BETTENDORF, Iowa — Lyle Peterson was drafted in March of 1969 to serve in the Vietnam War. That August, he was sent to the front lines, where he would serve a year in the Americal Division's 196th Light Infantry Brigade.
Upon returning home, Lyle wasn’t initially interested in joining any military organizations, like the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 776. Eventually, he did, and that's where he met John Lavelle.
John enlisted in 1966, and after multiple attempts to try to join the war, he was sent to Vietnam in the Americal Division two years later.
Lyle and John's paths didn't cross during their time in Vietnam, but they were only stationed 25 miles apart from each other.
John and Lyle were able to connect with each other not only through their veteran status but through their service in the same division in the same area of the country.
John joined the VVA in 1981 and then later took a break from the organization. He came back in 2003 after retiring from teaching and coaching and joined the honor guard to, as he described, "take part in funerals and parades and stuff, to let people know that we’re here and we’re in service to America”
Since August, John has participated in 132 funerals, and over his nearly 20 years of service, he’s participated in thousands. In the week preceding this interview, he served in eight funerals.
John doesn’t mind dedicating so much of his time to the Honor Guard because it matters to him and the other members.
“Everyone who took the oath and served and left the military…they deserve this,” he said.
This Veterans Day, John will get to represent the state of Iowa at the 40th anniversary Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington D.C.
This won't be John’s first time at the wall; he went a few years ago as a guardian. He remembers walking up to the wall pushing a man's wheelchair.
“First you see this big, shiny black granite, and then you begin to see the names. I’d seen the movie Wall, but this was much bigger. And then you begin to look for the markings to find the names that you’re there to look for. And then you find them. It's gonna be there for a long time so that we don’t forget.”
John serves at funerals with three other Vietnam Veterans groups in the Quad Cities; VVA Chapter 229, VVA Chapter 669 and the Mexican American Veterans of America.
The VVA is an active chapter that meets once a month at the Bettendorf Public Library. They invite those who served during the Vietnam era, including those who didn't see combat in the country, and anyone can join as an associate member. They do fundraisers to help other veterans and groups and put together food baskets for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
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