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Old 06-21-2018, 11:00 PM
Newton Daily News Newton Daily News is offline
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Default Bookout’s work catalyst for healing between veterans, community

Two tours of duty in Vietnam gave Steve Bookout plenty of stories to tell — the trick was just finding the right outlet.

Bookout, an Army veteran who flew a Bell UH1 “Huey” helicopter from 1969 to 1971 in Vietnam, came back to the United States when anti-war protests were at an all-time high. Like most veterans who served in Vietnam, Bookout quickly learned the best solution was to avoid talking about his service.

Now, 50 years later, Bookout has seen public opinion about the war shift. Vietnam veterans are welcomed into the same veterans organizations that gave them the cold shoulder when they first returned home. A book written by Bookout, “The Boys of Jasper County: Tales from the ‘Nam,” has helped turn that tide. A collection of stories and poems written by local Vietnam veterans, the book is now in its third printing.

“It wasn’t always pleasant, but we’re all proud of what we did,” Bookout said. “I want my grandkids to know what I did in Vietnam.”

A decorated veteran, Bookout’s military service did him no favors when he returned to Jasper County in 1971. Unable to find a job, Bookout found himself hand digging graves at the Catholic cemetery for $20 a grave.

“There was a point where they were going to shut off the water and the power. Those were some pretty tough times,” Bookout said. “We got together to help ourselves because nobody wanted us.”

Spurned by local veterans groups, Bookout and other Jasper County Vietnam veterans formed their own organization, the Jasper County Vietnam Veterans Association. For the first time, Bookout had a place where he could connect with other veterans. Veterans, particularly those who served “in-country,” have their own language, something Bookout wanted to capture in the book.

“The guys are opening up, it used to be nobody wanted to have anything to do with it,” Bookout said. “If you listen to two guys who were in-country together their vocabulary changes. When they’re together, they’re talking this other language.”

It wasn’t long before Bookout realized he wanted to start collecting some of the stories he’d heard, along with his own, to leave for their children and grandchildren, so they’d have a better understanding of what serving in Vietnam was like.

“I wanted to put something together for the guys in Jasper County so they could build a little legacy so their kids and grandkids would have something about (what) Grandpa did during the war,” Bookout said. “That little dream panned out to be successful.”

Since the book’s publication, Bookout has seen significant changes in the way veterans are treated locally. Vietnam veterans have finally taken their place as respected members of the community, a memorial to their service is in place on the lawn of the Jasper County Courthouse, and veterans groups have welcomed them with open arms. For Bookout, the book has been a catalyst for that change.

“We’ve moved up in status, because people got to read some of these stories. I think by and large the people got a better understanding of some of the things we went through,” Bookout said.

Doug Bishop, a longtime veterans advocate in Jasper County, has known Bookout for years. He’s seen the change Bookout is describing, by opening up and sharing their stories. Bishop said Vietnam veterans have found a place of their own in the local community. The first-hand account in the book helps readers understand what Vietnam was like for the men who served, many of whom are their friends and neighbors.

“I think the book does a great job for those that may never get an opportunity to meet these guys. It gives them a chance to understand what the war is all about,” Bishop said. “They’re all living pieces of our history walking amongst us in Jasper County.”

Now in its third printing, Bookout said he doesn’t know what will happen next with the book. Since its publication, other veterans have reached out to him about sharing more stories for a second book, but Bookout said he’s ready to hand over the reins to someone else. Bishop said he’s ready to take on the project.

“Steve’s (Bookout) kind of passed the torch onto me,” Bishop said.

Bishop said he’s been approached by several of the families of the six men who gave their lives during Vietnam. He’s in the early stage of putting together a book to honor their memory. With several interviews already complete, the longtime veterans advocate said he’s eager to share the story with readers.

“We want to ensure they’re never forgotten,” Bishop said.

Despite his notoriety, Bookout is modest to a fault. He’s been approached by readers who’ve encouraged him to write another book about his experiences in Vietnam, but he’s demurred. In his mind, there are other veterans who have stories to be told.

“There’s guys who had it much rougher than me, those are the guys that are heroes, those are the guys that ought to be writing stuff,” Bookout said. “I’m just an old farm boy from Jasper County, Iowa. That’s all I ever wanted to be.”

Contact David Dolmage at 641-792-3121 ext. 6532 or

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