Vets pay it forward with continued service

By Bev Britton on November 7, 2018

Vets at Flagpole for websiteNo matter the war. No matter the military branch. No matter the generation. These local veterans are steadfastly proud of their service.
And they’re still fighting to help today’s returning vets.

Pete Loechner of Clayton advocates for veterans in numerous ways. The former commander of Post 152 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) is also a member of the American Legion and Korean War Veterans Association as well as volunteering every Monday at the Veterans Administration clinic in Martinez.

“Any veterans in the area who have a problem, we help them,” Loechner said. “I just can’t thank the people of Concord and Clayton enough. They are so good to give donations. I’ve never had anybody give us any static – they just seem to be helpful.”

World War II vet Wilfred Wilcox of Clayton founded the Mount Diablo Marine Corps League in 1996. “We’re involved in community activities, burial ceremonies, parades,” said Wilcox, who also is a VFW member. “I think one of the important parts about a veterans’ group is for vets to meet others like them.”

Steve Barton of Clayton calls the VFW “one of the premiere organizations for supporting veterans.” He became a member after the group was instrumental in the presentation of his Bronze Star for service in Vietnam. “All the money raised goes toward the veterans, and that is something to admire,” he noted.

As an owner of the Clayton Club, Barton offers a free drink for vets on Veterans Day and Memorial Day.

“I ask where they served, but I don’t get too nosy about their experiences unless they want to offer it,” he said. “Combat veterans don’t do a lot of sharing. It has to be the right circumstance.”
John Dreisbach is disabled due to sarin gas exposure during Desert Storm, yet the Army vet proclaims: “I will continue to try to do what I can to help other veterans.”

The Concord resident joined the VFW to find others who could relate to combat duty. “Even though we served in different locations and experienced different things, the commonalities of war are constant,” he said.

A haunting experience

Dreisbach and many other vets are struggling to cope with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). “My PTSD got so bad that my wife left,” he said. “I don’t feel embarrassed to say it – it’s just what happened.”

Mark Steinberg, the Concord/Clayton VFW post commander, suspects he has PTSD but has never sought a diagnosis. “I have anger issues, and it may be related to that,” said Steinberg, a Navy vet from the Vietnam era.

The Clayton resident also has health issues – diabetes, thyroid problems, prostate cancer – that he thinks may be linked to Agent Orange exposure. “I was stationed in Saigon, so my stuff was minor. A lot of veterans who were in combat were much worse.”

Steinberg is committed to reaching out to younger veterans, including students at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill.

“When I got out and went back to school, you didn’t talk about being a Vietnam veteran in those days. It just wasn’t done,” Steinberg said. “The goal of Vietnam veterans was to make sure that newer veterans did not have to go through the same things we did.

“The younger veterans know what we had to go through and what we’ve done to help them,” he added. “We’re here to help them get their claims, because they have a lot of medical problems. We also try to help homeless veterans.”

A life of service

These brave men are unwavering in their support of today’s troops – as well as careers in the military.

“The military is where some people perform the best. A lot of people find themselves in the military,” said Wilcox, noting that the Marine Corps taught him about love of country and responsibility. “It’s been my guide through my life.”

Loechner said his father, who emigrated from Germany, always told him how lucky he was to be an American. Although Loechner’s plans to become an air cadet didn’t pan out, he remains passionate about enlisting. “I would tell the young people, listen, if you want a good education, join the Air Force.”

Barton said he always admired his father for his service in the Battle of the Bulge during WWII. “I felt that it was patriotic to answer the call,” said Barton, who was drafted into the Army. “You’re called to duty, you do your duty.”

Dreisbach calls military service “a complex question” but said he would encourage today’s youth to serve their country. Yet he can’t ignore the toll it took on him: a severe skin condition, short-term memory loss, migraines and now, a failing heart.

“I was a kinder person, I think, before the war. I know that’s a cliché,” he reflected. “But after the war, life was a lot harder. Things weren’t so simple and easy anymore. But I would do it again, knowing that what happened to me is gonna happen.”

Mount Diablo’s Beacon of Hope

Beacon-Lighting-Dec-07-2013-by-Clayton-Worsdell for websiteClayton veteran E.J. “Chuck” Kohler has made it his mission to keep the focus on Pearl Harbor – especially on Dec. 7.

That’s when he speaks at the Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day.This year’s ceremony begins at 3:45 p.m. Dec. 7 at Cal State University East Bay in Concord, with the beacon lighting at 5 p.m. If the weather permits, there will be flyover by the Vietnam Helicopters carrying WWII veterans.

“When that beacon light is turned on, that’s a tribute to those individuals that lost their lives at Pearl Harbor,” said Kohler, a Pearl Harbor survivor.

Charles Lindbergh originally lit the beacon in 1928 to assist in the early days of commercial aviation. The light beamed each night until Dec. 8, 1941, the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor during World War II.

It was not relit until 1964 and now shines only that one night each year. In his poem “A Tour of Remembrance,” Kohler closes with:

Our seasons pass, the time draws nearer, the last survivor will have faded from sight.
Then, comes each following 7th of December, will there always be those who will care enough, not only to remember,
But to remember, and then – come here, to the top of Mt. Diablo, on that night, and light The Light.

Previous post:

Next post: