De Pere, Wis.(WFRV)--Our Hometown Hero tonight is Peter Vander Zanden of De Pere. He is a Vietnam veteran who took photos during the war and is writing his memoir about the experiences that changes his life forever.
When Peter Vander Zanden received his draft notice in 1969, he didn't hesitate to comply and had no illusions about his destination.
Says Vander Zanden, You served your country. And being drafted, I knew I had a pretty good percentage of going to Vietnam.
He was assigned to Bravo Company, near the Cambodia border. He kept a 35-millimeter camera in an ammo box and frequently took snapshots. In his first few weeks in country, his unit was pinned down while chasing after Viet Cong that were firing on their location. But help was slow in coming from their commander who was flying overhead.
Peter Vander Zanden:"We had crossed into Cambodia, where we weren't supposed to be. And they had to go to Saigon to get clearance to give air and artillery support so we would pull back."
Vander Zanden calls that an example of army logic. Another would be the threatened court martial of their platoon sergeant who stopped to camp short of a location they were dispatched to on a mission to take out a Viet Cong mortar that was firing on their base.
Peter Vander Zanden:"We got into a short fire fight. The VC dropped the mortar, took off for the next county. So we captured this mortar that they had been trying to put out of commission."
Platoon members received citations for that mission. Vander Zanden would leave Vietnam just over a year later. But Vietnam has never left him. His unit would go through areas sprayed with the defoliant Agent Orange and restock their canteens with water from those areas. Years later a neighbor who work with chemicals explained how the chemical was handled state side.
Peter Vander Zanden:"They handled it with suits and he knew, they knew at the time, the toxicity of this particular material."
The exposure left Vander Zanden blind in one eye, deaf in one ear and on total disability. So he spends his time writing his memoirs for therapy, for his family and those he considers the real "Hometown Heroes".
Peter Vander Zanden:"But I think of the six men in my platoon that died when I was in Vietnam, and the 96 men in the company who died, while the company was in Vietnam. Those are the heroes."