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Bernie Sundeen: 'One of the lucky ones'

Bernie Sundeen enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1968 and served for six years, until 1973. Sundeen was deployed to Southeast Asia and the Mediterranean during his service.

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U.S. Navy veteran Bernie Sundeen, of Cloquet, talks about his time in the service at Veterans Park in Cloquet on Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021. Sundeen now volunteers with the Disabled American Veterans. (Samantha Erkkila / Duluth News Tribune)

Bernie Sundeen considers himself one of the lucky ones when it comes to being a Vietnam War veteran.

Sundeen, originally from Cloquet, joined the U.S. Navy because he wanted to get some education while he was serving.

“Instead of waiting for the draft to grab me, I figured what I would do is I would get into one of the services and see if I could get some schooling,” he said.

The Navy recruiter had called him after his physical and test to schedule an appointment. Sundeen said before he met with the Navy, the Air Force and the Marines reached out to him as well.

“I had already told them the Navy had called, and I had an appointment with them the next day,” he said.

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RELATED: Veterans Day 2021: A salute to service

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Veterans Tom Brabec, of Scanlon, Robert Tischer, of Cloquet, Bernie Sundeen, of Cloquet, and Larry Sell, of Mahtowa, stand near the memorial at Veterans Park in Cloquet on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021, after a morning spent gathering donated items around town for the Disabled American Veterans. Samantha Erkkila / Duluth News Tribune

The Navy officer who interviewed Sundeen was Jerry Craft, a name Sundeen remembers to this day, and Craft was influential in Sundeen’s decision to join the Navy.

“The thing that sold me on joining the Navy was that he says in a matter of a year you could be just like me,” Sundeen said. “I thought, ‘Gee, that would be nice.’”

After Sundeen’s boot camp and time at engineering and propulsion school, he was in Maryland where he started nuclear power schooling. Once all of Sundeen’s schooling was completed, he was stationed on the USS Tusk submarine for two years.

“I got duty orders to report to Vietnam, awaiting more orders,” he said. “I went to Vietnam, and I was probably one of the more luckier ones — I wasn’t there very long,” he said.

Sundeen spent six months in the Mediterranean aboard the USS Leary, a destroyer. In 1973, Sundeen was discharged.

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Sundeen moved back to Cloquet where he got a job in a similar field to what he did while he was enlisted.

“I signed on to a repair crew at the steam plant, and that's the type of work that I was trained in when I was in the Navy,” he said.

Now retired and volunteering for the Carlton County Disabled American Veterans, Sundeen said Veterans Day is important to him.

“When I see a veteran myself, I always tell them ‘Thanks for your service,'’’ he said.

Because he knows what other veterans are going through, he wants to help them in any way he can.

“A lot of my friends that I served with and were in Vietnam, they have different problems,” he said. “If there is something I can do to help them, and there are so many veterans out here that have got it tough.”

Having friends and people to talk to who are also veterans is important to deal with life after service, Sundeen said.

“A lot of us went through the same stuff, and it is nice to talk to somebody else about it,” he said. “I can talk to my wife, but she don’t understand, or I can talk to another friend of mine, but if he wasn’t there, then he doesn’t know.”

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Sundeen joked about the rivalry each veteran has with other veterans from different branches of the armed forces.

“One thing I will say though, I think the Navy had the best food,” he said. “When I was on that submarine, the food was the best there was.”

Sundeen said they would get all the “top stuff,” on the submarine, some of his favorite meals were steak, lobster and shrimp.

“Would I do it again? Sign up and go? Absolutely,” he said. “I enjoyed myself, and felt at the time, too, it was my duty to serve.”

Related Topics: PEOPLECARLTON COUNTY
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As reported by Carlton County District Court.
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