More detail on this person: "Not everyone who lost his life in Vietnam died there." The saying is true for CW2 William C. Ebeltoft. He died on December 15, 2019 at the Veteran's Home in Columbia Falls, Montana. He died 50 years after he lost, in Vietnam, all that underpinned his life. He was 73 years old. Everyone called him "Bill." He was loved by the nursing staff who cared for him. He was loved by the fellow veterans with whom he lived; those he helped when he was able and entertained with funny German slang and a stint at the piano when he could. He was a virtuoso when playing "Waltzing Matilda." His small family loved him dearly. He was preceded in death by his parents, Paul and Mary Ebeltoft of Dickinson, North Dakota, whose devotion and care for their war-damaged boy was strong and unfailing. He is survived by his brother, Paul Ebeltoft, and the one he loved as the sister he never had, Paul's wife, Gail. Both live in Corning New York. They will miss him every day. He is also survived by his nephews, Robert Ebeltoft of Brooklyn, New York and David Ebeltoft of Corning, New York. They both found Bill to be quirky, "old school," soft hearted and generous. They valued their time with him and would have loved to have more, as would all who knew Bill well. It is difficult to write about Bill. He lived three lives: before, during and after Vietnam. Before Vietnam, Bill was a handsome man, who wore clothing well; a man with white, straight teeth that showed in his ready smile. A state champion trap shooter, a low handicap golfer, a 218-average bowler, a man of quick, earthy wit, with a fondness for children, old men, hunting, fast cars, and a cold Schlitz. He told jokes well. During Vietnam, he lived with horrors of which he would only seldom speak. Slow Motion Four, Bill's personal call sign, logged thousands of helicopter flight hours performing Forward Support Base resupply landings, medical evacuations, exfils and gun ship runs. We know of him there mostly through medals for valor he received, and these were many. The following is quoted from but one of these, recording events that occurred on February 3, 1969. "While acting as aircraft commander of a UH-1H helicopter, WO Ebeltoft distinguished himself when his ship came under heavy automatic weapons while on a resupply mission for Company B, 1 Battalion, 52 infantry. While attempting to resupply B Company, WO Ebeltoft's co-pilot became wounded. Realizing the importance of the mission WO Ebeltoft elected to attempt completion of the mission. Due to his superior knowledge of the aircraft, the helicopter was kept under control during the period in which the pilot was wounded and the ship was under fire. Remaining under attack from automatic weapons fire, the supply mission was successfully completed. While unloading the supplies, WO Ebeltoft received word that there were five emergency medical evacuation cases located 200 meters to his rear. WO Ebeltoft re-positioned his helicopter and picked up the wounded personnel. While evacuating the wounded, the commanding officer of Company B was injured. WO Ebeltoft again maneuvered his aircraft to enable evacuation of the injured officer. WO Ebeltoft then proceeded to evacuate all injured personnel by the fastest possible means. Upon completion, examination of the aircraft revealed that the craft had sustained nine enemy .30 caliber hits." Bill got the medal, of course, but he would have been the last to say anything about it. The citation shows the type of man that he, and many of his brothers-in-arms in Vietnam were; and still are today, albeit battered hard and unfairly by the cruel winds of the times in which they fought. After being discharged as a decorated hero, Bill had a rough re-entry into civilian life. It is not necessary to recount Bill's portion of what is an all-too-common story for wartime veterans, particularly those of the Vietnam era. It may be sufficient to say that after a run at business, a marriage and while grappling daily with his demons, his mental faculties escaped him. Bill became a resident of the Veteran's Home in Columbia Falls, Montana in 1994. He lived there for the next 26 years. At the Home, the patina of his memory covered life's sorrows, and it was a blessing. Bill was happy there, living a life that was a strange mixture of hunting stories, pickup trucks and memories of some of his better times with women, friends and the outdoor life. Bill denied that anyone he loved had died; could not understand why anyone would fill with gas at four bucks a gallon when "Johnny's Standard sells it for 27 cents;" and still "drove" his 1968 Dodge Charger. He was unfailingly courteous. His largest concerns were making his smoke breaks and finding his wallet (a search of 26 years). In the past year, Bill's shaky grip on physical health also slipped through his fingers. Yet, despite this, what we loved in him remained, if only sometimes as a shadow. Even after his serious decline, suffering fractures because of falls, Bill would tell the staff that he was "just fine" and not to worry about him. Thin, hunched over, propelling himself with one foot, he would wheel himself into the room of a bed-ridden veteran and sit there, next to the bed, unspeaking. The nursing staff was certain that Bill thought that the man in the bed was lonely and needed company. Bill was always a proud man, remembering himself as he was in 1969, not as he became. Who are we to suggest differently? His was not a life that many would wish for, but in some ways, Bill was a lucky man. He was surrounded to the end by staff who enjoyed and respected him. He had a chance to be helpful to others who were doing less well than he. And the passing of the seasons never diminished his plans for another elk hunt or to "see that beautiful girl again this weekend." When a small slice of