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It was a long year

Steve Erickson’s mother and sister share recollections of when he was away

June 21, 2018
Amy H. Peterson - Staff Writer ( , Estherville News

Pat Erickson said, "It was a long year," when her oldest son was in Vietnam.

Steve Erickson served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam from 1970-71. Steve enlisted because he knew he wanted to fly.

"The thing I remember most is when Steve called home while on [rest and relaxation] in Australia," Pat said.

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"He said he would call again, but time went on and on and we didn't hear anything. We heard about servicemen disappearing, and I didn't know if I was just a worried mother or if I had a reason to be worried," Pat said.

Pat talked to Beryl Coleman of Terril, who gave her the number to the American Red Cross emergency communication unit.

"You're not the only mother who has called recently," the volunteer on the phone assured her.

Pat received a message back that Steve was accounted for and doing fine.

"It was a Saturday morning, and I was vacuuming when I received a call," Pat said.

But first there was a letter on its way, though the timing of its arrival has been forgotten.

Steve said, "My first sergeant came to me to say, 'You'd better write a letter.'"

Whether or not the sergeant specified the letter should go to Steve's mother is not clear, but Steve knew.

Steve's sister Jan Ferguson was a sophomore in high school, and she had received letters from Vietnam, too.

"I remember in one, Steve knew I was dating [then-future-husband] Hal and was giving me a hard time about it, just saying, 'I never thought you'd be dating him,' and things like that," Jan said.

Another letter was what Jan called a reality check.

Jan recalled, "It was a lot of anxiety for mom and dad." The only time Jan ever remembers their father crying was when Steve called to say he was being sent over to Vietnam.

Pat said to Steve, "Your father was proud as punch of you. That time was such a tug-of-war between pride and worry."

Steve remembers the day when he was stationed in Virginia, his company commander came to tell him his Grandma Chapman had died.

"Grandparents were not recognized as next of kin, normally, but he said to me, 'Tell you what. The weekend is coming up and if you can be ready to go early tomorrow morning, we won't look for you until Tuesday.'" The commander issued Steve a three-day pass and he took a bus, then another bus to Dulles Airport and landed in Sioux Falls.

"I remember the flight there, but not how I got back here, and I don't remember getting back," Steve said.

Jan said, "There was a conflict between peace and war among teens and young adults. I mean, no one was pro-war, but I felt torn between feeling we shouldn't be over there and being loyal to my brother who was serving, along with the thousands of other service members."

There was still a hippie movement in the early 1970s, Jan said, and she felt drawn to their messages of peace and love.

"Life went on, but the thought process of 'what if' was always there. It was not a popular war. The separation in the country created such a struggle back here. Some of the demonstrations were so ugly," Jan said.

Steve said, "When I got back, I didn't feel comfortable wearing my uniform." Steve recalled that his youngest brother, Jon, asked him to come to his first grade class.

"I didn't want to; I said no. I wish now I had said yes. It was just a different time," Steve said.

Pat looked at Steve and said, "Sometimes when I think about it, it seems like it happened yesterday, but it was so long ago."

It was a big relief when he came home, Pat said.



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