WASHINGTON– U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR) recognized the service and sacrifice of Gerald Vnuk in ‘Salute to Veterans,’ a series recognizing the military service of Arkansans.
Vnuk grew up in Minnesota with six sisters. While his father was unable to serve in uniform, some of his uncles had military experiences, and he followed their example after being drafted in 1953 for the Korean War. Once he received his draft card, Vnuk was sent to Chicago before heading to Fort Lewis, Washington.
From his short time in the barracks, what stood out to him were the sleeping quarters. “It was unbelievable. The bunks were stacked three high. About 500 men in the room,” Vnuk recalled.
He rode a train to Washington, but his training was delayed because his records were lost. “The group that went with me were already two weeks in basic training, so I was put into another artillery company for basic training. That probably saved my life because the Korean War ended while I was in basic training,” he said.
Although he was not stationed overseas, Vnuk has many memories of his time in basic training and from working on base. He recalled one nighttime training exercise. “Some of the things they did you have to go out and sleep in a foxhole. One time they had special fox holes that you went in and then they run over you with a tank, so you had the experience of what to do when a tank was coming at you,” Vnuk said.
At Fort Lewis, he was initially part of the Illinois 44th Infantry Division National Guard, but was reassigned to headquarters to work in the AWOL Apprehension Division after his superiors learned he could type. Vnuk explained that the phrase “cut orders” in the military was when someone like him had to cut the stencil by hand to type orders for others. When he would type out orders for the warrant officers, he had to list their rank and name. “One time I typed up a letter for him to sign and instead of C.W.O, I put C.O.W. He came back and he said ‘I’m not a cow’ and I said well you are now,” the Army veteran remembered.
Vnuk was stationed at Fort Lewis for nearly two years. Following military service he pursued higher education before accepting a job at a manufacturer of wool, ceiling tiles and bonded fiber materials. He started out as a tester then worked up to a manager and remained with the company for 37 years.
Looking back on his service, he said it helped him come out of his shell and be less shy. Vnuk has fond memories of training, saying there was good fellowship with others and that his service was “good for me and good for the country.”
Once he got his discharge papers, he joined the American Legion and later became involved with a post in Arkansas when he moved to The Natural State. He has been a member for over 35 years. He and his late wife Katherine, who were married for 45 years, were very active in the organization with Katherine even being named Woman of the Year for the American Legion.
For many years the couple volunteered at the Fayetteville VA Medical Center where Gerald worked in the x-ray department. “I just filed the records and all that and checked people in. It was interesting and there were good people to be around.”
Today, Gerald is 90 years old and calls Bella Vista home. His message to future generations is to “be patriotic.”
“When we honor the sacrifices of the men and women who served in uniform, it is important to remember all the many roles that need Americans to fill them to keep us safe. Gerald Vnuk honorably served our country, and I am grateful for his decades of dedicated engagement in his community and with his fellow veterans. Preserving his memories for the Veterans History Project is a great way to show our appreciation for his time in uniform,” Boozman said.
Boozman will submit Vnuk’s entire interview to the Veterans History Project, an initiative of the Library of Congress’s American Folklife Center to collect and retain the oral histories of our nation’s veterans.