November 11, 2022

A Veteran’s Perspective

Throughout 2022, BetterLife has recognized Veterans as part of our annual engagement theme. This month, in honor of this theme and Veterans Day, we had the privilege of speaking with two of our own BetterLife members who are Veterans. They reflected on their experiences serving our country as we asked questions about their time in the military, the same questions the Library of Congress uses when gathering oral histories from US Veterans. We hope this article helps you learn more about our Veteran’s sacrifices and experiences, and gives you a new perspective on the privileges we enjoy today.

Lumir Kotas | President Lodge 389 | Army | Friend, NE

Lumir Kotas was drafted by the Army in May 1969 and served in the Vietnam War in 1970 in the 101st Airborne Division. Living in Omaha, NE, at the time, he had never left the country, so his tour in Vietnam was his first experience outside of the United States.

“What was it like arriving in Vietnam?”

I was 21 years old, so it was a learning experience. They give you a lot of training on what to expect, but training isn’t like personal experience.

“What was your job/assignment?”

I was in a mobile air unit, an artillery unit, 1 of 2 mobile air units in the battalion. We moved a lot, every two to three weeks, at the height of the conflict. We were stationed way up north, about 40 miles from the DMZ (the border between North and South Vietnam).

“How did you stay in touch with family and friends back home?”

We got to write letters. There were post offices with central locations, and letters were free, so you could write as many as you wanted.

Unfortunately, Kotas has no photos or memorabilia from his time during the military due to a house fire in 1975. Recently though, his cousin came across a letter Kotas wrote to his aunt while deployed. This small gift allowed him to reconnect to that time of his life.

“Can you tell me more about your experience overseas?”

I was mainly on a firebase [an encampment that provides artillery support to infantry troops], but sometimes where we were was very remote. It was VERY dark, pitch black. It was like being in a cave. There were no lights on the planes flying overhead. You could hear them but had no clue where they were.

“What was the food like?”

Not as good as what he had Saturday night at the museum! [Kotas referring to the delicious food served at the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library as part of the 125th celebration in Cedar Rapids, IA.] We had a good mess sergeant. The goal was to give you one hot meal a day. We lived out of cans and sea rations a lot. We had a tent with a cook stove. On a firebase, you got a hot breakfast and dinner. The food was pretty good. Milk for breakfast, roast beef (though I swear it wasn’t beef), and we sometimes got chocolate milk. Ice was rare. We had coffee but didn’t want to drink the water because it was terrible. It came out of a well by the river and smelled bad. Sometimes I wonder how I survived. The coffee was thick as syrup.

On my way back from Vietnam, I got a hamburger from the airport in Denver. I wanted a good old-fashioned hamburger. And I had a mixed drink because I wanted something ice cold.

“How did people entertain themselves?”

In-country R&R. Most got to go to the ocean for three days (or five if you were lucky). A good friend of mine went to Hawaii to get married. I went once via R&R to Sydney, Australia, for a week. I enjoyed Australia, but it didn’t seem real. It was like a dream. I was so hyped up from war that it was hard to relax.

“Do you recall the day your service ended?”

January 3, 1971. In the first wave of pull-out troops, there were 247 people on the plane. A special order came before Christmas. If you had less than 150 days left, you got to go home. I still had a six-year obligation, but ten months and one day were considered a full tour. I was fully discharged, but my six-year obligation meant they could call me back if there were another war. My draft card stayed the same until I was officially done in 1975. Then I received a different card confirming I had fulfilled my obligation.

When I landed in Fort Louis-Washington, I kissed the soil. The same building where I took my step forward to be drafted was the same building I signed my papers to leave.

“What did you do in the days and weeks afterward?”

I only drew unemployment for six months and then went to work for Brunswick in Nebraska, which made war supplies. I met my future wife in 1972 and got married in 1973.

“Did you make any close friendships while in the service?”

Oh yes. My friend that got married in Hawaii was from Eugene, OR. I had Sylar, a Nebraska friend. Friends from high school were also close by in Vietnam, but I didn’t know about it until I got back. I found out by seeing a letter with the same APO number at a friend’s house. He was only a mile away in Vietnam.

