By Dawn Kessinger
HARROD — Butch Brewer was born and raised in the small community of Westminster, but he’s living a big life.
After graduating from Harrod High School in 1964, Brewer said there were a lot of different things that inspired him to join the Army in 1965.
“The draft was one thing. It was coming, and I knew it. I also had a bunch of friends who were already in the service. Ultimately I felt like it was the right thing to do, to enlist and to try and get an education,” Brewer said.
After basic training, Brewer went to Fort Belvoir, Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C. for advanced training in heavy equipment mechanics.
“Everybody in our class was either sent to Vietnam or Germany. I basically walked across the street and started a brand-new company. I was the first man in the company; it was called the 41st Engineers,” Brewer said.
After he finished training, Brewer and his company were assigned to the base camp of Long Binn, in Vietnam, which was located just above Saigon.
“We were in a unique company. We were all over the Saigon area, on the rivers. We were outfitted to build bridges, do salvage work on the
rivers if something got sunk. We were in some crazy places – in the Delta, all up and down the Saigon River,” Brewer said.
“We had two sets of barges with cranes and divers attached to us, along with LCMs – landing craft mediums – they moved the barges. Wherever and whatever the job called for, that’s what we did. I’d go along, on the LCMs, to make sure the barges kept running and as an extra gunner,” he said.
Brewer said the war made serving in Vietnam a scary situation at times, and his biggest challenge was staying alive.
“We provided our own security. It wasn’t like you were with a whole bunch of guys – it was just us, period. We got hit pretty hard during Tét (the Vietnamese New Year) in 1968,” he said.
After serving for two years in Vietnam, Brewer left the Army on Aug. 28, 1968, and returned to Lima. He said the transition from military life to civilian life was very difficult.
“It was really a big adjustment coming back. You go through survivor’s guilt: ‘Why did I survive and why didn’t somebody else?’ And then the attitude of the people was something else you had to deal with. We didn’t know anything about the protests or riots until we got home,” Brewer said.
“Vietnam veterans just clammed up and kept everything to themselves. You didn’t want people to know, and it wasn’t because you weren’t proud of your service – you just didn’t want the hassle. You hid it from the other vets, because the older vets – World War II and Korea – said, ‘Aw, that (Vietnam) wasn’t a real war.’ Well, it was a real war – those bullets don’t know the difference between World War II vets, Korean War vets or us,” he said.
Brewer got a job from 1976 to 1986 where he could use the skills he sharpened while serving in the Army.
“I joined the International Union of Operating Engineers. I really lucked out, because I got a job with SJ Groves, out of Minneapolis, Minn. It was one of the largest roads/ bridges/ dams contractors in the United States at the time. I traveled quite a bit and worked as a master mechanic and a dirt supervisor for them for years,” Brewer said.
He then returned to Lima, where he worked until 1996 for Jacobs Engineering, a chemical plant, where he was a master mechanic.
“Vietnam caught up with me in 1996. I’ve got degenerative disc disease, and I’ve had 14 surgeries in the last 18 years. Working on the rivers (in Vietnam), there’s water there. You’re dirty, you jump in. What we didn’t realize at the time was that those rivers were full of Agent Orange,” Brewer said.
“It’s one of those things in life. I can either sit around and feel sorry for myself or make the best of it, and I choose to make the best of it. That’s all I can do,” he said.
Brewer and his wife, Roberta, enjoy traveling and have visited 49 of the 50 states. Between the two of them, they have 5 children and 7 grandchildren.
Brewer also finds satisfaction in the service he offers as a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1275 Honor Guard.
“We do military burials. It’s a very honorable and enjoyable thing to give a veteran his final goodbyes. Last year we did 167 military funerals, and there’s only nine of us on the squad at the present time. We could use some more volunteers,” he said.
“It’s so satisfying to honor a fellow vet. You get to wondering, ‘I wonder what his story was; what did he go through?’ To see the look on the people’s faces when you present the flag or you play Taps or fire the rifle – it’s just such a satisfying moment,” Brewer said.