COLUMBUS — Jerry Chlopek was at two very different stages of his life when he left home to go halfway around the globe to fight in two wars.
Chlopek was a teenager just out of high school in 1964 when he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps, went off to boot camp training and later shipped out for a far-flung place called South Vietnam. He would do a 14-month tour before returning home to Columbus.
In 1990, Chlopek was in his mid-40s when he was called back to active duty to serve in Persian Gulf War, code-named Desert Storm/Desert Shield, to fight with the coalition assembled in response to Iraq’s invasion and annexation of Kuwait.
“We were activated in December and came back in May,” said the now 68-year-old Chlopek, who joined the U.S. Army Reserves in Columbus in the early 1970s after leaving the Marine Corps.
He was at about the midway point of his 41-year career at Cornhusker Public Power District when he was deployed to serve in the Gulf War in 1990.
Chlopek, commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3704, will be among the dignitaries recognized Tuesday during Veterans Day 2014 — Honoring All Who Served at Lakeview Junior/Senior High School.
The Veterans Day celebration, set for 10 a.m. in the school's competition gymnasium, will feature guest speaker James “Doug” Whitaker, junior vice commander of the Nebraska Veterans of Foreign Wars.
John Iossi will serve as master of ceremonies and the American Legion Honor Guard will advance the colors. The Lakeview High band and chorus and American Legion Chorus will perform.
Other dignitaries will include Kendall Christensen, commander of American Legion Post 84; Mickey Behlen, president of Post 84 Ladies Auxiliary; Jim Jakub, commander of Disabled American Veterans Pawnee Chapter 20; Ken VanDyke, American Veterans Post 10; Geanne Chlopek, Post 3704 Ladies Auxiliary; Eric Mullally, Platte County Veterans' Service officer; Columbus Mayor Mike Moser; District 22 state Sen. Paul Schumacher; Larry Adams, correspondent Voiture 841; and Mary Ann Otte, 8 & 40 Platte County Salon 818.
Meanwhile, Central Community College-Columbus will observe Veterans Day by being a part of a larger community event.
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The campus’ Student Veterans of America is collaborating with the VFW to provide lunch for local veterans from 10:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Tuesday at Platte County Agricultural Park.
The student veterans club also will be accepting donations to send members to the Student Veterans of America National Conference in January.
During the week of Nov. 10, visitors to the campus can see a Wall of Honor displaying the photos of veterans and service members who are CCC students or employees or their family members.
CCC operates Veteran and Military Resource Centers on its Columbus, Grand Island and Hastings campuses to support veterans and active duty, reservist and National Guard members while they make the transition from the military to student life.
Chlopek spent his two tours of overseas duty in some pretty forbidding weather conditions — the steamy jungles of Vietnam and the searing heat of the Iraq desert — but he didn’t bring home any lasting injuries from the two locales.
The Post 3704 commander hauled freight in convoys of trucks in Vietnam, shuttling ammunition, food and other supplies to forward units. The trucks were always subject to sniper fire, but Chlopek was never hit.
“I got really lucky,” said Chlopek, who logged 30 years in the Marines and Army Reserves before retiring. “I didn’t get (any permanent) injury, but I lost my hearing for a while when we hit a land mine and it blew up.”
In Iraq, Chlopek was again behind the wheel in the supply convoys of a military police unit, this time delivering food, water and clothing supplies to three confinement camps for holding captured Iraqi soldiers held as prisoners of war and refugees fleeing the fighting.
“We made sure the supplies got through,” Chlopek said.