Thank you, soldier

Fredonia resident who lived through Vietnam assault gets long-overdue salute as Honor Flight hero

VIETNAM VETERAN Eugene Mayer of Fredonia was greeted by a large group of family members, including many grandchildren, when he arrived at General Mitchell International Airport after a Stars and Stripes Honor Flight to Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy of Amy Schroeder

THE AFFECTION SHOWN by family members and friends who welcomed Eugene Mayer back home had him smiling. Photo courtesy of Amy Schroeder

EUGENE MAYER spent more than 12 months as an Army forklift driver in South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. He and other members of his task force came under heavy fire during the Tet Offensive, an invasion of Viet Cong and North Vietnamese troops. Photo courtesy of Eugene Mayer
By 
DAN BENSON
Ozaukee Press Staff

Fifty years after shrapnel flew through his tent during a mortar attack in Vietnam, Eugene Mayer of Fredonia flew to Washington, D.C., and was celebrated as a hero.

Saturday was proclaimed Eugene Mayer Day by the Village of Fredonia in honor of his service in the U.S. Army in Vietnam and his participating in Saturday’s Honor Flight.

Mayer, 76, was one of 145 veterans from World War II, Korea and Vietnam who boarded one of two planes traveling to Washington, D.C., on Stars and Stripes Honor Flights on Saturday. It was the 10th anniversary flight for the organization.

They visited the World War II and Korean War monuments, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery to witness the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

They were treated there as heroes and greeted as such when they returned Saturday night to General Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee.

Mayer was welcomed home by sign-wielding family and friends sporting T-shirts emblazoned with “Forever My Hero” and given an escort home to Fredonia by the Fredonia Fire Department, of which he has been a member for more than 50 years, since before he was drafted into the war at the age of 24.

Mayer has lived in Fredonia all his life. In 1967 he was drafted into the Army and within a year found himself in Vietnam in the middle of the Tet Offensive, a general uprising by the insurgent Viet Cong and invasion by the North Vietnamese Army to drive American forces out of South Vietnam.

Mayer was a forklift operator for a task force supporting front line troops and became a prime target of the Communist forces.

“In February we got hit 23 nights in a row,” he said. “We slept with our flak jackets on. One night shrapnel from a mortar came right through our canvas tent and hit my buddy next to me in the arm and killed another outright.

“All at once (when the Tet Offensive began) they (the Viet Cong) were all over our compound. They came every day.”

In one attack, 300 gallons of jet fuel were hit and exploded in a giant ball of flames.

“We thought that might be the end of the world. A couple times. It kinda got a little hairy,” he said.

“We found out later that they had targeted our whole company to be killed. Only four were.”

Mayer was there for more than 12 months, longer than he originally expected. But, ironically, because he re-enlisted, he left Vietnam earlier than he would have otherwise, he said.

Saturday wasn’t his first flight to Washington, D.C. That’s where he landed when he returned from Vietnam. And his greeting then was in stark contrast to that of last weekend.    

“Nobody said too much when we landed (from Vietnam) in Washington, D.C. But when I got off that plane, I kissed the ground,” he said.

Mayer remembers his first night at home. “The fire station whistle went off and I jumped out of bed and started heading for the door. I thought we were under attack,” he said.

Mayer settled back into the routine of life after his return, fighting fires and working as a plumber for Steffen Plumbing and Heating and raised six children with his wife Marilyn.

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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