CHEYENNE — The attitudes of Americans toward veterans have changed significantly in the last 50 years, according to the commander of the Security Forces Group at F.E. Warren Air Force Base.
Col. Damian Schlussel, speaking during a Veterans Day commemoration in Cheyenne on Monday, said veterans no longer face the disdain that was seen among members of the public during the Vietnam War.
“I think over time people have started to realize just how many sacrifices those in uniform have made to guarantee people’s freedoms,” he said. “And whether you disagree with the politics or whether you disagree with things that we’re doing, they still recognize one thing, that there’s still a man and a woman and a family who are serving to guarantee those freedoms.”
Jerry Bowen, a helicopter pilot who served two tours in Vietnam and one mission in the Gulf War, said the treatment of veterans in the 1960s and 1970s was so bad that he hesitated to tell anyone he was a veteran.
“I got off the airplane in San Francisco and hippies were there spitting on you and stuff like that,” he said. “It was just horrible. I was afraid to stand up and say I was a Vietnam vet because of all the controversy when we came back.”
Also present at the ceremony was Gus Fleischli, a former legislator and Cheyenne business owner who served as a gunner on a B-17 bomber for 32 bombing missions over Germany in World War II.
“Every time you got in an airplane, it was scary,” he said. “When you got in that airplane, you were on your way to Germany. And that was no fun.”
Fleischli, who organized “Honor Flight” trips for Wyoming veterans to the World War II memorial in Washington, D.C., said by the time he was flying missions, he felt the Allies in WWII had the upper hand in the war. However, he said the outlook wasn’t quite so positive in the early days of the war.
“I didn’t think the Allies were going to lose the war, but it was damn close,” he said. “We were on the downside at that point. When I was flying those 32 missions, we were on the positive. We were bigger than they were at that time.”