reality penetrated his pleasant confusion, Bill struggled to understand why he was where he was. Prematurely aged, his worldly goods in a small dresser, not knowing who the President might be or remembering why he should care, Bill's losses were greater than most of us could endure. Yet, to those who love him, his brother and his brother's wife, and their sons, he will always be a brave, accomplished man, more generous than was wise, more trusting than was safe. It is not possible to wrap your arms around a loved one who leaves. But it is possible to wrap your heart around a memory. Bill's will be well taken care of. Remembrances can be shared directly with the family by email to email@example.com. Anyone who is so inclined is encouraged to donate to Stark County Veterans Memorial Association at P.O. Box 929, Dickinson, North Dakota 58602. A private service, through Stevenson Funeral Home and Crematory, Dickinson, will be held in the spring. BISMARCK - Most readers of Bill Ebeltoft's obituary never knew the man as he lived, but they probably wish they had. The Dickinson native who once fought valiantly in the Vietnam War, died Sunday, Dec. 15, at the Veterans Home in Columbia Falls, Mont. He was 73 years old. The obituary written by the veteran's younger brother, Paul, has gone viral in North Dakota. Originally published in The Dickinson Press, the tribute recounts the story of the decorated veteran who could never return to normalcy after the war ended. It's a narrative all too common for those returning home with the mental wounds of war forever weighing them down. The first line of Bill's obituary states, " 'Not everyone who lost his life in Vietnam died there.' The saying is true for CW2 William C. Ebeltoft." And yet, it would be far too simple to wholly label Bill's life after the war as tragic. The obituary describes the joys Bill knew and the people who cared for him despite his damaged state. Still, Paul can't help but wonder how his brother's life would have turned out were it not for his time at war. "I would like to have had the chance to see what he could've done without the trigger of Vietnam in his life," Paul said Tuesday. "It would have been good." 'A very well-liked, very flawed guy' Growing up in Dickinson, Bill had a natural talent for sports, hunting and making friends quickly. He had never done well with formal education, but it wasn't for a lack of wits, as evidenced by his ability to count cards "as well as anyone you'd see in the movies." Paul thinks the military would have been a good place for Bill had it not been for his traumatizing experiences in Vietnam. Their father served in World War II and spoke of his military career with fondness. Bill latched on to his father's stories of wartime adventure and voluntarily joined the U.S. Army at 21. Two years later he was deployed to Vietnam, where he logged over 1,000 flight hours in a helicopter and received multiple medals and decorations for his bravery in battle, his brother said. Bill battled alcoholism his entire adult life, but Vietnam exacerbated his addiction as he began drinking to dull the reality around him, Paul said. He seldom spoke of the horrors he saw in war, but to Paul, it's clear he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. Loud bangs disturbed him, and he slept with guns handy. Paul said Bill was "a cheerful consumer of alcohol" and never a mean drunk. He was great dancer and a self-taught piano player. He loved people and had friends of all ages, including neighborhood kids who would gather around as he fixed motorcycles and cleaned shotguns at his Dickinson home. For a time after the war, Bill worked as a salesman at The Fad, a Dickinson retail clothing store owned by his father. Paul said he has received emails after the obituary's publication from ranchers who lived in southwest North Dakota and used to stop in the store just to visit Bill. But the addiction caught up to him. Bill developed Korsakoff syndrome, a memory disorder that usually results from chronic alcohol consumption. His mind remained in the years before and during the war most of the time. Bill moved into the Veterans Home in 1994 at age 48 after his cognitive disability and addiction became too much. The staff came to regard him as family, social worker Dawn Lyga said. He told off-color jokes he had picked up during the war and cruised the hallways singing old Western tunes as loud as he could manage. He frequently sat down at the piano and played songs he had taught himself. "Waltzing Matilda" was his favorite. Paul said a nurse once told Bill she had been feeling homesick for her native Kentucky. As she left Bill's room, he began singing "My Old Kentucky Home," and the nurse broke down with emotion. Even though he was rarely in the moment mentally, Bill was compassionate in that way, said Bonnie Savage, the home's event coordinator. Pictures of his family and the helicopter he flew in the war hung on the walls of Bill's room. The staff even managed to get him a poster and other pieces of memorabilia from his adored Schlitz Brewing Co. He often repeated the company's famous tagline, "When you're out of Schlitz, you're out of beer." Bill's physical health took a turn for the worse about a year ago, and he clearly didn't get the same enjoyment out of his daily life, Savage said. However, Lyga insists he could still play piano a few days before his death. Bill became an elder statesman during his nearly 26 years at the home, and staff members say they will truly miss his eccentric presence. Lyga still hasn't cleared out his belongings. "We have to clean his room, and I've put it off for two days," Lyga said. "Even though he's gone, it's hard because there are so many memories (left) behind."
This information was last updated 12/18/2019
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