Vietnam vets pay visit to Grafton
Grafton native Haug hosts war buddies
GRAFTON – It’s often true the the bond of brotherhood is forged during times of war. That’s the case for three veterans of the Vietnam War who met recently in Grafton to reminisce about the time they spent together more than 40 years ago during that conflict in southeast Asia.
Grafton native Bill Haug, who now lives in Grand Forks, graduated from Grafton High School in 1961. After graduating from college with an engineering degree, he decided to enlist in the Army and was assigned to the Army Corps of Engineers.
While stationed in Fort Belvoir, Va., he met Bill Patrick and Jim Spaulding. Patrick, an architect and Spaulding, also an engineer, decided to enlist in the army, instead of being drafted. Being drafted meant being sent wherever the military felt necessary.
“Oftentimes you were offered other opportunities if you joined and that’s what I think each of us did in one form or another,” Patrick said. “At the time being drafted wasn’t very attractive because you had about a 100 percent chance of being sent to Vietnam and ending up in the infantry.”
Spaulding hailed from San Juan Capistrano, Calif., and Patrick was from the small town of Shawboro, N.C.
“Shawboro is such a large town that the city limit signs are on the same post,” he quipped.
Spaulding graduated from Stanford University, went through ROTC and became a second lieutenant. Patrick was commissioned as an officer after basic training. Haug went through Officer Candidate School.
“Bill and Jim were immediately assigned to the U.S. Army Engineer Command headquartered in Long Bihn (Vietnam),” Haug said. “I wasn’t as fortunate. I became a platoon leader with a combat engineer company in the middle of nowhere.”
When President Nixon began scaling back operations in Vietnam, Haug was reassigned to Long Bihn and was reunited with Patrick and Spaulding. All three spent about a year “in country” between 1970 and 1971.
Long Bihn was the largest army base in Vietnam and the engineering headquarters. As engineers, all three worked on various construction projects, roads, bridges and infrastructure, including keeping the main artery, Highway 1 open.
One interesting sidelight came around Christmas 1970, when entertainer Bob Hope came to Vietnam to perform for the troops. Spaulding was one of the engineers that helped set up the show in five different locations.
By the end of 1971, all three were back in the states.
Three years ago the trio and their wives got together in person for the first time since the war.
“Three years ago we met in Washington, D.C.,” Haug said. “We thought it would be fun to get together more frequently where we lived and grew up.”
Spaulding and Patrick had never been to North
Dakota, “So, they said what the heck, and decided to come here,” Haug said.
Spaulding’s ancestors were among the first to establish the town of Fairmount, in southeastern North Dakota, so the group planned to visit there as well.
“That was a very intense time,” Spaulding said of their time in Vietnam. “You’re thousands of miles away from home. You spend every day together and we would break the tension by telling stories about our childhood and where we grew up. It’s great to come and see where Bill and his family farmed and where he went to school. This is his life.”
Haug’s grandfather moved from the Hoople area to Auburn in the 1930’s where the family farmed for three generations.
After the war, Haug returned to Grafton and farmed near Auburn for about 10 years.
Haug lives in Grand Forks where he manages the Stifel Nicolaus investment banking firm. He and he wife JoAnn have two children, Bill Jr. and Jonathan. Bill Jr. is a sports medicine doctor in Grafton and he and his wife Jodi live in Grand Forks and have two children, Sophie and Sam. Jonathan and his wife Maniphone live in Boulder, Colo., and have two sons.
Patrick and his wife MaryLou live in Miami, Fla. Spaulding and his wife Carole live in San Juan Capistrano, Calif.