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Highground Memorial Park includes photographs from local Vietnam veteran in new collection

By Cara L. Dempski

DOWNING — Richard Lynghaug has five photographs featured as part of a traveling exhibition of wartime photographs taken by veterans.

Lynghaug, a resident of rural Downing and a Vietnam veteran, said his involvement with the project started with needing a new lens for his camera.

“I stopped at the camera shop in Eau Claire, and the person helping me saw that I had a Vietnam veterans ball cap on. He said ‘there’s a lady in Neillsville doing a memorial for Vietnam veterans and is looking for photographs,’” Lynghaug said.

The “My War” exhibition runs from August through October of this year at the Highground Veterans Memorial Park in Neillsville. Melissa Roth is the collection curator, and she has been assisted by June Berg, learning center coordinator at the Highground Park.

After the debut showing closes, the collection will become a traveling exhibition. The exhibition catalog is for sale in the park’s gift shop.

Lynghaug contacted Berg, and then his work took him close to the memorial park one afternoon. He decided to stop in and see her to set up a time to meet. Lynghaud took his photo albums and several CDs of photos to the meeting a few weeks later and left them with her to look at. Berg selected five of Lynghaug’s photos for the collection.

Lynghaug attended the collection’s opening ceremony at the park August 6. Of the 22 contributors, only eight to 10 men were able to attend.

“I never met any of these guys before hand,” Lynghaug said. “But when we started talking, it was like an old home reunion. We all got a little emotional being there with those memories.”

Lynghaug was in his fourth year as a naval corpsman at St. Albans Naval Hospital in New York in February 1969 when he got orders to report to the third marine division in Vietnam.

A friend who had returned from the war the prior year told Lynghaug, if he had a chance to volunteer, he should volunteer to be part of a reconnaissance unit. Lynghaug said his friend told him the benefits in such a unit would be better than elsewhere.

“We didn’t have to wear flack jackets or helmets, we were more often in the rear, we would fly out in Hueys, we would go out in six- to eight-man teams for anywhere from 10 days to several weeks,” Lynghaug said.

He went on to clarify his unit’s primary mission was not to engage the enemy unless it was the unit’s mission. Instead, the unit would watch for the enemy and call in artillery or air strikes to positions where enemy troops were found.

Other times, his unit would be assigned to the mountains to work as part of a relay passing communications from a reconnaissance unit on one side of the mountains to the troops on the other side.

Lynghaug was in Vietnam for approximately 10 months before President Richard Nixon ordered the withdrawal of the third division in late 1969. During his time there, he said he took hundreds of pictures.

One of Lynghaug’s photographs is of his recon unit riding in a helicopter over a river valley. It is a pastoral scene, until you notice the muzzle of the machine gun in the lower right hand corner. Lynghaug said that photograph sticks with him, because the scenery looked just like where he was raised.

“Part of the reason I love where we live right now, is if I step out the back door and look to the east, it looks just like Vietnam to me,” Lynghaug said “It is a beautiful country.”

Another photograph shows a young man lying on solid rock. He has bandages around his face and neck after having been hit by shrapnel. Lynghaug said the team he was with waited with the young man for the medevac helicopter to arrive.

He does not know if the young soldier survived his wounds, but suspects he might have because, despite the bandages, the wounds were not as serious as the bandages made them look.

A third photograph included in the collection is a “selfie” taken in Okinawa, Japan, after Lynghaug left the Quang Tri province in Vietnam. He had gotten a new camera, and wanted to test it, so he took a photograph of himself in a mirror.

When Lynghaug returned to the United States, he worked with his uncle at a horse farm where his now wife of 46 years boarded her horse. At the time he met her, Lynghaug’s wife was engaged to another man. Lynghaug said she agreed to go out with him, and it wasn’t long before she decided to break the engagement. Four months later, she and Lynghaug were married.

Lynghaug went to school to become a nursing home administrator, but was unable to find work. He eventually would go to work for the postal service as a level one janitor. Lynghaug worked his way up to the position of level eight technician over nearly 30 years of service.

“When I first started there, the system was old vacuum tubes, pulleys and ropes,” Lynghaug said. “By the time I left, Lockheed Martin was making components for the machines I worked on.”

Lynghaug worked for the post office for just under 30 years, as his military service was credited to his retirement. Nowadays he works part-time doing drug interviews for the U.S. Department of Health and Human services.

In his free time, Lynghaug is involved in the board of directors for a community veteran’s home in Menomonie. He also is working on becoming involved with the “Twilight Brigade,” based out of Los Angeles.

Lynghaug is a licensed minister, and would like to extend his skills and beliefs to the Brigade’s volunteer corp. Brigade volunteers visit terminally ill patients in end-of-life care in hospitals and hospice.

Overall, Lynghaug said he is proud to have some of his memories from Vietnam included in the collection. He also said he will not stop taking pictures any time soon.