“Did you continue any of those relationships?”

Yes, we stayed in touch and became real good friends.

“Did you join a Veteran’s organization?”

I joined the VFW in Dorchester, Nebraska, Post 264. I’m a lifetime member and had uncles that belonged who served in WWII and Korea.

“What did you go on to do as a career after your time in the military?”

I moved back out to the farm after my grandfather retired and will have been farming for 50 years next year.

“How did your service and experiences affect your life?”

I wouldn’t trade it for anything. At times you hate it, but I enjoyed it. I was told by an old drill sergeant, “Do the best you can with what’s presented to you, don’t take on more than you can handle.” I learned how to handle people. Life is a growing experience.


Patrick Rogers | BetterLife Member | Navy | Madison, WI

Patrick Rogers served in the US Navy on the USS America aircraft carrier from 1973 to 1976, serving in the Vietnam War and the Lebanon Conflict (1975). He enlisted after high school graduation with three other classmates on the Buddy Plan (a program that allows small groups to enlist together and remain together as long as possible). He chose the Navy in particular, because we wanted to travel and see the world.

“Where exactly did you go?”

I served on a Naval aircraft carrier that was assigned to and traveled throughout the Atlantic Ocean, North Atlantic Ocean, Mediterranean Sea, and near Puerto Rico. We cruised throughout the ocean so American jets could fly on and off the carrier on training missions and be on call to serve in foreign areas as needed. Every six months we relieved another aircraft carrier, and Rota Spain (Base Naval de Rota) was our transfer point each time. We evacuated American citizens out of Lebanon while that crisis was going on.

“Had you traveled out of the country before?”


“What was it like arriving back home?”

I kissed the ground and was so happy I lived in the United States of America, where we have our freedom, instead of living in (…) countries run by dictators.

“What was your job/assignment?”

I had a top-secret security clearance and served in the captain’s office aboard the USS America aircraft carrier.

Tell me about a couple of your most memorable experiences.

When we were training in the North Atlantic Ocean, we trained in 50-foot waves, which was scary.

I was able to see so many places around the world that I may never have seen if I hadn’t enlisted in the Navy.

“How did you stay in touch with family and friends back home?”

Letters and phone calls and went home on leave periodically.

“What was the food like?”

The food was incredible! The mess deck was open from morning till 7:00 pm. There was a separate food line for the aircrew, which was incredible. One Christmas, over 5,000 of us crewmen were served an unbelievable steak and lobster meal!

“How did people entertain themselves?”

Lifting weights, playing basketball, playing cards, listening to music, and writing letters. Some fished off the carrier.

“Do you recall any particularly humorous or unusual events?”

Once in a while, if a crewman was in the wrong place on the flight deck, a plane’s thrusters might blow him off the ship. Then a helicopter would have to fly off the ship to (…) rescue the [guy] who went off the deck.

“Do you recall the day your service ended?”

Yes, in May 1976, I flew off the carrier to Rhein-Main Air Base in Germany. After a layover, I took a plane from Germany to Philadelphia, PA, where Navy personnel discharged me from the military. Then a plane flew me home to Madison, WI.

“What did you do in the days and weeks afterward?”

Slept in, let my hair grow, spent time with family, and got together with friends.

“Did you make any close friendships while in the service?”

Absolutely! I kept in touch with two of the three friends from Madison I went into the service with. My best friend in the service died in a cycle crash right after his discharge, and others I lost touch with after many years.

“Did you join a Veteran’s organization?”

No, but I do collect and donate retired (damaged) flags to the VFW to burn in their special burning ceremonies.

“What did you go on to do as a career after your time in the military?”

Transportation. Became a family man. My wife and I had five awesome children and now have eleven wonderful grandchildren.

“How did your service and experiences affect your life?”

I was honored to have served my country. It helped me appreciate the US flag and what it stands for, and I appreciate my country so much more.