Unique Vietnam War display open to the public

American Legion hosts LZ (Landing Zone) Arielle November 13 to 18

By Arielle Schaffer

Frank Schaffer, Vietnam War Veteran, brings a unique exhibit to Rockford with LZ Arielle at the American Legion Post 102, 331 Rockford Park Drive, November 13 to the 18.

“The exhibit is one of a kind, and not your average gun show type exhibit,” said Schaffer. He said it includes weaponry from the war, but much more, protest displays, exhibits from the South Vietnamese, and much more. He hopes the public will attend this free event, which is open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday, November 11 through Thursday, November 16 and Friday and Saturday, November 17 and 18
from 1 to 8 p.m.

Schaffer said his work is intended to educate, to heal and to motivate the desire to stop all wars forever. Schaffer served in Vietnam from 1972 to 1973, said he hopes the show will help people understand the Vietnam conflict.

The display has been a project of Schaeffer’s for decades. He saved his own artifacts from his time in service, and collected more over the years, from flea markets, garage sales, ebay and more.

“I saved all this stuff that I brought back and instead of putting it in my basement, I decided to take it out and bring it to schools and venues to educate the public.” Schaffer said he began the display to supplement the Moving Wall as it traveled around the United States and realized it would be useful in schools to educate children.

While the Moving Wall allows  people to remember the soldiers who were lost in the Vietnam Conflict, it does not describe the event. Schaeffer wants people to understand what Vietnam was like.

Instead, LZ Arielle depicts the history of the conflict. It includes heavy machinery, military uniforms, photographs, fliers and more.

“In combat, your senses are all so highly attuned, it’s unreal,” said Schaeffer, who served with the First Aviation Brigade at Da Nang with the 11th Combat Air Group. “Your sight, smell, hearing… You don’t wash because in the field the enemy can smell it. Your goal is to smell like the enemy and every weapon sound. You come to know those different sounds. A lot of time we used the enemy’s weapons because if you can confuse them for even a couple of seconds, that could be enough time to get out of there.”

In Vietnam, the infantry walked all day long, for miles and miles, over logs and under logs in swamps with leeches. “War is gross, it’s horrific. You are looking for any signs of enemies and land mines because in war, in combat, if you make a mistake, someone dies.”

“War is filthy and horrific and these memories will be in your mind until the day you die. I’m fine on the Fourth of July, fireworks don’t bother me, but the smell of diesel, helicopters and wet canvas, I’m instantly there again.”

Schaffer said the soldiers’ dreams and hopes were the same as their buddies back home, but the soldiers in war dealt with life and death situations every day.  The constant fear of whether or not today would be their last day was always on the soldiers’ minds. Because of this, some soldiers suffered mental health problems.

“This stuff happened more than thirty five years ago and it’s still right there. It just amazes me sometimes.”

Schaffer believes his collection of Vietnam material will help people understand what the experience was like for the many who served. The display contains more than 800 items. It tells the story of the soldier’s journey from Basic Training to their time in country. Included is a section on the war protest movement. A “hands on” display consists of all the equipment carried by the “grunts” including an M 16 and an M-60. All weapons and ammo on display are de-milled (made inoperative).

Schaffer is inviting special groups to a private showing of the LZ Arielle the evening of Wednesday, November 15 following the 6 p.m.  closing of hours open to the public. He invites Boy and Girl Scouts, Young Marine groups cadets or other youth groups to make arrangements to come to the private showing. For more information or to reserve, call Frank at 616-558-8583.

Schaffer is interested in meeting or talking with other Vietnam War veterans who might be interested in helping him share the story of the conflict.