REMEMBERING LOUIE

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The late Louis Zittgruen was one of nine Clayton County sons killed in action during the Vietnam War.

By Audrey Posten

North Iowa Times

 

When the Moving Wall, a half-size replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., comes to the Clayton County Fairgrounds in National June 30 through July 4, visitors will have an opportunity to honor and pay respects to the 58,307 servicemen and women whose names are inscribed upon it. Of those casualties of the Vietnam War, 867 were from Iowa, including nine from Clayton County. On panel 08w, line 26, one will find the name of Monona’s Louis Zittergruen, a private first class in the Army, who was killed in July 1970, at age 21.

Louie was the son of Marvin and Ariel Zittergruen and brother to Shirley Anderson (currently of Dallas, Texas), Sheryl Zittergruen (Monona)  and Linda Monroe (Luana).

Although nearly 50 years have passed since then, Louie’s memory—that of a kind, golden-haired, musically- and athletically-gifted, mischievous boy—has never dulled.

“You’d think, after all these years, I wouldn’t have all these memories, but we had such a great childhood,” said Linda, Louie’s junior by three years.

The two were playmates as kids, she said, recalling days growing up on the family’s farm outside Monona, playing in the hay mow, picking wild strawberries and partaking in friendly games of one-upmanship.

One particular contest involved determining how many kernels of corn they could each fit up their noses. Of course, said Linda, Louie wanted her to go first. She ended the day with a trip to the doctor.

“He was always out to have fun, always ready for an adventure,” Linda noted. “He had a mischievous glint in his eye. You knew he was up to something.”

Louie was also a protective older brother, Linda remembered. He made sure she got to all the school dances. Afterward, if she made plans to go out to eat with friends, he would drop her off and make sure she returned home safely.

Louie’s willingness to help others also stood out to his brother Sheryl, who was a couple years older. A Vietnam veteran himself, Sheryl returned home several months before Louie was drafted.

In the school band, Louie played the contrabass clarinet, a large, 5.5-foot-long instrument with a deep sound. While the clarinet was large, one girl played the harp, which was even bigger.

“She couldn’t carry it, so he carried both instruments,” Sheryl stated. “He told me once that he would throw the harp over his back.”

The trade-off: the girl would carry his backpack.

Linda and Sheryl said Louie was a talented musician, and was once selected to play in Europe. In addition to the contrabass clarinet, he also played the bass drum in marching band.

His voice was a musical instrument in itself, as well, Linda mentioned.

“He had a beautiful singing voice,” she said. “He was a gifted tenor.”

Louie was a member of the choir at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Monona, where he was also part of the Luther League.

In addition to being musically-talented, Louie was a great athlete.

In high school, he excelled at the longer distances in track and earned a trip to the state meet, Linda said.

He also played football at the positions of offensive center and defensive lineman. He was a selfless teammate, Sheryl explained, recalling a time Louie hurt his arm so badly he had to be removed from a game. His replacement didn’t fare well, though, so the coach sent Louie back into the game with his arm taped to his side.

“He played half the game like that,” Sheryl said, adding that Louie later discovered he had a broken arm.

With a fun-loving personality, Louie had a lot of friends, Linda said. The ladies also loved him. To this day, classmates, friends and community members share thoughts and memories with the siblings, which means a lot to them.

His personality also left an impression on those outside the area. Around 10 years ago, the family obtained a letter written by Louie’s staff sergeant in Vietnam. Penned after Louie’s death, it described the kind of person he was to a tee, Linda and Sheryl said.

It read, in part: “I remember Lou as a big, strong guy with yellow hair, good features and an easy-going disposition. He was willing to try different assignments and didn’t gripe about anything, which was unusual. More important, he kept his head and did his job when we were on the move, in defensive positions, or performing various types of special operations. He wasn’t a hotdog or a coward under fire—he was a competent soldier.”

Louie served in South Vietnam, Quang Ngai Province, specializing in light weapons infantry. His unit was the 11th Light Infantry Brigade, 3rd Battalion, 1st Infantry, B Company.

Linda said it was a shock to discover Louie had been killed, as the family expected him to be on R&R in Japan at that time. A delay prevented him from leaving, however.

“We didn’t even think he was [in Vietnam],” she noted. “It was tough.”

Roughly two weeks after his death, a letter from Louie arrived home. With it came the tiger photo that accompanies this article, along with details about the animal.

“They were patrolling in the evening when they heard this noise,” Linda explained. “They called out for [it] to identify itself, but they kept hearing this noise coming at them, so they shot it. They laid on the ground all night. In the morning, they found out it was a tiger.”

In the years since Louie’s death, Sheryl has visited the Vietnam Memorial in D.C., wishing to honor his brother, his cousin David Mueller, who was from Garnavillo, and other men with whom he served. Their parents also visited the wall, Sheryl said.

“It was busy and mom and dad didn’t know where to go or what to do,” he said. While trying to find their way around, the couple luckily saw a policeman and mentioned they wanted to find their son’s name on the wall. The officer told them to follow him and he activated the lights on his motorcycle, leading them to a special lot and walking them over to the wall. It meant a lot to his parents, Sheryl noted.

It’s also meant a lot to the family that, over the years, people have given them etchings of Louie’s name on the wall.

Sheryl mentioned it will be interesting to see how the Moving Wall compares to the real thing, which he said stood out for “how overwhelming it was, the blackness.” At the Moving Wall, he will run guard duty and his wife, Mary, will read names.

“I’m thrilled the wall is coming,” Linda added. “I think the size and scope of the wall should leave such an impact.”

The Moving Wall will arrive at the fairgrounds Thursday, June 30, via a motorcycle escort. It will be open for public viewing and guarded 24/7 while it’s there, until 8 a.m. on Tuesday, July 5. Several presentations, including the opening ceremony Thursday night, at 6 p.m., as well as multiple special exhibits, will also be featured. Please see the schedule in the ad on page 12. Also visit the “Moving Wall-Clayton County” Facebook page for updates.

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