Crawford County Veterans Fundraiser Oct. 23

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One-time prisoner of war, Dan Hefel (right), of Guttenberg, the subject of the new book, “Finally, Home,” received a metal POW flag from River Town Ironworks, of Prairie du Chien, presented by Vietnam Veterans of America Associate Member Steve Pape. Also pictured are some of the Vietnam commemorative glasses that are being sold to raise funds for Crawford County veterans. (Submitted photo)

By Correne Martin

 

The third annual Crawford County Veterans Fundraiser is Oct. 23, at Leisure Time Sports Bar & Bowl in Prairie du Chien. All are welcome to enjoy a chicken dinner, a UTV ride, bowling tournament, auctions and raffles and more. Donations of auction items, and financial contributions, will still be accepted through Saturday morning, Oct. 23. 

The intent of this fundraiser is to provide veterans from Crawford and neighboring counties with assistance, primarily with living cost issues, said Steve Pape, an associate member of the Vietnam Veterans of America. It is sponsored by River Town Ironworks and the Wisconsin Veterans Foundation.

The general public is invited to sign up a four-person bowling team, bring a full UTV to cruise the county, grab a meal, or purchase a chance at silent auction items, gun raffles or a large fire globe raffle. Drop off any donations at RTI or Leisure Time. 

Helping our veterans

With the support of the county veterans service office, Pape gets names of registered veterans to whom he can provide resource information that is available to them. 

“I’m able to discuss veterans disability services, help them fill out forms, answer questions, refer them on, etc.,” Pape clarified. “I don’t have all the answers, but I know where to go to get them. There’s a lot going on, on the other side of the state, that people here don’t know about, and many are eligible for this assistance.”

Pape stands ready to chat at the Oct. 23 fundraiser with veterans and the general public, and hand out details regarding services and products. Alongside him will be Richard Lindbeck, president of the Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) Wisconsin State Council. He will be on hand to meet current and former members of the military and their families who wish to network, socialize and enlighten one another.

“Please come, at least so we can have that presence of the military,” Pape said. 

Pape was not a member of the military. In fact, he tried to enlist in 1977 but didn’t pass the physical. However, he describes himself as a great patriot, which he feels is more necessary than ever right now. He was raised with the constant influence of a lot of military men and women for 55 years. 

“I’ve listened to the cries of children in school whose brothers were drafted. I grew up listening to grown women scream and bawl because of what they were hearing about their husbands in the service,” Pape said. “Some of these things, you don’t forget.”

He added, at least 30 million people have taken the oath in this country from 1961 (Vietnam Era) until now. 

“There are a lot of veterans around here. I’ve fleshed out several hundred of these people,” he said. “I know some who are 100 percent disabled. We’d like to raise $10,000 and help 15 to 20 guys that way. We’re taking a sliver out of that word ‘military’ and making a difference.”

Jim Armstrong, co-owner at River Town Ironworks, brought his company on board several years ago with a special project to aid in spreading the word and backing Pape as he shares resources with veterans. 

Again, he didn’t come from a military family but, he said, he and RTI lend their weight to this cause because they simply care and want to get behind Pape and his hard work—crisscrossing the states of Wisconsin and Iowa especially, in an effort to assist veterans.

“We’re just here to help,” Armstrong said. “Steve’s an inspiring person to be around.”

RTI sells steel painted flags that represent each branch of the military and the United States. Part of the proceeds from donations for these flags go directly to the VVA, and it’s also offered to other veterans.

One of those veterans Pape has worked with, who recently received an RTI-created POW flag, was Vietnam vet Dan Hefel, of Guttenberg.

Book and film

In addition to the Crawford County Veterans Fundraiser, proceeds from a new book, titled “Finally, Home,” will provide assistance to local veterans—one in particular. The subject of the book is Hefel, who hopes to be in attendance Oct. 23, with the book. 

“Finally, Home” was written by William Winders, of Dubuque. It chronicles Hefel’s military service in Vietnam and his captivity as a prisoner of war for three years in Hanoi. It shares his determination to remain vigilant in his faith in God—often reviewing his religious teachings—and staying connected to his family through the confidence his parents instilled in him as a young child. 

Hefel’s story is also the inspiration for an independent film, “The Final 19: The Dan Hefel POW Story.”

“It is a true horror story about the terrors of war with some comedic moments. It is about a man trying to make decisions for himself during war time when they are made for you,” said Director Tim Breitbach, a distant relative of Hefel’s. “The film covers Dan’s enlistment, captivity and final return home to a community of loved ones that held a 1,143-day candle vigil for their war hero.”

Breitbach added, “Through the years, relatives told me their rendition of Dan’s story. As I became more successful as a director, my desire to visit with Dan in person and hear his story, in his own words, became evident. Once I heard Dan speak with such intensity and emotion it inspired me to create the film.

More of Hefel’s story

Dan Hefel entered the Army in December 1968, and was sent to Vietnam in 1969 as a member of the 101st Airborne Division. He served as a foot soldier, and would eventually volunteer for a door gunner position aboard a helicopter. He would serve with the new outfit just over a month before the helicopter carrying Hefel, and three other soldiers was fired upon, causing them to collide into a mountain. Hefel suffered severe burns, broken teeth, a broken arm and broken back. During his initial imprisonment he was almost completely paralyzed from the waist down. 

A report was delivered to Mr. and Mrs. Tom Hefel of Guttenberg by Police Chief Clark Moser at 10 p.m. on Feb. 9, 1970. The document informed the couple that their son, Specialist Four Daniel H. Hefel had been reported missing in Vietnam. It stated: “He was last seen as door gunner on a military aircraft on a military mission when contact was lost with the aircraft. Search is in progress. You will be promptly advised when further information is received. In order to protect any information that might be used to your success detriment, your cooperation is requested in making public only information concerning his name, rank, and service number.” 

It would be four arduous months before Hefel’s family received confirmation that he was alive, and another three years before they would be reunited with their beloved son on March 30, 1973. 

Specialist Hefel is the recipient of a Bronze Star; Purple Heart; Prisoner of War Medal; Good Conduct Medal; Combat Infantry Badge; Vietnam Campaign Medal and National Defense Medal. 

 

Pieces of this article were gleaned from an April 2021 article Caroline Rosacker wrote for The Guttenberg Press, a sister publication of the Courier Press.

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