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On wounded knee

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Eugene Foster, 62, of Wadena, traveled all the way to Vietnam and back to serve his country. Now he would like Wadena County to provide local veterans with affordable transportation to veteran's hospitals, he said.

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Foster joined the army in 1964 to "see the world." What he saw was the inside of an army hospital after being hit with shrapnel in January 1968, during the Tet Offensive in South Vietnam.

"It hurt like the devil," Foster said about the pain from his wounded knee. "Hit right in the joint, and I've been having trouble with it ever since."

He was transported from the fighting where people were being killed beside him to a hospital where he was surrounded by soldiers who had lost legs, arms and eyes, he said.

Foster underwent surgery and spent three and a half weeks recovering. However, his physical pain quickly turned to emotional pain when he learned his Vietnamese girlfriend had been killed. They were planning to get married.

"I was very despondent over it," he said. "So when I got out of the hospital ... I went AWOL."

Foster went to Saigon and got drunk, he said. But he soon ran out of money and hitched a ride back to the base. He then had to face the consequences of leaving without permission. The company commander offered him company punishment, which included digging ditches, but Foster said he refused.

"I was not in a good mood so I told him to stick it where the sun don't shine," he said. "I didn't care. I felt so bad about it."

Instead of company punishment, Foster underwent a summary court-martial, which he described as one officer who is judge, jury and executioner. He received a reduction in rank from E-5 to E-4 and 30 days of extra duty, he said.

Foster admitted he wasn't thinking very clearly at the time.

"When you're young, you do a lot of things you normally wouldn't do when you're older and hopefully wiser," he said.

Foster is older now, but he still feels the effects of his injury and three tours in Vietnam. He returned to America in 1971 with six medals, including a purple heart and army commendation, but without his Vietnamese girlfriend. However, the memories remained. The army doctors discarded the shrapnel they took from his leg, but he continues to have trouble with his knee.

Foster now spends most of his time in a wheelchair, although he said he is able to do some walking. It is a condition he attributes to the wound he received nearly four decades ago.

In addition to his leg injury, Foster has numerous other health problems. He has suffered two strokes, had a hernia and recently underwent six operations in 13 months, he said.

Foster frequently travels to the veteran's hospital in Fargo. He cannot drive and relies on rides provided through the Faith in Action program at Immanuel Lutheran Church. However, he said he realizes that the elderly man he gets a ride with cannot drive indefinitely.

Wadena County has a number of veterans who can't drive anymore due to age or medical condition, he said. The county has vans for other purposes and Foster would like to see one for veterans.

"A lot of these guys have seen a lot of action ... and they can't even get a ride," Foster said. "We've got a lot of veterans in this county who don't have transportation."

He has met many veterans since moving to Wadena several years ago, he said. Foster served as commander of the Staples VFW and Wadena VFW. A lot of veterans are upset that there isn't descent transportation available for them, he said.

"They definitely need one here in Wadena," he said. "They can spend money on a lot of things. Myself, I think it's important."

sarah@wadenapj.com

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