Two veterans to recall Vietnam War

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Nick Edinger and Bob Anckaitis grew up in Easton, Pa., where they played together, attended the same elementary school and, in 1963, graduated from Easton Area High School.

After leaving for different colleges, the friends, reconnected in an environment far removed from their hometowns: the Vietnam War.

At 7 p.m. Wednesday, the former servicemen will be the guest speakers at "Vietnam: A Personal Experience" in council chambers at the Jefferson Hills Municipal Center, 925 Old Clairton Road.

"The talk is about support and how many people are involved in the logistical effort during a combat operation,"' Mr. Edinger, 68, of Jefferson Hills, said.

"If someone is interested in combat during the Vietnam War, they should watch 'Platoon' or 'Apocalypse Now,' " he said.

"People think of a war zone as running around killing people and them trying to kill you and never think of the huge supply system behind it," Mr. Anckaitis, 68, of Bethlehem, Pa., said.

The program, sponsored by the Jefferson Hills Historical Society and Jefferson Hills Public Library, is free and open to the public. No registration is required.

"It's a way to honor our veterans on Veterans Day," library program coordinator Jane Milner said.

Commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army upon graduation from engineer officer candidate school, Mr. Edinger was assigned to the U.S. Army field depot in Da Nang, Vietnam, from July 1969 to June 1970. He was in charge of six covered warehouses with the primary items of clothing and repair parts.

"I was the Sam Walton of Da Nang," he said, referring to the founder of Walmart.

After receiving his commission as a second lieutenant from Lafayette College's ROTC program, Mr. Anckaitis served as an Army first lieutenant and captain in Vietnam from September 1969 to September of the following year.

As a fire direction officer and a battery executive officer, he supported the infantry with field artillery and was, at times, under intense enemy fire.

The two friends reconnected when Mr. Anckaitis stopped to visit a friend en route to R&R, or rest and recreation, in Hawaii with his wife.

"He was awestruck; I had air conditioning and a desk with a phone," Mr. Edinger recalled.

"I lived in the ground in a hole so if there was incoming fire, like rockets, they couldn't do us damage when they exploded," Mr. Anckaitis said.

Mr. Edinger offered his friend -- without authorization -- supplies for his base, such as batteries for flashlights, socks, sleeping wear and more.

"He gave me a case of frozen steaks packed in dry ice that we took back in a truck, loaded in helicopters, and flew to the ... base," Mr. Anckaitis said.

After his discharge in 1970, Mr. Edinger worked as a surety bond underwriter and broker before retiring in 2003. He and his wife, Maureen, have two children and two grandchildren.

Mr. Anckaitis retired from the military in 1992, after which he worked as a township manager in Lower Saucon and Palmer, both in Northampton County. He and his wife, Kathy, have three children, four grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

The program on Wednesday will open with four patriotic hymns sung by Elizabeth Forward High School student Mattie Winowitch and will include a display of military uniforms, equipment and memorabilia.

A question-and-answer session will follow a roughly two-hour presentation.

Mr. Anckaitis said he hopes those who attend return home with new knowledge.

"I hope they leave knowing more about something they never have to experience," he said.

Details: www.jeffersonhillslibrary.org.

Margaret Smykla, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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