Scandia native tells stories being a medic during Vietnam War
The idea started when Bill Strusinski was asked to speak in front of the Minnesota Ambulance Association.
The theme of his speech, per the Association, was to talk about his time as a Combat Medic during the Vietnam War.
Strusinski prepared the speech and the response he received was startling. He said the number of ‘Welcome Home’ or ‘Thank you for your service’ was immeasurable.
With enough information already from the speech, the momentum into turning those stories or recollections into a book grew even more.
That spring boarded into “Care Under Fire”, which was published last year.
“People weren’t comfortable talking about their experiences,” the Scandia native said, about serving in the Vietnam War. “Now, they are.”
When Strusinski was drafted, he was sent to Basic Training in Kentucky for 10 weeks. While there, he was asked where he would like to serve. Being an infantryman, or working in artillery or being a cook, weren’t at the top of his list since he was given a choice.
He also joked, he chose a medic, thinking he’d be working in more of a hospital setting, not with the 1st Infantry Division, where he spent his 12 months.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” he said, upon landing in Vietnam in 1967. “10 weeks was an insufficient amount of time.”
He got an early test for him and others around him. First, for those who already had been there, how would the new guy handle the situation? Second, he was replacing an African American medic and with 40 percent in his unit being African American, there were questions if he would work on an African American?
Strusinski was happy to put those doubts to rest quickly.
“There were no issues of racial tension,” he said. He added his unit was surprised at the reaction in the United States during that time.
“Why can’t people get along back home when we could?” was a common statement, Strusinski remembers.
In spite of Strusinski’s fears about being in combat, he had to carry an M16 rifle and a hand grenade with him at all times.
“I was always afraid of being in combat, but I knew my brothers had my back,” he said.
Despite his best efforts and other medics around him, not every life was saved.
“You felt guilty, but you know you did the best you could and you accepted it,” he said.
After being discharged, Strusinski went to obtain a Political Science degree and has spent over 40 years being a lobbyist in Minnesota government. He served three Governors, including Wendell Anderson, Rudy Perpich and Al Quie.
Time has healed some wounds when it comes to the Vietnam War. He explained he’s gotten emails over the years from war protestors, who told him, their source of frustration should’ve been directed at the United States government, not the soldiers.
While those words pleases Strusinski, that’s only the first step.
“If a Vet needs help, talk to them, send them to the V.A. if they can,” he said. “They took care of us, now we need to take care of them.”
He calls Scandia home with his wife, attorney Kirsten Libby.
“We really like it,” he said. “Scandia is an excellent community.”