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Jim Jansen, a true hero and veteran

Just exactly who are our heroes? Growing up it just seemed like the athletic stars were our idols. Best basketball, baseball, football, etc players seemed to be our heroes to look up to and emulate.

That is just how it happened back in the ’60s… We all aspired to be a star. It changed from decade to decade, but there was always that star you wanted to be like.

I grew up with probably the most memorable and greatest athlete to come from Marshall. In full disclosure, I have to say he was my best friend growing up and for life. He had a lot of competition to be called my best friend, but I think Greg Lens wins out. In fact, he is one of several athletes from Marshall to play professional sports, playing in the NFL and WFL. I could go on and on about the exploits of Granite Greg Lens, but now is not the time.

A true hero is Jim Jansen. A classmate and great friend of mine who was honored with two purple hearts and was awarded with a Bronze Star and Silver Star for valor in combat while in Vietnam in 1966-67. “The Silver Star is the third highest personal decoration for valor in combat.” To be honored with a Silver Star in combat far surpasses the “pressure” of a big game. Anyone in combat can attest to that. I don’t wish to belittle awards for athletic accomplishments, but just wish to present a different perspective and honor a great friend.

The thing that amazes me about Jim is that only once after he returned from Vietnam did he share any of his experiences with me. On that occasion, he shared that “I was running for cover with two other buddies and incoming took all three of us out.” He recalled being thrown end over end from the blast, “like it was slow motion,” and the guy to his right was killed and the one to his left was wounded way worse than he was. He sustained Purple Heart wounds. That was the only time he shared his Vietnam experience with me. We were on our way to the Showboat Ballroom in Lake Benton, had to pick up Dave Markell, and it was time to drink. No more war stories then or ever again.

Gwen Jansen, Jim’s widow, who currently resides in Marshall, shared with me that Jim never thought of himself as a hero … but as a survivor.

In the summer of 1969, I graduated from St. Cloud State and knew I was going to be drafted soon. That was the way it was then. Out of school, into the Army as a draftee. Some were drafted into the Marines.

Expecting to get my draft notice any time, I headed to Cape Cod in June of 1969 with veterans Jim Jansen, Gary “Weed” DeAustin and Darvy “The Father of Fun” Ekness. We also had other friends join us who were from Cokato, who we knew from St. Cloud State, Hayden Fleming and Curt Johnson. Living and tending bar in Hyannis Port Cape Cod in the summer of 1969 was memorable to say the least. Moonwalk, Chappaquiddick, and Woodstock not too far away.

Back on track. I got my draft notice and had to return in August of 1969 for my induction. I can’t forget as I prepared to leave for Minnesota in Denny Christiansen’s gray 1963 Chevrolet convertible, (which was to be returned to the used car dealer on Lakestreet), that Jim and Weed were dividing up what clothes of mine they wanted. As I asked what am I going to wear when I get back, Jimmy the Jet replied, “Hell, they will be out of style when you get back, IF YOU GET BACK!” Little did I know the wisdom he was expressing in a very cavalier manner. As I said, Jim never talked about his Vietnam experiences to me.

A footnote. I had to fly out of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, in February of 1970 for Oakland and Vietnam. My Dad had to work and couldn’t drive me, so he let Jim take our car and drive me to Sioux Falls. Not once on the way did we talk about Vietnam. I guess he didn’t want to worry me. Thanks Jim.

One week later I was choppered into the jungles of Vietnam and dropped off at a small artillery fire support base and my adventure began.

God bless all of our veterans.

— Ron “Nick” Sovell is a Elko New Market resident and a 1965 graduate of Central Catholic High School in Marshall.

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