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Vietnam vet reunion makes stop in Mukilteo

 

August 12, 2015

Bob and Myong Mueller hosted the 14th annual Vietnam veteran reunion of the 35th/538 land clearing team at the Rosehill Community Center July 31-Aug. 2.

Bob and Myong Mueller attended their first Vietnam veteran’s reunion of the 35th/538 land clearing team last year in Minnesota – and before they had even left, they had already volunteered to host the next one.

“‘Why not?” Myong Mueller said. “If we wait too much longer, we won’t be able to do it.”

The 19-year Mukilteo residents hosted the 14th annual reunion the weekend of July 31-Aug. 2 at the Rosehill Community Center. About 15 veterans showed up for the three-day event.

The first 35th/538 land clearing team reunion was held in 2001 for 12 Vietnam veterans. Today, the event has a following of more than 200 veterans, and more are added to the newsletter list every year.

Each year, a different vet hosts the reunion in their hometown. The reunion has made stops in Kansas, Texas, New Mexico, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Kentucky, Iowa, New York, Georgia, Illinois and Goldendale, Wash.

“It has been wonderful,” said Sharon Dohe, the event coordinator. “Every year, there is somebody new who comes who has never been to a reunion. There are some guys who will never miss a reunion, and there is somebody new who will always show up.”

The reunion group found Bob Mueller after one of his former partners in Vietnam asked Dohe to reach out to him. When the Muellers heard about last year’s reunion, they dropped all their plans to make the trip to Winthrop, Minn.

“My wife and I decided we were going, and loved every minute of it,” Bob Mueller said.

Myong Mueller was so inspired by the reunion that she volunteered to host the following year’s event. She did so without first consulting with Bob, but her husband enjoyed the experience in Minnesota so much that he didn’t take much issue.

“I said, ‘You did what?!’ Bob Mueller said, with a laugh. “It’s been a little bit of a chore, but I’ve loved every minute of it. As long as I can stay upright, I’m going to go to every one of the reunions.”

Upon returning from Minnesota, Myong, with help from her three children, began preparations to host the next year’s event. She had her eye on Rosehill for the venue, but reservations for the following year couldn’t be made until February.

So Myong arrived at the community center at 6 a.m. the day reservations could be made. After locking down a venue and making hotel reservations, her biggest worry was just making sure there was enough food for the vets in attendance.

The reunion is part of the healing process for the veterans. It lets them reconnect with former war partners and gives them the opportunity to share their stories.

“Just talking to these guys, you thrive over their experiences as well as your experiences,” Bob Mueller said. “A lot of this stuff you kind of forget, just stash away in the back of your memory.

“This opens it up and brings it back up, and you feel good. You just feel good talking about it with the guys.”

Dohe also makes sure those in attendance have visited Veterans Affairs and are aware of any new military benefits or risks from the war.

Bob Mueller was born in a small town near St. Louis, where he spent most of his time on his grandparents’ farm working machinery. He fell into running dozers upon joining the military, and made his first trip to Vietnam in 1967 as part of the 35th land clearing team.

Among various small jobs, the 35th land clearing team and 538 land clearing company spent most of their time clearing highways, bunkers and mine fields. Dozers worked from 5:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. everyday.

After bringing their machinery home and getting any fuel or repairs needed for the next day, Mueller said some of them would have to go back out and work a night guard shift.

After a year’s stay in Vietnam, Bob Mueller returned home for 30 days – but before leaving he had already filed papers to make another six month trip.

When he returned home, Bob Mueller hid the fact from this parents that he would be returning to Vietnam until two days before he left.

“When I told [my mother] I was going back to Vietnam, she almost had a cow,” Bob Mueller said. “She said she would divorce me as a son if I ever went back to Vietnam again. But it really turned out great.

“If she hadn’t said that, I would have volunteered for another six months.”

After his second deployment, Bob Mueller returned home and was stationed as an instructor in Missouri before he was sent overseas to Korea. It was in Korea that he met and married Myong.

After some time in Boston and Illinois, the couple flipped a coin, and decided to head west, moving to Washington in 1974. They moved to Mukilteo in 1996.

Bob Mueller continued to drive machinery after leaving the military, working for two different unions before retiring in 2007.

“Once I was on a dozer, it was hard to break loose,” Bob Mueller said. “I spent my life on them. It's been a good experience.”

For more information on the 35th/538th land clearing reunion, visit http://www.538thlc.com.

Erik Erickson is an intern at the Mukilteo Beacon. Follow him on Twitter @Erik_Erickson.

 

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