers he served with became a part of history. Large geopolitical and historical forces — forces beyond their control — were pushing them toward their destinies, he said.

In 1967 at age 19, Shippentower, a graduate of Pendleton High School attending Blue Mountain Community College, was drafted in the Army. 

After initial training, Shippentower assigned him to the Ninth  Infantry Division operating base camp at Vung Tau, Vietnam, on the Mekong Delta.

Shippentower turned 20 during his year in country. His fellow soldiers, most draftees, were all about his age; their commanding officer, one of the oldest, was 23.

Shippentower described his unit as being “actively engaged with the enemy.”

In December 1967 he earned his first Purple Heart when a grenade sent shrapnel at him. After a month in a hospital, Shippentower returned to his unit in mid-January 1968. 

At the end of that month, Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces launched the Tet Offensive, a surprise attack on U.S. and allied forces across South Vietnam. Though the communists eventually lost the battle, it was a turning point in the war. During the offensive, Shippentower was wounded again, this time by small arms fire, earning him a second Purple Heart. The Purple Heart is awarded to members of the U.S. armed forces that are “wounded by an instrument of war in the hands of the enemy,”?according to the Military Order of the Purple Heart website.

Being caught up in the war, Shippentower said he saw many civilian casualties and victims. Later in life, he said, he came to believe the war was unjust, but at the time he was a young soldier doing his duty. 

“I believe I?matured in a very significant way,”?Shippentower said. “It gave me more of a sense of responsibility. … It gave me a deeper insight of myself.”

He returned home in 1968 and finished his time in the Army as a non-commissioned officer at Fort McClellan, Ala., training infantry soldiers. He left the Army in 1969 at age 21.

Shippentower later used the G.I. Bill to attend the University of Oregon, where he graduated in 1982. His worked a career in forestry and at Wildhorse Resort & Casino before being elected to the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation Board of Trustees as an at-large member. Shippentower is a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 922 in Pendleton and a member of the American Legion, George St. Dennis Post 140, on the reservation. 

Shippentower said he identifies with the long history of American Indian warrior culture and military service. He also believes all military members should follow a warriors’ code of conduct defined by courge, honesty, integrity and justice. 

“It’s hard to understand trying to kill each other, but you can live by a code of honor in how you do it,”?he said. “It’s central to everyone’s character, whether you’re a soldier, an airman, seaman or a Marine — male or female.”

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