By lasca randels
Stephen Conrad, Syracuse, was honored as the January Veteran of the Month at the Kosciusko County Commissioners meeting Tuesday, Jan. 14.
Conrad was born in Kendallville Nov. 13, 1949. His family moved to Syracuse in 1961, and Conrad graduated from Syracuse High School in 1968.
He was drafted into the Army in the summer of 1969 but chose to join the Navy instead. He reported for duty Aug. 8, 1969.
He attended boot camp at the Great Lakes Training Center in Illinois. From there, he was sent to Little Creek, Va., for 30 days of training in preparation for Vietnam.
In May 1970, he left to begin his tour in Vietnam. Conrad was offered three military occupational specialty codes to choose from. His choices were: serve as a postman, go on river boats or train as a sniper. Conrad chose riverboats.
He was a proud member of River Patrol Division 59, also known as “the River Rats.” Conrad was stationed in the Mekong Delta.
At age 20, Conrad was an advisor to the Vietnamese Navy during both day and night patrols to coordinate strikes with U.S. air assets and artillery. During his year in Vietnam, he participated in 31 combat patrols. He was under fire three times — this included hostile enemy fire twice and friendly fire once.
Conrad left Vietnam in May 1971 and headed to his last duty station, on the USS Puget Sound (AD 38) destroyer tender, an auxiliary ship designed to provide maintenance support to group of destroyers or small warships, in Newport, R.I. He spent two years there before being discharged in May 1973 in Boston, Mass.
Following Conrad’s return home, he and his sweetheart, Kimberly Ruth Webster, were married in 1977. They were blessed with three boys: Stephen II, Michael and Jeffery. Tragically, Kimberly and Stephen II were killed Christmas Day 2016 when their vehicle was struck by a drunk driver.
Conrad has been blessed with two grandchildren, Kendall and Brooks, from his middle son, Michael, and daughter-in-law, Katie.
Conrad has been employed as a salesman with Kuert Concrete in Leesburg since 1996.
“I’ve known Steve forever. We just happened to be talking one day, and I had no idea he was a Vietnam vet,” Commissioners President Brad Jackson said. “I guess my point is, there are a lot of heroes among us, people who have sacrificed for our country who don’t go around telling everybody.”
“The reason you probably don’t hear a lot from people who come from Vietnam is because is wasn’t a popular police action or war or whatever you want to call it,” Conrad said. “For us coming back home, it wasn’t the sweetest day in my life. In the ’60s, back in those days, nobody liked war — everything was peace and love — well, I didn’t see that, but it was just good to come back home.”
“I think it’s a black mark on our country that we didn’t respect our vets,” said Jackson. “It takes more of a patriot to fight an unpopular war than a popular war.”
The following is a joint statement issued by Steve’s sons, Michael Conrad and Jeffery Conrad: “Our dad has taught us a lot about living life with integrity and strong character. He has a great sense of humor and is sure to bring laughter to any conversation. He always tells us, “hard work pays off,” and he leads by example. He’s persevered through many of life’s challenges with a positive attitude and is a role model that we look up to daily.”