BISMARCK, N.D. (KXNET) — On Tuesday, Veteran’s Voices looks to the skies for a conversation with airman Gerald Zittleman — a man of many tales, many years of service, and many lessons that can be learned.
Zittleman’s military career began in 1964 when he was drafted into the Army.
“I took the Army physical and passed,” he stated. “Then I took the mental test that they had, and I was the first one done. When I said I was done, the Sergeant said that I couldn’t be because there were 299 other guys out there who hadn’t finished yet — and I had done it in record time. I asked him to grade it, and when he did, he stepped back and said that I was the first one — he’d graded 3,000 guys, and I was the first to ace the test. So I asked him what that meant, and he said it meant I was being released from the Army, and had to join the Navy or the Air Force.”
Between the two, he chose the Air Force. After scoring very high in all four categories, he was placed into the Electronics division — and during his time with the military, would be nominated as Airman of the Month at least four times (and winning once). After some schooling and leaving an Air Force base, he received the order to go to Vietnam.
“I flew into Saigon at just about dusk,” he recalled. “The sun was just going down, and we were at final approach, powering down. All of a sudden, bullets were coming through the plane. We later found out that a Vietcong had killed two guards, got on their jeep with a 60 cal, and was going down the runway and shooting at the F4Cs and the planes. And our plane, of course, was landing. I happened to be on the East side of the plane, but I later found out that there were five or six men killed, and 12 wounded, before we even touched the ground.”
During his discussion with KX, Gerald shared some harrowing stories of the first few days of his deployment — such as the time the Vietcong put razor blades in a bar of soap, resulting in a fellow airman requiring 225 stitches. Though the first few days of his deployment were rough, to say the least, Zittleman notes that there were also some positive aspects that came out of them.
“While I was there,” he explained, “we had a nun — Sister Angeline from the Star of the Sea Orphanage — come to our site looking for our scraps from our dinner. They were put into 55-gallon drums and laid out in the sun, so they were pretty rank. And we said, ‘Absolutely not.’ She only spoke French, but we had one guy in the outfit who spoke fluent French, so he was able to get her the information she needed. Basically, she was looking for more dairy products for the kids she had in the orphanage.”
Zittleman and his fellow soldiers completed lots of projects at Sister Angeline’s orphanage and even flew in a planeload of toys for the children at Christmastime. This is just one of many stories Gerald shared with KX News that highlighted the type of person he is.
“Once we found out what she needed,” Zittleman stated, “when we were in Vietnam, each one of us got $100 combat pay — so the 140 of us donated $10 each every month to buy food supplies. We went to the orphanage, pressure-washed their beds up, and painted them.”
For his service, Zittleman was awarded the Bronze Star medal — but even now, he continues to give and honor those who have served by donating to various veteran and wounded soldier organizations.
“Volunteering is a payback from what I went through,” he stated, “and it’s what I enjoy doing. The military was an eye-opener, but it was a good experience — with some bad ones, too. But in all, I think every young man should have to serve at least two years for their country. They would appreciate what all they have.”
Zittleman is not only a hero for his military service, but also a hero to those around him, and to those he shares his story with. He is truly an inspiration and someone to be admired, and we are proud to have helped to make his voice heard.