(Photo: Iowa Soybean Association / Joclyn Bushman)
Stars, stripes and soy
November 1, 2023 | Jeff Hutton
For Lane Volkert, the hard work instilled in him on his family’s farm helped to shape him as a member of the Iowa Air National Guard and his service during the Vietnam War.
Fifty years after he was honorably discharged from the military, this Veterans Day is a time of reflection for the 74-year-old soybean and corn farmer from rural Holstein. It’s also a time to honor those, like Volkert, who honorably served their country through conflict, hardship and uncertainty, and remember those who didn’t return home.
Chore boots to combat boots
Growing up on a farm in western Iowa, demanding work wasn’t just something you did, it was part of who you were, says Volkert, who joined the Iowa Air National Guard when he was a senior in high school.
“I was a farm kid before I joined the military at 17,” Volkert says. “I grew up baling hay and pitching manure. You learned responsibility on the farm.”
That responsibility paid off for Volkert and other farm boys who did well in the trenches, in the field and flying above the chaos in Southeast Asia.
He credits his rural upbringing for the discipline and work ethic that transformed him from a farm kid to a military man.
While in the guard, Volkert served as crew chief on a fighter jet, gaining valuable knowledge on mechanical issues and working under pressure — important lessons he applies to his farming operation today.
Of the six years he served, 2½ years were active duty, including time in Vietnam, where he was part of a chopper crew that was shot down by enemy fire. Volkert and the other crew members survived the harrowing event.
“Being shot down was probably the worst memory I have of my entire military experience,” Volkert says. “It was a war that should never have happened.”
But he and other service members from the farm fields of Ida County and elsewhere in Iowa, were proud to serve and were rewarded for their hard work and bravery.
He earned a commendation medal for his service.
“Those good roots paid off,” Volkert says.
Following his time in the service, Volkert returned to the farm, applying lessons and skills he learned in the military.
He worked part-time as a mechanic until he and his brother could acquire more farmland and begin farming in earnest.
“I took that job as a mechanic with all my training in the Air National Guard,” he says. “When we were able to grow the farm, I had to quit. They hated to see me go.”
His Air National Unit, based in Sioux City, was exceptional, Volkert says. He’s still in touch with many of those he served with.
“We grew up working hard, respecting our folks and working until the job was done,” Volkert says.
Values gained from the military
Volkert says the combined military and farming experiences have shaped the trajectory of his life.
Serving in the military afforded him the opportunity to take agriculture classes at Iowa State University through the G.I. Bill.
Working on different aircraft and learning new technology, even in the late 1960s and early ’70s, has aided Volkert with the new systems and technology used by farmers today.
“At 74, I should be quitting, but I’m having too much fun farming,” he says.
“The military taught me to be persistent about what I do.”
Last spring, he traveled with other veterans to the nation’s capital on an Honor Flight. The day trip to D.C., including a stop at the Vietnam War Memorial, was a lot to take in, but one he’ll remember.
“I was proud that part of my (Sioux City) unit got to go,” Volkert says.
Volkert commemorates his military service with activities at the Holstein American Legion, speaking to young people and taking part in school programs. There’s also the local Legion’s steak fry and volunteering and participating in Holstein’s Avenue of Flags display throughout the year.
So, would he trade any of his military experience?
“Well, I’d trade that day we got shot down,” he says. “But I did enlist. It was a top-notch unit, and I think in the end they were happy with all of us young farm boys.”