For a sparsely populated area, Grant County is home to a high rate of veterans.
Of the roughly 7,200 residents, more than 10 percent have served their country — 809, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
One of those veterans, Ret. Army Staff Sgt. Bob Van Voorhis, said rural Grant County residents have always answered the call to serve.
“This county and Eastern Oregon in general has contributed an awful lot to the freedoms and everything else in this country,” Van Voorhis said. “This county has always been one of the first to step up when there’s been a call. It says something about the way we’re raised and the way we do things.”
Van Voorhis was born and raised in Grant County and enlisted in the Army as an infantryman in January of 1967. During his service, Van Voorhis received two bronze stars, a purple heart and an air medal.
Van Voorhis typically carried C4 while in Vietnam, something he said greatly increased his quality of life. A hot meal was never far away when he could light a thumb-sized piece of C4 to heat his breakfast or coffee.
“I lived pretty good,” Van Voorhis said.
He explained C4 will only explode if there is an internal explosion, which is why a cap is used to detonated it.
He said it was important to let it burn out and not stomp it out because it would burn a hole in the bottom of your boot — something they’d tell a new guy if they liked him.
He also remembered the constant mud and ensuing skin disease in the Mekong Delta. Besides the one week of rest and recuperation in Taipei, on which he declined to give details, Van Voorhis kept his men busy, either patrolling or getting ready to patrol with only the occasional break to relax.
He said basic training was grueling, though not entirely unenjoyable, and compared it to the movie “Full Metal Jacket,” saying it was an accurate representation of what basic training was like for them.
In particular, he recalled one-on-one bayonet training with padded poles approximating the weight of the rifles they used. Van Voorhis described it as “organized chaos”
He received extensive training, broad and specialized, for his military occupational specialties, including a crash course on delivering a baby. This particular bit of knowledge came in handy when, in the middle of the Tet Offensive, Van Voorhis said he had to help deliver a baby.
Van Voorhis said, when he returned from Vietnam in November of 1968, he was handed a new uniform, pushed out the door and told “good luck.” Van Voorhis was shocked to by the hostility of his own generation when he returned. He said he was spat on, called “baby killer” and treated with general disrespect when he returned home.
“It took me a long time to forgive this country and my generation for doing that to me,” he said.
Like many other veterans, he quickly learned to blend in. However, Van Voorhis said he could always spot other veterans even in a classroom full of people. He said there’s something about the way the military taught them to carry themselves that he could always pick out. On class breaks, he said they would always group together to talk and smoke.
He said he began to see attitudes toward veterans change after the First Gulf War. He said it was the feeling among Vietnam veterans that “no veteran will come back to this country and be treated like we were.”
Today, Van Voorhis is extremely active in veteran affairs. He works with the Veterans Affairs Office and Veterans Service Office. He is a member of the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars. He is the chairman of the Veterans Committee at the Elks Lodge and works with the state Elks organization.
“I will do anything I can for any veteran in Grant County,” he said. “I don’t care what branch of the service. I don’t care what their MOS was. I don’t care when they served. If there is something I can do to help them, I will do it.”
He said many veterans don’t get the recognition they deserve, and regardless of where they served and in what capacity, they are veterans and deserve to be acknowledged and thanked for their service.
Though Van Voorhis is no longer able to enlist, he said he would do it all over again if he could.
“I would go to Vietnam again, even knowing the outcome,” he said. “I would do it all over at the drop of a hat and feel honored to do it.”