Jerry Frieler served in the infantry in Vietnam

Mike KnaakFeatured News, Print St. Joseph, St. Joseph0 Comments

The American Legion is celebrating its 100th birthday in 2019. In addition to national and statewide activities commemorating this milestone, American Post 328 of St. Joseph is planning a number of festive and patriotic activities for the community.  

One of those special events will be profiles of St. Joseph-area veterans published in each Newsleader during 2019. The Newsleader is joining with Post 328 to recognize veterans and Legion members who served during World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and other theaters of conflict and Cold War tensions.

by Tom Klecker

Gerald Joseph Frieler, 72, U.S. Army – Vietnam Era

Jerry was born at his aunt’s home in Greenwald. He is the fourth child of 11 (seven brothers and three sisters).  The family farmed 360 acres near Greenwald.

Jerry attended a one-room country school for eight years. He spent two years at Sauk Centre High School. After prayerful discernment, Jerry felt he had been called to the priesthood. Having been inspired by the late Dr. Thomas Dooley and his missionary work in Southeast Asia, Jerry entered the minor Maryknoll Seminary in Chesterfield, Missouri.

Having been brought up in what Jerry describes as a “very strict Catholic family,” he wanted to see if the priesthood was his true vocation. Later he transferred to another Maryknoll Seminary in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. He recalls so admiring the intellectual prowess of the priests that taught there.

In March of 1965 Jerry decided the priesthood was not his calling and he returned home.  He was 18 years old. 

Being one without a lot of mechanical aptitude, an asset on the farm, Jerry and his father often were embroiled in conflicts.  Jerry describes his father as “unaffectionate and verbally abusive.”   After one particularly heated and hurtful argument Jerry drove to Minneapolis and enlisted in the army for three years (November 1965). Jerry readily concedes that he enlisted to get away from his father.

Jerry completed his basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. From there he was assigned to Fort Gordon, Georgia, for five months (February-June 1966). After completing field radio repair school, he was flown to Vietnam.

Arriving at Tan Son Nhut Air Base, Saigon (Now presently named Ho Chi Minh City) (July 1966), Jerry was assigned to the Big Red 1 Infantry Division, Company B. From there he went to a processing center at Long Binh (LBJ to the troops).

Jerry eventually ended up at an outpost simply known as Bear-Cat. He describes this outpost as “nothing more than a hole in the forest.”

For six months he repaired radios. Radio communications between those soldiers in the bush on patrol, and rear echelon, and other support units was critical for combat operations or otherwise.

On a few occasions Jerry went out on ambush patrols. On one particular dark night it appeared that the enemy was attempting to penetrate the defensive perimeter. It certainly sounded that way. Within seconds the platoon opened up with all the fire power at their ready.  n the morning the intruder was identified as a “hambugerized” water buffalo.

Jerry extended six months beyond the army’s normal 12-month deployment in Vietnam. Because he extended his tour in Vietnam, he was allowed a 30-day leave back home. When he returned to Greenwald, Jerry was dismayed to find that many in town avoided him, “People I grew up with.”  This was as traumatic as Vietnam.

Later in his tour of duty Jerry did take R &.R. in Japan for a few days.  He was in Vietnam during two particularly dangerous “Tet Offenses (1967-1968).

Jerry was promoted to E-5 platoon sergeant, which provided him an opportunity to experience a leadership role.

After 18 months in Vietnam, Jerry got orders to report to a joint U.S. Army/Italian Army Base in Vicenza, Italy.  The initial orders read “duration 5 months, minus immediate 45-day leave.” Orders later changed to “30-day leave” only to again read:  “report immediately to Vicenza”.

Jerry much preferred the first set of orders. On the first leg of his trip to Italy, he arrived at JFK Airport, New York, only to be greeted by two MPs. For some unexplainable reason, a man entered the room dressed as a civilian. He listened attentively to the MP’s accusatory remarks about Jerry being AWOL. Jerry never knew this man’s position of responsibility or authority. That being said, Jerry is forever grateful for his decision. The man simply told the MPs, “Let him go. Leave him alone. Hell, he just spent 18 months in Vietnam.” Off to Italy Jerry went.  Jerry spent the remainder of his army enlistment in Italy repairing radios. While in Europe, Jerry attended Octoberfest in Munich, Germany. 

Jerry was discharged from the Army in Italy (November 1969). While still in Italy, he enrolled at St. Cloud State University and promptly started classes in January of 1969 .(Another veteran utilizing GI Bill Educational Benefits)

Jerry recalls, “Lots of protests on campus” (against the war). He “hung out with other vets.” While in school: he rented a little apartment in Waite Park, bought a car and motorcycle with his savings and $130-a-month GI Bill allowance. Now on life’s fast track Jerry graduated with a Bachelor of Science in accounting and got married a week later.

For three years Jerry was employed as an auditor for the Minnesota Department of Revenue in St. Paul. At the age of 31, “married, with a 2-year-old daughter . . . and a son on the way” the family moved back to St. Joseph.  With some apprehension tempering confidence, he started his own business in 1977.

As a licensed public accountant, Jerry operated his own business for 24 years before he sold it in 2001.

While at St. Cloud State, Jerry met Jane. He met his future wife at a party. After two years courtship, they married in 1972.  They have been married for 48 years. Jane worked as a nurse at St. Cloud Hospital. Jane, a former Franciscan sister, “dove tailed” with Jerry’s seminary days, thus contributing to their nicknames:  the “bishop and the nun.”

Prior to the birth of a son, now 41, Jane and Jerry adopted a Korean daughter, now 44.  They have two grandchildren..

Now retired, Jerry and Jane live in Florida over the winter months.  They both enjoy good health.

Over time issues that fostered some bitterness have substantially dissipated giving way to a level of serenity that for so long was elusive.

Between hobbies, exercise, volunteerism, life is full and meaningful for Jerry Frieler (A.K.A. “the bishop”)

Gerald Frieler

contributed photo
Gerald Frieler in Vietnam.

Author: Mike Knaak

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