It was Halloween, and Vicki Zangl, a teenager at the time, had just rummaged through her parents’ closet and found the perfect costume. It was a vintage military jacket with holes in it. As she got ready to head out the door, her father, a former Marine, stopped her. She could see he was upset, and he forbade her from leaving the house with the jacket.
It wasn’t until years later that she understood why – it had belonged to a fellow Marine who died when fighting alongside her father in the Korean War. It was one of the few mementos her dad kept of a time in life when he gave so much, and lost so much. She’s since learned more of her father’s heroic sacrifices, and she’s proud to honor the selfless contributions Marines like her father, 1st Sergeant Robert Havard Zangl III, have offered our nation.
DEFENDING THE CHOSIN BRIDGE AS A MARINE
Her father had been in one of the Korean War’s worst battles in American history, known as the Chosin Reservoir. It was November and December of 1950, when American troops were fighting to protect keep the Chosin bridge from falling into Chinese hands. In -40 degree weather, subsisting on depleted rations, they fought bravely despite the awful conditions. The casualties were heavy – nearly 6,000 troops dwindled to only 1,000 by the time the americans got out. Vicki’s father survived, but his family back home would soon hear, their 22-year-old son had been taken as a prisoner of war.
Vicki said her father didn’t talk much about those dark days. He was, however, featured in documentaries and a book about the Chosin Reservoir battle. He was quoted as saying, “I had a job to do for my country. I made it home by the grace of GOD but I can honestly say I lived through hell. All of us did. It was horrific, bitter cold. We were hungry, had no ammunition and had to fight with our hands. If you ever want a boy to become a man, this is the fastest way to do it. I don’t ever want recognition for something so horrible. As much as I wanted to do my job, I was still killing someone’s son, brother, husband.”
After returning home, Robert married and raised a loving family. Despite suffering PTSD, and bearing the shrapnel scars from his long-ago battles, he was a brave, kind father who taught Vicki many beautiful things. She said, “He taught me respect, to love the country that takes care of its people. He always taught me that America was a great country. He hated war but he knew certain things had to be done to always stand up for yourself no matter what the cost, and he taught me to always to do the right thing.”
A LEGACY OF HONOR
Vicki admires the way her father would always reach out to other Marines and military members. She said, “Anywhere we went, he would always salute military people. He would always pay for a military person’s lunch; he was always taking care of others in the military.”
As an Origami Owl® Executive Team Leader, Vicki has carried on her father’s respect and honor for those in the military. At her father’s funeral in 2006, a powerful tribute with full military honors, she connected with other members of her dad’s division, known as the “Chosin Few.” Through those survivors, she was introduced to a nonprofit, the Veterans Supplemental Support Network.
“Throughout my time with Origami Owl, I’ve loved the jewelry and the company, but I realized I could do more with this than just selling jewelry,” said Vicki. “That’s when I got into supporting a lot of the efforts with the Veterans Supplemental Support Network. They do fundraisers, help veterans that are just getting out of the military to get their life started again. A lot of times they don’t have anywhere to go. This organization helps them get back to life, to school to work.”
While her father didn’t keep many of his medals (he was a decorated soldier but didn’t feel the need to be awarded), Vicki keeps a kind of medal of her own, a Living Locket she created in his honor. She said, “The locket has his initial and the US Marine Corps Charm. It also has his birthstone, the Dog Bone Charm (he had a favorite dog when he left for the war, and they were inseparable when he got back), and a Wishbone Charm (because he and I would fight over who would have the wishbone every Thanksgiving. I wear it every Memorial Day and on his birthday.”
While she misses him, she feels that “live sparkly” joy as she volunteers in his honor. She’s proud of the patriotic example he was. She’s also proud to share his memory and brave spirit with her own children and grandchildren. We tilt our hats to Vicki and all the soldiers and veterans who are making a difference!
For more information on the Veterans Support Supplemental Network, visit www.vetsupportnet.org.