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05-15-06, 09:32 AM
Remembering Vietnam

May 15, 2006

A Wisconsin spring these days is quieter for the Rev. Ray Stubbe of Wauwatosa. In 1968, Stubbe was a Navy chaplain in Vietnam, dodging rockets and sniper bullets during the siege of Khe Sanh. A photo by noted Life magazine photographer Dick Swanson shows him leading Marines in prayer.

Later this year, that scene will be re-created in a life-size diorama at the Wisconsin Veterans Museum in Madison. The exhibit will be part of a display, "In the Belly of the Dragon: Life and Death in I Corps." Included will be Stubbe’s crucifix, helmet and boots, still caked in Khe Sanh’s mud.

Stubbe, who served two tours in the I Corps region, went on to found the 3,000-member Khe Sanh Veterans Association and co-author several nationally recognized books on the battle. The now-retired pastor has also donated 150 boxes of files, thousands of photos, 2,000 cassettes of interviews and numerous artifacts from the siege to the museum. "It was a great relief for me to know that all that information will now be safe.

"You have to understand how it was in Vietnam," he says, indicating that for those fighting there, the war was compressed into small actions where men risked their lives to save each other, rather than thinking of the conflict as a historical panorama.

Within minutes of landing at Da Nang, his first taste of the war was seeing an officer treating his own bloody leg wound. "I thought, ‘Welcome to Vietnam,’" Stubbe recalls.

He eventually went on Marine combat patrols around Khe Sanh, barely survived a debilitating fever that still impacts his health, enrolled in jump school and trained with the Special Forces. And although he no longer heads the group he established, Stubbe still keeps in close contact with his wartime acquaintances. "It’s veterans helping veterans," he says.