Veterans Day: Local resident writes books on Vietnam experiences

More than 40 years after the Vietnam War, retired Major Reuben H. Siverling wanted to give his former troops a chance to recall their stories from action.

The Kansas City North resident kept in contact with more than 100 of those Army Rangers and what started out to be a pamphlet turned into a book.

Ten years ago, Siverling self-published “Reflections, true combat stories as shared by the elite LRRPS, LPRS and rangers of the 4th Infantry.”

Last year, his second book, “Reflections Revisited” was published by Xlibris.

Reuben Siverling

Reuben Siverling

Both of the books describe life in the Vietnam War, the first includes perspectives of his troops and a way to honor them. The second features formerly classified information on missions during his 25 years in active duty.

A native of Reynoldsville, Pa., Siverling was in the U.S. Army from 1956-1996, which included two tours in Vietnam. In 1963-64, he flew more than 425 Huey Combat Helicopter missions in Vietnam, earning 17 medals. He was awarded the Army commendation medal with 'V' for valor for walking through mountain terrain amidst enemy forces to return the remains of two downed American pilots.

In 1968, he returned to Vietnam to command the Fourth Infantry Division's Company E, 58th Infantry Long Range Patrol and later became the first commander of Company K, 75th Airborne Rangers.

As a 29 year-old, Siverling guided hundreds of 18 and 19 year-olds into the jungles of North Vietnam. The mission sent out small groups of men looking for the enemy and then they would inform the U.S. forces by code where the enemies were and then they were extracted by helicopters before the infantry came in.

Everyday groups of four to five men would canvas the 15,000 square miles of jungle near the borders of Laos and Cambodia.

The danger of the missions was pretty evident from a line that Siverling said while talking about the mission at Panera Bread Co. on NW Barry Road last week.

“If you sleep, you snore. If you snore, you are dead,” he said.

Oftentimes the camouflaged men were mere feet away from the Vietnamese forces.

“It was the most hazardous duty in Vietnam,” he recalled.

“My job, my mission, was not to win a war. It was to send them home alive. You can't win a war.”

To that point, he noted communist control took over South Vietnam within 24 hours of the USA pulling out of the war. The country has since prospered as an exporter of goods and he mentioned there is a McDonald's in Saigon.

He was awarded the Combat Infantryman Badge, the Bronze Star Medal and the Purple Heart, for wounds received in combat; the Meritorious Service Medal, Army Aircraft Crewmember Wings, Army Master Parachutist Badge; and many foreign country campaign and service medals.

In his first tour, there were no more than 5,000 U.S. soldiers in Vietnam and during his return trip, there was nearly 500,000 – many of whom were drafted to join the war. The large numbers also led to countless casualties and is still the longest combat participation in any war, starting in 1955 and ending in 1973.

The War in Afghanistan, which started in 2001, could surpass it next year. After his active duty stint, Siverling spent 14 years as a senior army instructor at Westport High School in Kansas City, Mo.

“You treat young people right, they will treat you right,” Siverling said. “Young people today are a great investment.”

During his stay in the military he attended Park College – now Park University – and graduated in 1973 cum laude with a business administration/economics degree and five years later he graduated from the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kan. Siverling earned his master's degree in public administration/comptrollership in 1979 from the University of Missouri-Columbia.

He had assignments at Fort Riley (Kan.) and Fort Sheridan (Ill.) as deputy finance and accounting officer/assistant comptroller/staff finance officer, respectively.

In civilian life, he spent years as a commercial loan banker for U.S. Bank, First Bank of Missouri and First Community Bank helping more than 2,100 businesses in Kansas City and the Northland expand, grow or start. He also formed and was the owner/operator of Business Capital Resources, LLC, from 1983 to 2017.

In 2008, when his first book was published, a reunion among of his soldiers is what led to that book. He had 128 men from all over the United States and even one from Argentina, come to Kansas City for a get-together.

He raised more than $40,000 going door-to-door getting donations to pay for the flights and hotel rooms to stay near KCI Airport.

“They weren't welcomed home, I wanted them to come to Kansas City to honor their sacrifices,” said the Platte County resident.

The group had chances to catch up and Siverling got to see soldiers he hadn't seen since departing the Seattle airport after the U.S. pulled out of fighting in Vietnam.

Siverling recalls buying a new shirt and pants in the airport and changing in the restroom, leaving his military fatigues in the trash. With many protests still going on, the group was warned to expect a less-than-pleasant welcome home.

“I wanted to put together a pamphlet on how they got wounded,” Siverling said of the initial idea that turned into the book. “They didn't deserve to be spit on. They were kids. They had their lives disrupted. Some were going to go into college. I have the highest respect for them.”

For six months he put together letters that came from his soldiers and self-published the book at Pro Print in North Kansas City. He eventually picked up a copyright for the book, but his intention wasn't to make money on the accounts of the battles, but merely to give his troops something to share with their families about the combat.

He stated about one-fourth of his soldiers went into military careers, while others became successful in other ventures in life. One he mentioned is a professor at Yale.

Siverling and his wife, Bonita, celebrated their 49th anniversary in July. The two have six children – five daughters, one son – six grandsons and one great-grandddaughter. Three of the grandchildren – Ryan, Matthew and George – followed in their grandfather's footsteps into the military. Ryan and George are in the Air Force, while Matthew is the U.S. Army, soon to be commissioned as a second lieutenant following graduation from Texas A&M next month.