All veterans have a special and unique story about their time in the service.
For one man, his story has affected how the rest of his life has gone.
When people talk to Skip Meyer of rural St. Libory, they know they are going to not only learn something, but get a joke or two told to them, and a story. Meyer has spun many a yarn over the years, but none more important and dearer to him than the one of his time in the U.S. Army.
He hasn’t been able to share that story until recently.
Born Harvey Meyer Jr, he spent most of his life living in St. Libory. In fact, he grew up just a couple miles down the road from where he and his wife, Carol, currently reside.
After attending grade school in Worms, and high school in St. Paul, Meyer wanted to become a mechanic and planned on attending college in Hastings.
That never happened.
Skip became a soldier on Aug. 12, 1969. With the Vietnam War going on, he knew he was going to get drafted.
“They used a number system and I was listed as No. 1. I was going, period.”
Meyer served as a sniper with the 199th Infantry Brigade and was first sent to Fort Louis in Washington, where he took his AIT (Advanced Infantry Training).
Meyer had flat feet and was told he would probably be a clerk, so he didn’t have to do too much walking. That quickly changed.
“Apparently, I did something wrong in basic (training), like show the city boys how to shoot a rifle,” Meyer said with a smile, “and I ended up in the infantry and sent to Vietnam.”
In February 1970, Meyer was assigned to a three-man sniper group made up of a radio man, a sniper and a machine gunner, the latter of which was Meyer.
In May of that year, Meyer’s group was sent to Cambodia and teamed with the other sniper squad — there were only two in their unit — on a mission. That mission would end up being something that has haunted Meyer the rest of his life.
They were sent to an area that, unbeknownst to anybody, had no communications.
“They could hear us, but we couldn’t hear them,” Meyer recalls.
He said he lost his best friend, his radio man, Bob, during that mission. Meyer said it took decades for him to get past that.
“I finally got my closure several years back when I reached out to Bob’s family.”
Over the next couple years, Meyer exchanged letters with his lost friend’s mother until she passed away.
Since that fateful day, almost 50 years ago, Meyer has battled with post-traumatic stress disorder.
He said for decades he had nightmares while he slept, sometimes several in the same night. Meyer said the bad dreams aren’t as frequent, but still happen to this day.
Meyer said the PTSD also caused him to be more of a “loner” and caused him problems in his personal life.
Just recently has Meyer been able to discuss his time in the service, but it took close to five decades before he was ready.
Eventually Meyer and the other four snipers, and the body of Bob, were rescued — all the while dodging gunfire.
Meyer said he did get injured in the battle.
“I took a slight wound to the leg and got sent to Long Bihn hospital (in Vietnam) for about three weeks.”
Meyer said he also came down with malaria during that time.
“I was unconscious for about four days and my temperature reached 107. They said I probably should’ve been a vegetable.” He said he might have been if not for a caring nurse.
The nurse, a complete stranger to Meyer, stayed by his bed all the time. She only left to change clothes and use the restroom. Meyer credits her care for his survival.
“I never got her name. I know what she looks like, but I don’t know her name. I sure would like to thank her.”
After Meyer got out of the hospital, he was too weak to go back to regular duty, so he was sent to a place called “Look-out Mountain,” where he posted security for a look-out tower.
Shortly after that the 199th unit got deactivated. Since Meyer had only served about three or four months, he was sent to join the 101st Airborne.
Most of his time was spent at Fort Evans on the Laotian border.
Meyer only served a total of 19 months in the Army. He was signed up for 24.
Thirteen of those months were served in Vietnam.
“When I got back I had less than five months to serve so they gave me an early out. They didn’t want me contaminating the new troops with war stories I guess.”
Meyer received lasting injuries from his service time — including to his shoulders, leg and especially his back, which has caused him problems ever since.
Upon returning home from war, Meyer was not treated like a hero. Anything but, he said.
“I was processed out of the Army at Fort Louis, went to an airport in Seattle, Wash., and got spit on. Flew to Denver to catch a plane to Grand Island and there the security guards took me and one other guy to their office to protect us from the treatment we were getting,” Meyer said.
“When I landed in Grand Island, I got called a baby killer.”
He said the name-calling continued for a while, even after he was back to civilian life, in bars and other public places.
Meyer went into sales, working in different capacities, and did that up until he retired at the age of 50 due to health issues.
He said he doesn’t have any of his fellow soldiers left from his unit; they have all passed from gangrene.
“I’m the only one left, and I have some (Agent Orange) effect also.”
Veterans Day to Meyer means honoring family and his fellow soldiers.
“It’s a day I honor my dad, my grandpa, my uncle and all other veterans.”
His grandfather and father both served in the Navy. His grandfather, Louie Sintek, served in World War I, and father, Harvey Sr., in World War II.
These days Meyer relaxes on his land in St. Libory. He and his wife, Carol, sell miniature horses and donkeys and keep busy dressing up as old St. Nick. The couple has four children and nine grandchildren.
“I have been doing the Santa Claus thing for 49 years.”
His Mrs. Claus, Carol, joined him about 15 years ago. They play the jolly couple for children all over the state by setting up at stores with one of their horses, listening to children’s Christmas lists, and posing for photos.
Meyer said he will continue to play Santa as long as he physically can because he loves doing it.