By Sue Moore
There were few honors for Vietnam veterans after that war ended.
Talons Out Honor flights, first organized in 2005 to take dwindling numbers of WWII veterans to Washington D.C. to see the new memorial in their honor, is now correcting this by honoring the many who came home from Vietnam without recognition.
One of the first from Vicksburg to be accepted for this honor is Doug Stafinski, who served in the U.S. Army’s Military Police in Vietnam. He’s scheduled to make the one-day all-expense-paid trip to Washington on April 20. The 1982 Vietnam memorial and those honoring veterans of WWII and the Korean War are near the Lincoln Memorial
Stafinski’s job was to guard the perimeter of a huge Army base at Long Bien. He lived in a small shelter, a “hooch,” and pulled 12-hour shifts at night with the 557th Military Police company. “We were concerned about incoming mortars and rocket attacks. These sent us to bunkers with sand bags below ground, armed only with M-16 rifles. It wasn’t about being overrun by Viet Cong infantry, just the nightly shelling. Our security guard unit was filled with military personal who had been shot up out in the field and recovered. They were sent to our company after recovery to fill out their tour of duty. They had plenty of stories to tell.” Stafinski said.
“Towards the end of my enlistment, we were given a choice. If we wanted to extend our two-year commitment with an extra five weeks in a war zone, we could check out of the military immediately upon returning to the U.S. I took that offer and counted every day until we were flown out in May 1970,” Stafinski said. “I landed at Fort Dix, New Jersey and two hours later, was processed out. I called home and nobody answered so I boarded a plane for Detroit and still nobody answered at home.
“I spent the night in the airport and called home once again to say I would be on a flight coming in to Kalamazoo that day. My brother David answered only to tell me that my parents, Frank and Thelma, were waiting for me in Oakland, California where they kept checking every incoming plane for my arrival. They never went anywhere outside of Vicksburg but had been told all returning veterans, dead or alive, from Vietnam were processed out of this facility.”
Stafinski’s route to serving his country began with his graduation from Vicksburg High School in 1964 and a business administration degree from Michigan State University in 1968. “I was drafted before the lottery came into existence,” he said. “I reported for duty in October 1968 at Fort Knox in Kentucky where they decided to make me a military policeman. My drill sergeant at Ft. Gordon, Georgia, correctly informed us that all of his recruits go to Vietnam. When we arrived at our first stop in Hawaii, the officer in charge emphasized not to even consider leaving the airport.”
He left the military as a Specialist 4th class and came back to Vicksburg when the jobs were few and far between, he said. “All my family had worked at Upjohn and I had worked there and at Burroughs in the summer. My dad was getting madder and madder that I didn’t have a real job after one year out so I decided to take the Civil Service exam.
“I did well enough on it to become a clerk or a mail carrier with the Kalamazoo Post Office. I decided on the mail carrier which was a day job so I could continue in fast pitch softball for 30 years, church slow pitch softball and Kalamazoo City League baseball playing for Norm Snyder, the manager from Vicksburg.”
This eventually led to becoming postmaster in Vicksburg in 1984 for 14 years. After 34 years with the post office, Stafinski retired in 2003. His community service encompasses 30 years as a member of the Lions Club, serving as president two times. For the last 19 years he has been the general chairman of the club’s big Summer Festival, popularly known as the B&B (for beer and bratwurst). This event has raised huge dollars for nonprofits in Vicksburg while honoring the legacy of Otto Kaak, who started the event 46 years ago.
Stafinski’s Talons Out flight is wholly paid for by donations from the greater Kalamazoo community.