Site last updated: Monday, February 6, 2023

Log In

Reset Password
Butler County's great daily newspaper

Vietnam vets describe military experience to Knoch students

Army veteran Sgt. Tom Foor talks to students during Knoch’s Veterans Day assembly at Knoch High School on Thursday, Nov. 10. Justin Guido/Butler Eagle

JEFFERSON TWP — Tom Foor described to the freshmen and sophomores assembled Thursday in the Knoch High School auditorium an instance during his Army service when a rare treat was presented to him, along with his fellow soldiers, in the steamy Vietnamese jungle near the Cambodian border in 1968.

Foor said quarts of ice cream were issued to the sweating young men as they served their country in Southeast Asia.

Problem was, the normally welcome confection tasted terrible and could not be eaten by the platoon.

“I got an idea,” Foor recalled. “I said ‘Let’s put our feet in it.’”

So dozens of sweltering soldiers took half the ice cream out of their two quart containers and plunged their burning feet inside.

“We never had anything cold over there,” Foor said. “It was refreshing.”

That and a host of other military stories were shared with Knoch High School students Thursday by a seven-man panel of veterans representing all branches of the military and all wars and conflicts since World War II.

“I hope the students appreciate what veterans have done for them and their sacrifices,” Foor said before the panel presentation. “I hope some of them will pursue a military career.”

Foor, of Mechanicsburg in Cumberland County, served in heavy artillery with the 1st Cavalry Division from 1968 to 1969.

He was wounded, recovered and returned to his unit, whose mission was to prevent the enemy from entering Vietnam from Cambodia.

“We supported the infantry,” Foor said. “They’d get in trouble, and we’d shoot for them.”

He told the students four large artillery guns were connected side by side and fired at once if the enemy tried to sneak over the border.

At one location, the unit’s guns were blocked by tall bamboo, which the captain ordered the men to chop down manually.

“One guy asked if we could shoot it down,” Foor said. “It was gone in two minutes. Bamboo was flying 30 feet in the air. It was awesome.”

Navy veteran Clyde Leri talks about how they used their hats as flotation devices during Knoch’s Veterans Day assembly at Knoch High School on Thursday, Nov. 10. Justin Guido/Butler Eagle
‘Thanks for serving’

World War II veteran Clyde Leri, who grew up in Freeport, served in the Navy from 1944 to 1946 as a signalman.

He said many citizens forgot about veterans’ sacrifices after the Korean War, then the start of the conflict in the Middle East in 1990 put it on television.

“Kids are now saying, ‘Thanks for serving,’” Leri said. “I didn’t hear that for a lot of years.”

He appreciates the effort of Knoch High School social studies teacher Lauren Lemmon Hoffman, who organizes the annual event.

“I think it’s great,” Leri said, “a very good idea.”

He told the students he saw Nagasaki after it was bombed, during one tour aboard his ship in the Asiatic Pacific Theater.

“As far as you could see, it was nothing but black,” Leri recalled of the devastation from the nuclear bomb dropped on the Japanese city by Allied forces.

He also used binoculars to view the signing of the Japanese surrender on Sept. 2, 1945, aboard the USS Missouri, which was anchored in Tokyo Harbor just a few ships down from the one Leri served on.

“I remember McArthur sitting at the table with the Japanese,” he said.

Other stories

Paul Steighner, who served in the Air Force from 1950 to 1953 during the Korean War, recalled loading 500-pound bombs in the B-29’s bomb bays. He also shared other anecdotes with the students.

Other veterans who addressed the students were Don Eppley, a chief petty officer in the Coast Guard; Bill Bowser, who served in the Marine Corps from 1990 to 1994; James Cratty, whose service in the Air Force from 1998 to 2006 included guarding Presidents George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton; and Barry Donahue, a Knoch parent and Army command sergeant major who served from 1992 to 2021.

Voice of Democracy

Knoch High freshman Hannah Butler was named the school’s VFW Voice of Democracy scholarship winner at the event, and read the essay required to apply for the funds.

The theme for the 2022 Voice of Democracy scholarship competition was “Why is the veteran important?”

Hannah read from her essay that it is awe-inspiring to hear the stories of our country’s veterans.

“Keeping their stories alive is the least we can do,” she said.

Juniors and seniors attended the veterans assembly on Thursday morning.

Army veteran Sgt Tom Foor talks to students during Knoch’s Veterans Day assembly at Knoch High School on Thursday, Nov. 10. Justin Guido/Butler Eagle

Subscribe to our Daily Newsletter

* indicates required