Plains man desired to serve his country

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Otto Otnes, in front of the Plains VFW. (Chuck Bandel/Valley Press)

Like many veterans, Plains resident Otto Otnes enlisted in the Navy because he “always wanted to be in the military and serve my country.”

He did so in 1972, following in the footsteps of his father who served in the Navy during World War II and his uncle who went to sea during the Korean War.

First step was boot camp in San Diego, a training facility that was fast-tracking recruits for the still ongoing conflict in Vietnam. That accelerated training played a role in making basic training less than what Otnes had expected.

“Boot camp was relatively easy in that we didn’t do some of the things I expected,” Otnes said. “We didn’t get to do the obstacle courses or swing over the muddy water pit. I think they were in a hurry.”

During the enlistment process, Otnes said he was given two basic options, be a seaman or an airman. He chose to be a Naval airman, an option that meant he would not spend all his time aboard ship. Choosing the air option meant he would likely be assigned to an aircraft carrier and spend more time in port during

deployments.

Next came aptitude testing during which it was discovered he could type well.

“They knew I could type so I was assigned to supply,” he said. “My job was mainly ordering parts for the ships and aircraft.”

Supply personnel play a vital role in keep the ships and planes combat ready.

“Yeah, we were needed,” Otnes said.

Not long after training, Otnes was assigned to the USS Ranger, an aircraft carrier, and the ship was soon patrolling the waters of the Gulf of Tonkin, the bay off the coast of North Vietnam in which the war was first ignited.

The massive ship’s mission was to launch airstrikes against targets in Vietnam and protect American air dominance in the region.

The Ranger was described as a “floating city” because it carried a crew bigger than many cities.

“It was very cramped,” Otnes said. “You have 5,000 sailors and airmen on a 1,100-foot long ship.”

That crowded and racial tensions aboard the Ranger and other ships during the Vietnam era made for less than ideal living conditions.

“There were bad racial tensions on the ship,” he said. “And with a ship carrying explosives, including tactical nuclear weapons, there was always the danger of

something very bad happening.”

In all, Otnes served two tours of duty in Vietnam, both of which were typically six months long. By the second tour, air operations in Southeast Asia were winding down as the war itself began to wind down. Air operations in most of the area had been banned by Congress.

The process of coming back home to America included a layover in Hawaii, “it was fun to be there,” he said.

The final eight months of his enlistment were spent at a naval station in California where he was honorably discharged and worked in a series of what he described as a series of “dead end jobs.”

Originally from Minnesota, Otnes eventually settled in the Plains area where he has lived for the past 14 years. He spent most of his post-service working life

working in a door hardware company. He has been a member of the VFW for more than 20 years.

Looking back at his Navy years, Otnes said he has only one regret.

“I might have made a career out of the Navy.”

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