When he was a kid, Mike Toyne said he remembers his older brother Leon Toyne taking him and his other brother Steve Toyne to the Lake City Capri Theatre.
Despite their 11-year age gap, Mike said Leon tried his best to be a good older brother. Mainly growing up in Churdan, Leon Toyne worked at a ranch in Lansing, Wyoming, before he went to the U.S. Army.
Although he’s been gone for five years, Leon Toyne’s experience in the Vietnam War lives through a book written by his younger brother.
In his book, “Brown Mule 7: Life of a 5th Battalion, 7th Cavalry Wireman in Vietnam 1966-1967,” Mike Toyne shares the true story of U.S. soldiers who fought in the Vietnam War.
The stories are shared through Leon Toyne’s letters sent to his parents and grandparents. Detailing Leon’s service as a Combat Field Wireman, the book also shares testimonies and stories of men who served alongside Leon during the war.
In 2018, after Leon passed away, his widow Amie Toyne provided old letters to Mike, detailing his experience in Vietnam.
Initially, Mike said he was going to type them and share them with immediate family members and friends.
Reading the letters, Mike noticed the descriptive writing as he lived through the war from 1966 to 1967.
The letters not only depicted the action happening, but Leon also wrote about his “band of brothers,” which were his close friends during the Vietnam War.
Vietnam veterans featured in the book included War Zone Dental Medic Steve Streeter of Lake City, Combat Medic Steve Vincent of Lake City and Radio Operator Frank Farrell of Hudson, Wisconsin.
“He would talk about the camaraderie they had and think that bond helped them survive a year in Vietnam,” Mike Toyne said.
With Leon describing locations and operations that Mike could research, he decided to fill in the gaps, so he started doing research in the National Archives. With the operation resorts being declassified, Mike Tyone was able to determine what happened through his findings.
As he went through his brother’s writing, Mike Toyne said, he recalled tearing up because of all the details he shared. When Leon returned home from the Vietnam War, Mike said, he never talked about it.
“He was very jumpy and just didn’t want to talk about it, so I knew it must not have been a good experience,” Mike said.
Serving over 20 years in the U.S. Air Force, during not one day did Mike Toyne go to work and didn’t wonder if he would make it the day.
“That’s basically the mindset of Vietnam, whether he was going to survive or get severely injured that day,” Mike said.
Mike had 85 of his brother’s letters; However, Mike still wanted to know more.
“I wanted to ask questions,” Mike Toyne said. “Of course, how do you ask questions when the main character isn’t around anymore?”
In order to understand what happened back then, Mike Toyne started to reach out and conducted interviews, which he integrated into the book.
Streeter was one of the subjects featured in the book. Vincent was also featured in the book. Although he has passed away, Mike Toyne said, he was able to interview his older brother Gene Vincent.
“It really brought it into full perspective,” Mike said.
When U.S. soldiers returned home from the war, Mike brought up how they were often treated poorly by war protesters, being spat upon and insulted.
“That did not help their adjustment at all,” Mike said. “They never really, until years later, got any type of parade or celebration.”
Similarly, Streeter said protests would throw beer cans and bottles at soldiers returning home. Over the years, Streeter said treatment toward Vietnam veterans has changed.
Often wearing a Vietnam veterans cap, Streeter said, whenever he goes shopping in Carroll, someone will thank him for his service.
“They’ll want to shake my hand,” Streeter said. “And it means a lot because it never used to happen.”
In smaller towns in Iowa, Mike Toyne said, he thinks residents have recognized Vietnam War veterans
“It’s a lot later, but it’s never too late for these guys,” Mike Toyne said. “We’re losing them every day and it kind of helps with their healing that way.”
Mike Toyne donated his book toward the Carroll Public Library, the J.J. Hands Public Library in Lohrville and the Lake City Public Library. By donating the book, Mike Toyne wanted to help the younger generation understand what a U.S. soldier has gone through during the Vietnam War.
“It’s a factual account, which really gives you a true indication of what was going on,” Mike said.
Mike is originally from Lohrville, graduating from Lohrville Community High School in 1974. He currently resides in Omaha, Nebraska, with his wife Donna.
On Friday, May 26, Mike will return to his hometown for a book signing at the J.J. Hands Public Library at 5:30 p.m.
Source : Carroll Times Herald