VIETNAM VETERAN CITED FOR BRAVERY
Karl Pasero admits he did not know what he was getting into when he was drafted in 1966 and sent to Vietnam the following year.
He didn’t receive a hero’s welcome when he returned home two years later because of the politically-charged times, but he deserved it.
“I’m proud of my service. Every veteran I know is,” said Pasero, who was born and raised in St. Helens.
Although he was only in Vietnam for one year, Pasero was awarded a Purple Heart, three Bronze Stars, a Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross, and an Air Medal for participating in more than 25 aerial missions over hostile territory.
One of the Bronze Stars was awarded for his actions on Aug. 30, 1967, while serving as a machine gunner with Company B, 2nd Battalion, 5th Calvary, during a mission in the Nui Mieu Mountain complex.
As reported in the Feb. 1, 1968, issue of the St. Helens Chronicle, “When his unit came under hostile fire, Specialist Pasero, disregarding his own safety, exposed himself to the heavy enemy fire as he maneuvered to a more advantageous position. Continually exposing himself to enemy fire, Specialist Pasero attained fire superiority over the hostile force, enabling his unit to safely vacate his wounded comrades.
“His display of personal bravery and devotion to duty is in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflects credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.”
Pasero also suffered in Vietnam. He served 30 day missions as a machine gunner and squad leader, sometimes living in the jungle and surviving numerous firefights. He was hospitalized for a shrapnel wound, malaria, and infections five times.
But Pasero also had a front-row seat for Bob Hope’s 1967 Christmas USO show at the Phu Cat Air Force Base with sex symbol Raquel Welch, singer and actress Barbra McNair, and Miss World. It was recorded for TV and can still be found today on YouTube.
“We flew in directly from the field. All of us were dirty and still had our weapons with us. Bob Hope was talking to some airmen in clean uniforms at the gate when we arrived. When he saw us, he said, ‘Who are you guys?’ We said ‘1st Cav.’ He said, ‘You’re going to sit in the first row,’ and we did.”
After the show, Hope personally invited the unit backstage to meet the entertainers. Welch gave Pasero an autographed photo, which he still has.
“It was nice to see some American girls,” said Pasero, who flew out on another mission the very next day.
After his one-year tour, Pasero was deployed to Ft. Benning in Georgia for six months, where he trained new soldiers to go to Vietnam.
“It wasn’t what I wanted to do, but you do what they tell you,” Pasero said.
Pasero was discharged in 1968 and moved back to St. Helens. He told his parents he was going to get a job, but his mother insisted he go to college because the government was paying for it. Pasero attended Portland State University, where he earned a BS in 1968. He said it stands for “Beat the System.” Pasero didn’t use it but went to work at Oregon Steel Mills in the Rivergate area of North Portland instead.
“I’d worked in a paper mill in the summers, and I liked that kind of work,” Pasero said.
Mechanically minded, he spent much of his spare time building custom cars and trucks that were regularly shown at the annual Hot Rod Shows organized by the Multnomah County Hot Rod Council. He was always interested in cars, and hit up his uncle, Oregon Journal sports editor and columnist George Pasero, for passes to area drag races in high school.
Now 75, Pasero spends much of his spare time fishing local ponds and streams. And he recently obtained a Vietnam Veteran cap that he wears frequently.
“When they see it, many people now say, ‘Welcome home,” They know,” Pasero said.