To Vietnam and Back: an MSU alumni’s story

In 1964, Bill Strusinski was attending Minnesota State and living his life as a student on campus. The next thing he knew, he was rushing to save the lives of his fellow comrades as a combat medic during the Vietnam War. Now, he strives for both social and political change as an accomplished lobbyist and advocate. 

The College for Humanities and Social Sciences hosted an interview-style discussion with Strusinski Wednesday in the Earley Center for Performing Arts. The discussion offered insight into Strusinski’s life as well as the history, policies and resilience of the times.  

Strusinski attended MSU in 1964 but was later drafted after the US became involved in the Vietnam War. He later came back to campus in 1969 and became president of MSU’s Veterans Club. He graduated in 1972. 

Strusinski expressed his gratitude in being invited back to MSU as an alumnus to tell his story and share his experiences with MSU’s student body and staff. 

“It feels really good. I’m pleased that there’s an interest in this subject. It was a lot of turmoil as we lived through those eras, those days in the late 60s and early 70s, certainly,” Strusinski said. “And I’m pleased that they care about the military service that some of us provided during that period of time.” 

In the war, Strusinski was a combat medic, tending to many wounded soldiers and forming an unbroken bond between survival and duty. Strusinki shares that his experiences on the battlefield would later help him overcome obstacles and help him accomplish his goals. 

“It taught me how to overcome and adapt. No matter what happened, you had to handle the situation. I learned in Vietnam that there’s nothing you cannot do. You put your mind to it. You have no choice and my job was to take care of wounded soldiers. It might be at night; might be on the ambush patrol for 2000 yards away from anybody. And I have a flashlight with a red filter and I’m trying to take care of casualties. That was hard to do,” he said. 

“So I think what I really learned is that there’s no problem I’ve ever encountered in my life that I can’t deal with. That was a perfect, perfect scenario, including college, a couple of years of college before I went into service. And it was complicated, but I did much better when I came back out of the service. So I’ve really learned how to solve problems.”

Having attended MSU before and after the Vietnam War, Strusinki said his experiences in the battlefield and his re-enrollment at MSU shaped his views on the importance of supporting veterans and becoming involved in political change during the anti-war protests, and led him to pursue a career in political science. 

“I think the roots of my life and the capabilities I learned came from my time in the service as a combat medic in Vietnam with the infantry, but it was supported strongly with the foundation I built at Minnesota State University or college at the time. The academic skills that I learned and the degree in political science launched me on my path to accomplish what I wanted to accomplish.” he said. “And that was to get involved in good public policy and to begin to help make good decisions. And I did that by being on presidential campaigns, being on governor staff and being appointed a commissioner of a state agency by Governor Anderson. So I accomplished all that. Came a long way from my days at Mankato.”

Strusinski has now been a lobbyist for over four decades and an advocate for policy change. Strusinki has had his own book published about his experiences in the war, has served under three governors and continues to strive for positive impact. 

He shared his own opinion and advice to all MSU students, especially to those who wish to or are already enlisting into the military. 

“It’s a really good opportunity. You’ll learn some skills in the military that are just foundation to your life. How to really be involved in teamwork when it really comes and how to overcome and adapt. And there’s some economic benefits as well. I think there’s lots of opportunities.” he said. “I don’t think you see much combat on the ground like we saw in Vietnam nowadays but they need skilled people. You mature a lot and you learn a lot during that sort of process that serves you well the rest of your life. So I encourage everybody to take a look at the military.”

To learn more about Strunsinki and his experiences, his book “Care Under Fire” is available for purchase on Amazon. 

Header photo: The College of Humanities and Social Sciences hosted an interview-style discussion Wednesday in the Earley Center for Performing Arts, the discussion offered insights on policies and resilience of the times.  (Alexis Darkow/The Reporter)

Write to Anahi Zuniga at at

One thought on “To Vietnam and Back: an MSU alumni’s story

  • danielsebold

    That was a heartening story. I missed the Vietnam war draft which was a sexist men-only draft, but that is neither here nor there since we males are so privileged anyway. I grew up in Worthington, Minnesota back in the early sixties and on my paper route would drop newspapers off at the VFW where I was always served a free Coke for my trouble, though Vietnam vets weren’t allowed in because the Vietnam War was not a real declared war. It was a “police action.” Vietnam war veteran, Tim O’brien, beautifully describes his childhood and therefore my childhood in Worthington in his book, If I Die In Combat Zone, of playing army with his friends by Lake Okabena and carry around World War II C rations– green cans of jelly and peanut butter.

    But seriously, if you find yourself having just come back from a two hundred dollar a month job teaching English in Guadalajara, Mexico, and you only have a penny left in your pocket and are using your prestigious MA literature diploma from a respectable American private university for a pillow sleeping on the streets of San Antonio, the military isnt such a bad option. Boot camp suddenly becomes a privilege of free meals and a bed and thundering marches around a San Diego Naval Base. You volunteer for the toughest jobs boot can throw at you. “I want to work in that hot scullery from dawn until dusk,” you say, and you scrape away at those dishes all the way through boot, and you feel bad when they come and tell you that you just graduated.

    In the Navy the two most prestigious schools are the “nuke school” and the Defense Language Institute, the admission of which includes aptitude batteries that most Ph Ds–not the science people–would flunk out of. If I had it to do over again I would go with underwater TIG welding which would give you a lifetime well-paying career living in Norfolk, Virginia which is far more tropical than Minneapolis.

    As I said, I luckily missed out on the Vietnam War, but ended up in the ’91 Gulf War on the Battleship Wisconsin, which had its Exocet missile moments. But the Vietnam War did spill over into Cambodia where I now live due to Richard Nixon’s secret bombings and the resultant Khmer Rouge. I am retired here and sometimes find myself over in Vietnam in the bird parks of the northern Mekong Delta. You are standing in the reeds in your boat and you see some shadow coming straight at you out of the jungle, and you lift your camera without aiming and shoot and freeze a dinosaur of a long neck crane with a big yellow eyeball looking at you frozen in the jungle just above the lotus flowers. So, yes. Whatever it takes.

    Daniel Sebold,
    MSU/Drake alumnus


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