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Brotherhood: Army honors Normal Mayor Koos for helping fellow veterans

Chris Koos, the Mayor of Normal, and comrades receive honors from the Army for service to veterans and upholding the traditions of the regiment.
Town of Normal
Normal Mayor Chris Koos and comrades receive honors from the Army for their service to veterans and upholding the traditions of the 506th Infantry Regiment.

The U.S. Army has named Normal Mayor Chris Koos a distinguished member of the regiment, a designation given to those who preserve the history and traditions of the unit — in this case, the 506th Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division (Screaming Eagles).

Since the Vietnam War, Chris Koos has tried to keep veterans of the 101st Airborne Division in touch with each other through reunions and less formal get-togethers; the honor recognizes that work.

Koos said there is healing in that.

"Some bad memories, I think, for some people. Some are being treated for PTSD issues still. But I think more just somebody you can talk to frankly, openly, and sometimes with some black humor, jokingly," said Koos.

In Vietnam, Koos was a lieutenant and infantry platoon leader in 1970-71. He said it exposed him to people from all walks of life. His platoon sergeant had an advanced degree in oceanography. Another was a ditch digger, he said.

“I think that camaraderie that was developed in 1970 and '71 when we all served together as young people is still very much alive, and I think there is a brotherhood that developed out of that," said Koos.

Koos was an infantry platoon leader as part of the Ripcord and Lam Son 719 campaigns in the jungle-covered mountains of South Vietnam near the DMZ with North Vietnam.

“As a rifle platoon leader, 1st Lieutenant Koos always set the very best example of leadership for his platoon, leading from the front and taking care of the men in his rifle platoon,” said those at a ceremony honoring him.

Koos said when they returned to the U.S. after their time in the service, many veterans didn’t talk about it much because many people in America were against the war and accounts of it were not welcomed. Eight to nine years after the war, there was a parade in Bloomington-Normal thanking Vietnam veterans.

It was a big event. Koos didn’t go.

“I just didn't feel the connection on that. I thought, well, it's a little late for that,” he said.

Eventually, there was some closure.

“Some of the people I served with have gone to schools and talked about that period, what it was about, some of the things that they did. I think there has been a sense of healing for a lot of veterans in that. I have done it, too,” said Koos.

Since then, he said society seems to have taken a different attitude toward its returning soldiers.

“We've had Iraq and Afghanistan, which have brought those issues to the forefront. I think people are more aware a person can be damaged by their experiences in combat,” said Koos.

Koos earned a combat infantryman badge, a bronze star and a combat air medal for heroism during the war.

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WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.
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