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Local Editorials

Craig Johnstone, Vietnam Veteran

This was the first time he had told his story. Unlike the present war, in response to an actual attack on American soil, Vietnam was a questionable war in a far away country. 

There were no troop send offs, no kissing the girl from the window of a train as it pulled out of the station. Instead, there were mass antiwar demonstrations. Soldiers in uniform were spit on in airports, had garbage thrown at them, and were called names, like “Baby Killers!” 

When the soldiers came home, if they came home, they took off their uniforms as fast as they could and tried to put it all behind them. Cold hard fact: more Vietnam Veterans died of suicide following the war, than were killed in action.

For Craig Johnstone of Grinnell, he tried to drink it away. When that didn't work, he was fortunate to find the love of his life, Janyce, get married, and get back into college at Iowa State University. 

He received a  degree in civil engineering, and now at age 66, runs a successful surveying business in Newton, Johnstone and Associates.

Graduating from Newton High School in 1965, Craig  enrolled in the Electronics Technology curriculum at Iowa State University. During the summer after his first year in E. Tech., Craig took an Army induction physical and discovered that he was color blind, a condition that would not allow him to be an Electronic Technician.

Devastated, he dropped out of school, and lost his draft deferment. Not to worry, he signed up for a 120-day delayed, three-year enlistment in the Army, with the understanding that he would be guaranteed construction drafting school.

On induction day, he discovered that the only thing that was “guaranteed” was the three years. The Army's only openings were in infantry, artillery, and medics.  Craig chose medics.

After a stint in Germany, Craig found himself with the 1st Cavalry in the Central Highlands of Vietnam during the 1969 Tet Offensive. The Vietcong would mine roads at night, and it was the cavalry's job to sweep the roads in the morning.

One French doctor became impatient and went around Craig's unit. They picked up the pieces a mile down the road.

It all came home to Craig when he had a buddy die in his arms, and could do nothing to stop his friend from dying. It was at that point that Craig understood that he was not in charge, there was a God, and it was He who was running things.

Politics stood in the way of allowing the U.S. to win the war in Vietnam. The Vietcong would retreat into Thailand and Cambodia, and U.S. troops were not allowed to follow.

“When you go to war,” Craig says.  “Play to win, or don't mess with it.”

After the war, all of the medical training Crag received paid off when he saved the life of a woman in Iowa State's Student Union Bookstore. She had stopped breathing and Craig performed CPR.

Like so many Vietnam Veterans, Craig has never participated in veteran organizations, or the Army's reunions. He doesn't even receive VA medical benefits. However, he did get his college education with the help of the Cold War GI Bill. He simply moved on.

This is long over due: The Vietnam War veteran is as honorable as the World War II vet, the Korean War vet, the Gulf War vet, the Iraq-Iran war vet, and Afghanastan War Veteran. They all fought, they all served their country, and they all deserve our respect.

Craig, we thank you for your service.

• • •

Have a good story? Call or text Curt Swarm in Mt. Pleasant at (319) 217-0526, email him at, or visit his website at

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