Local Vietnam veteran, Linn Samelson, to be honored at S.D. State Fair’s Veterans Day
By Shiloh Appel
On Thursday, August 29th, Spink County resident, Linn Samelson, will be honored among seven other Vietnam veterans at the Red Wilk Bull Bash at the SD State Fairgrounds (gates will open at 6p.m.). The night will be the pinnacle of the SD State Fair Veterans Day proclaimed by Governor Kristi Noem.
Samelson, who was a medical corpsman in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, is grateful to have been nominated as one of the honored veterans. He grew up in the Iroquois and Bankcroft area among three brothers: his older brother, Gordie, and his younger brothers, Lawrie and Gene. He has lived in Frankfort and the surrounding Spink County area for many years. However, he will never forget the day he was drafted.
“Actually, when I got drafted, I was out in Detroit working for Ford. I got my draft notice and I immediately quit and partied for a couple weeks,” said Samelson. “I was 18, I think, when I got drafted. They quit the draft shortly after that. I was the only one of all four brothers that went to the service.”
Samelson was inducted into the U.S. Army on March 12, 1968 and arrived in Vietnam during the height of the Tet Offensive. ((The name of the offensive comes from the Tet holiday, the Vietnamese New Year, when the first major attacks by the North Vietnam Army and the Viet Cong were carried out on the South Vietnam army and their allies, including the U.S. Armed Forces.)
“Generally, you get a short in-country training, and that kind of got cut short because the fire support base was off doing everything. they had casualties out there,” said Samuelson. “So I got right on duty right away.”
Samelson was usually stationed at Fire Support Base Buell during the evenings and Tay Ninh Base Camp during the day. The fire support base’s job was to provide artillery fire support to infantry operating in areas beyond the normal range of fire support.
“We went out on operations every day. Eagle flights,” said Samelson. “The company would line up and a bunch of helicopters would come down and pick us up and they would take us out to some areas where they thought there was some [Viet Cong] activity, and then they would drop us.”
Not everything happened according to plan, however.
“My first night at Fire Support Base was my lieutenant’s first time, too. We got hit. There were probably five or six hundred dead [Viatnamese] around the perimiter of that place. There was a human wave attack by the [Viet Cong],” said Samelson. “Anyway, the lieutenant, he had a starlight scope zeroed in on an M14 and you have got your LP, your listening post…He saw movement out there, and he shot his own LP. The guy lived though. He had a sucking chest wound.”
As a medic, Samelson’s job was to care for the wounded. Every day was filled with uncertainty. He remembers vividly those who died. He shared a story about a man who passed away while he was patching him up.
“we were under sniper fire at the Ben Cui Rubber Plantation,” said Samelson. “Here I am, patching him up and he was just gone. An artillery round had hit him. I put him in a poncho and dragged him …”
Samelson was a part of the 25th Infantry Division. Their division faced attack mostly by the North Viatnamese Army (NVA), but sometimes also came into contact with the “hard core” Viet Cong. He remembers incoming rockets hitting the area up to three times a day while he was stationed at Tay Ninh.
“I felt safer when we were out on line at Fire Support Base Buell than I did at Tay Ninh Base Camp,” said Samelson. “…If you happened to be at the wrong place it wasn’t good. We had a hooch take a direct hit from a rocket. We had all kinds of wounded.”
Other times, there were many close-calls. It was a wonder how some men survived.
“I remember when we were at the fire support base during Tet Offensive they almost got over run. Anyway, this machine gunner was in his bunker, and for some reason he got out of his bunker and his bunker got hit. If he wouldn’t have gotten out, he wouldn’t be here today,” said Samelson. “…There was a few times that I was pretty scared. I remember once we were under mortar fire. Mortars are fired from a tube that slants a little bit and goes up in the air and come down. That was real scary because you just kiss the ground wherever you are at and hope nothing hits the ground right there where you are at.
One thing I never did is I never went to breakfast in the morning because that mess hall was a prime target.
We had a cot in the orderly room there that we slept on. Everybody slept on their cot a certain way. But we had this one medic. He was a little different, anyway. He slept with his head down at the other end and the funny thing- a rocket came in that night and it blew his feet off. It didn’t blow his head off. He was the only one that slept that way. Everybody else slept different.”
Samelson spent one full year in Vietnam. He saw all of the horrors of war and made many close friends that became brothers. Some of his friends included “Poopsie,” the radio operator, “Gilmer,” a “darn good medic,” and “Nowakowski,” the machine gunner.
“Let’s put it this way. You didn’t see no prejudice in Vietnam. You were there to look out for each other,” said Samelson.
During his time serving in Vietnam, Samelson was able to take a seven-day leave to the Philippines and spend a little time for rest and recuperation in Sydney, Australia, but he says it was a very special day when his plane finally left Vietnam for good.
“I knew it was all behind me,” he said.
Samelson has received the National defense Service Medal, Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Palm, Army Commendation Medal, combat Medical Badge, Vietnam Service Medal and Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal w/Dev 60.
He went on to finish his service in El Paso, Texas as an ambulance driver until the 11th of March, 1974, when his obligation was complete. He later moved to Las Vegas and hung dry wall for 14 years. It was there that he met his wife, Sandy, and they were soon married. They had a daughter, Traci, and decided to move back to the Spink County, South Dakota area.
“Traci, she was almost three when we moved up here. It is a lot better place to raise a kid,” said Samelson.
Samelson said he still keeps in touch with old friends from his Vietnam days when he can.
“Actually, I’ve been over to see [Poopsie]. He lived in Tyler, Minnesota. I used to drive for Rude Transportation. I stopped in Tyler, Minnesota on my way to Minneapolis and I stopped at a little convenience store and they said, ‘oh, they moved up to Cottonwood,’ which is just a little northeast of Marshal, Minnesota. I pulled in the yard and stopped and we had a good little talk and everything,” he said.
Today, Samelson looks forward to standing among those who served in Vietnam at the South Dakota State Fair Veterans Day. His daughter, Traci, will sing the national anthem, and his grandson, Weston, will be there to see his grandfather honored for his service.
To be a part of the special night, don’t miss the Red Wilk Bull Bash at the SD State Fairgrounds on Thursday, August 29th (starting at 8p.m.).