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Vietnam veterans: Hastings men's story featured in Lawshe museum

Wayne Bauer was awarded a Purple Heart medal in 1968 on a hospital ship. Photos courtesy of Wayne Bauer

Hastings resident Wayne Bauer never really talked about his experience in the Vietnam War until he got involved with veterans' groups like the VFW, American Legion and Metro Marines. But since the beginning of January, 2011, Bauer's experience in the war has been part of a public museum exhibit at the Lawshe Memorial Museum in South St. Paul.

Nancy Hanson organized the exhibit. Several years ago, the museum did an exhibit on all the wars that occurred since the Civil War.

"What we found out at that time is we had very little in our collections for Vietnam," she said.

In the summer of 2010, she committed to organizing an exhibit just for that war. But since the museum didn't have much in the way of information or artifacts, she had to find veterans who would be able to share their experiences. Bauer was the first one she contacted, after reading a newspaper article about him.

By January 2011, she had gotten seven veterans with connections to Dakota County to participate in the exhibit. When the exhibit opened, seven more veterans stepped forward and volunteered to tell their stories. Bauer and the others gave Hanson items on loan to stock the exhibit - things like photos taken of or by the veterans, medals, personal letters, weapons, publications from wartime and even some Viet Cong items. Hanson also interviewed each veteran extensively, and condensed the text to include in the exhibit. While the complete interviews are too long to put on display, they are available for the public to read on request.

Bauer was 18 when he went to Vietnam. A member of the Marine Corps 1st Battalion 1st Marine Division, his job was to man the anti-tank weapons. Because there weren't many tanks there, the weapon was used mostly on bunkers and similar structures.

There was nothing pleasant about his year of duty.

"It was miserable," he said.

The living conditions were poor, the weather was worse.

From cleaning up after the Tet Offensive to Khe Sanh, where he was wounded in both legs by shrapnel, to Ha Tien and Da Nang, Bauer's tour shifted him often.

"It seemed like you were moving all the time," he said.

The exhibit is centered on the 14 personal stories, including Bauer's. Another segment tells the story of another Hastings man, Duane Foss, who was killed in action during the war. Foss and Bauer knew each other in their childhood.

"I knew him real well," Bauer said. "He only lived about half a mile from my house."

Foss was part of Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Division. It was October, 1967, when he and his unit went to Quang Tri province to defend a bridge that was critical to the supply line going into Con Thien. The bridge, later named "Bastard's Bridge," came under attack by the North Vietnamese army in the early morning Oct. 14, and by the time the battle was over, 21 U.S. Marines had been killed, including Foss.

In the Lawshe Museum, Foss is the only person featured who was killed in action.

"He was the only one there that didn't come back alive," said Foss's brother, Donald Foss.

Donald Foss appreciated seeing his brother's story told. He supplied much of the information for Duane Foss's display.

"It meant a lot to me to do it, just to have it out there," he said.

Hanson is more than grateful to the veterans and families who stepped up and offered their stories and artifacts.

"They made the exhibit," Hanson said. "It's because of them that we have this exhibit."

Personal stories from the Vietnam War aren't often told. Bauer himself said he was surprised to hear someone wanted to do a museum exhibit on the Vietnam War. It's been 40-some years, he said, and the war wasn't a very popular one.

To Hanson, the exhibit is all about educating.

"I think Vietnam was a very misunderstood war, and I think people need to be more educated about it, especially young people," she said.

"I like to think this is an exhibit that gives people more of an understanding," she added.

The exhibit will be open until Dec. 23 this year. Once it's closed, the items will be returned to the veterans. The exhibit is open Wednesdays and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The museum is located at 130 Third Ave. N. in South St. Paul. There is no charge to see the exhibit. For more information, contact the museum at 651-552-7548.