Despite not serving overseas when drafted during the Korean War, Bismarck veteran Vernon Rieger said doing his small part stateside helping keep the war’s machinery running was fulfilling work.
Rieger, 86, said he’s always been good with his hands, which were put to good use as a mechanic for the North Dakota Army National Guard’s 188th Field Artillery Battalion.
“I did about five years of service. I lucked out,” Rieger said of his not being sent overseas. “But I had a few friends that had to go. They didn’t like it that much and went through a lot of things that I didn’t have to go through. So I’ve felt a little guilty.”
The Wishek native was a natural at working on engines while growing up on the family farm, which led him to work as a mechanic in the unit’s motor pool.
He’d enlisted in the Guard in 1947, where he continued until January 1950 when he was drafted into the regular Army. After being drafted, he was sent to Fort Rucker in Alabama.
Rieger said his daily routine included upkeep and repairs on the fleet of Jeeps, trucks and other vehicles on the base.
“It was mostly like a steady job, with some guard duty,” Rieger said.
Rieger said he was even more in luck in that he worked regular hours and had weekends off, which were sometimes spent in the nearby city with other soldiers.
“I received the papers to go over to Korea, and then just a couple weeks before I was going to go they told me I didn’t have to go because I didn’t have enough service time left,” Rieger said.
He’d only had a couple of months left before his May 1952 discharge when the papers for deployment came in and he was passed over for deployment. Lucky again, he said.
After being discharged, Rieger decided he wanted to see more of the world. He moved to San Francisco to work for a couple of months, changed his mind and moved back to the family farm.
Rieger and his wife lived and ran the farm through the 1970s. During that time, they raised two sons and he operated a repair shop on the farm, helping with engine repairs for neighbors and friends.
“That didn’t pan out the way we’d hoped so we sold out (the farm) and moved to Bismarck,” Rieger said.
Relocating to Bismarck in 1984, he worked as a maintenance worker for the Missouri Slope Lutheran Care Center until retiring in 2006. His wife died five years ago.
His two sons joined the military as well. One son is stationed at Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, N.C. His other son served in the U.S. Marines for four years before joining the National Guard; he lives in Bismarck.
“My boys, they wanted to follow their father’s footsteps,” Rieger said.