The University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and Mid-State Technical College (MSTC) have put together a series of public events entitled "Visions of War" to share the experiences of United States veterans.
The free to the public collaboration opened Monday, Nov. 7, on the MSTC campus with a panel discussion. Four guest speakers who fought in various wars throughout recent history shared their life stories, reasons for joining the military and experiences overseas.
Jesse Albrecht, who grew up in Amherst, Wisconsin, started the panel by discussing how his modest background led to a career in the military. He joined the 101st Airborne Division and was deployed to Kuwait as a medic.
"That experience was eye opening because I was doing a job I wasn’t really trained for, or even equipped for, so I had to learn on the fly," Albrecht said.
Albrecht said that there was a lack of foresight from his superiors to put him in the position as a medic. He was unprepared and without some basic equipment, such as special clay plates to put in his vest to protect him from bullets.
"They don’t care; all the millions of dollars that they put in there they somehow can’t get a few hundred-dollar plates to you, it opens your eyes," Albrecht said.
The second speaker, John Peters, was deployed during the Persian Gulf conflict in 1990. Peters talked about how he had trained to do a job for so long that he was excited to apply the skills they worked so hard to hone.
"It turned out to be a waiting game, the best way I can describe it is it was like doing hard time," Peters said. "Think of yourself as a firefighter, you train to fight fires and all you do is train, train, train but you never get to put out any fires."
Peters explained his love-hate relationship with the military, and how he learned many lessons despite it being a hard life. He spent most of his time training or waiting, far from home and his family, but he knew they were doing some good in the world.
The next panel guest was Vietnam veteran Phil Kallas.
Kallas was drafted into the 101st Airborne Division when he was 21 years old and thrown into battle in January of 1970.
"When I left here I just knew I was not coming home," Kallas said.
Kallas was only in Vietnam for four months, from January to May of 1970, but he endured and survived many gruesome battles.
"My experience was really a whole lot different than everyone else in Vietnam. I was there for a very short time," Kallas said. "In that four months I earned three purple hearts and lost my arm."
During his last mission in Vietnam, Kallas’ squad was waiting out the night for resupply by a bridge when it came under RPG fire.
"I was the only one that survived," Kallas said. "Ten of our guys were killed then and there and nine died later. I think I joined them for a little bit but I was revived."
He went on to tell how the Medivac helicopters were not flying in to take out wounded because there was too much enemy fire, but one pilot flew in anyways and saved Kallas. Years later he looked up the pilot who saved him, and since then they have become lifelong friends.
The last speaker was a WWII veteran named John Regnier.
Regnier was also a medic and was part of the liberation of Bastogne from the occupation of Germany during the battle of the Bulge, one of the bloodiest battles of the entire war.
He explained that even though his medical unit was miles away from the front line, they were still far into enemy territory and cut off from reinforcements and supplies, struggling to assist the wounded pouring in from the front line.
"The human carnage I saw was of epic proportions, I have not and never will forget it," Regnier said.
Future installments in the "Visions of War" series include film screenings, artist talks and poetry readings, all taking place throughout the month.
For more information on the events, visit the "Visions of War" website located in the UW-Stevens Point web directory.