Many years have passed since the Vietnam conflict, but the passage of time doesn’t diminish the memories for many veterans.
As a young man, Eli Wabnum wanted to join the army to participate in the Korean War. His mother, Edna, discouraged the idea of her son going to war. Eventually despite his mother’s protests, Eli joined the army. He completed two tours in Germany and one tour in Korea, before serving as a sergeant to 33 men in the Vietnam conflict. Before leaving for Vietnam, he told his mother he would still serve in wartime.
Experiencing the horrors of war are part of the inner workings of a veteran and unimaginable for the rest of us. But listening to Eli describe his harrowing past paints a clear picture of the pain and hardship of war.
Eli tells of an event he remembers from the Vietnam Conflict - he stepped on a land mine. “The only thing I remember is a flash of white as I got blown into the air. When I came to, I looked and saw another man lying nearby. I crawled to him to see what I could do to help. My men said, ‘Eli, you’re bleeding.’ Blood was coming out from the bottom of my shirt. They tore off my flak jacket and saw that I was hit in several spots with fragments from the mine.”
Eli was flown out in serious condition and underwent surgery. Post surgery, the Doctor told Eli he was going back to the United States. Eli had another agenda. He wanted to go back to his first responsibility - his men. After he recovered he was allowed to return to the battlefield. Looking back he proudly states, “Of the 33 men I led as a sergeant, 30 returned to the United States alive.
Even so, his accomplishments on the battlefield will never be fully told. Eli for the most part remained a private man who kept so much inside. But if you ask him about his musical background, he’s quick to share. He played the steel guitar while attending Haskell Institute and later while stationed in Germany. Eli smiled and said, “The girls hollered for me before they hollered for Elvis!” He was a descriptive story-teller.
Eli remained a respected member of the Potawatomi reservation until his death May 31, 2007. The war will no longer torment this old veteran.