Editor’s Note: This continues a series of monthly articles celebrating pride in our town and its surroundings shown through the experience of residents.
By Jane Schuchardt
Special to the Elgin Review
For three quarters of a century, Marvin Meis has lived, worked, prayed, and played right here in Elgin, except for two years when he served our country in the U.S. Army.
Marv, as we know him around these parts, will slip on his dress uniform this week for hometown Veterans Day tributes, just as he does for military funerals. “Freedom isn’t free,” Meis said emphatically as he snugged his 25th Infantry Division Vietnam Veteran cap over snow white hair. How well he knows.
Drafted in the fall after graduation from St. Boniface High School, Meis trained at Fort Leonardwood, MO; Fort Ord, CA, and Fort Benning, GA before shipping out to the jungles of Vietnam. There he faced numerous near misses, some of which he hesitantly recounted in striking detail.
Suffice to say his time with the 199th Battalion in the MeKong Delta, and then with the 127th Battalion, 25th Division, in Cu Chi resulted in what might now be diagnosed as post- traumatic stress disorder. Air drops, tiptoeing through mine fields, trudging knee-deep in mud, experiencing abject poverty amongst the locals, and seeing brutal death all around him took a toll. As he points to his head, he said, “I never got hit, but I have a knot right here” meaning the emotional experience was devastating.
“You learn to sleep with one eye shut and one eye open,” Meis recounted. “Otherwise, you get ‘bukao kakadow’ (Vietnamese for a lot dead) or to Americans, KIAed, meaning killed in action.”
Meis was honorably discharged in November of 1967 and made it home to Elgin for Thanksgiving. After the three-day transport from Cu Chi through Saigon to Oakland, CA, “I kissed the tarmac,” he recalled with a tiny tear welling up in his eye.
Well, not a tear. “I don’t cry,” Meis said recalling a Freedom Flight he took to Washington, DC. “All the ‘thank you for your service’ greetings made you pretty soft,” he said.
Back in his beloved Elgin, Meis said he coped with the military experience by doing what he knows best throughout his life – WORK, hard work, day in and day out. “With Dad’s (Art Meis) help, I got started farming in 1968. I was never much good at sports. I grew up doing chores instead.”
That same year Meis married the love of his life, Jodine. They were blessed with four children, two sons living in Elgin; another son who lives near Norfolk, and a daughter in Omaha. They have eight grandchildren.
Meis sits tall in the kitchen chair when he recounts how his family and farming operation grew over the years. “It’s a peaceful place here. The ground is fertile and provides a good life,” he said.
That good life continues as he gleams with pride about the three-generation Meis family working the land. About Ben, their oldest son, Meis recalled, “He wanted to farm, and I told him to get a diploma (college) first. He did, came back home, and still wanted to farm.”
Sons Ben and Eric, and Ben’s son Austin, all University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduates, work the Meis farming enterprise. He credits Gladys Perry, who believed in young farmers and the opportunities Elgin provides, for giving them a chance to rent land so his sons could be included.
Catching Meis for a few minutes while tending to the auger to off-load corn from the semitruck to the bin, it’s obvious he has no plans of slowing down. Back and forth from one piece of equipment to another, up and down, around and about, he’s a go-getter for sure and obviously loves the land as much as he loves the Elgin community.
His faith and family also mean the world to him. In fact, Meis’ great grandfather, Minof Meis, Sr., is a founding member and helped build the St. Boniface Church and School. Meis is active in Veterans of Foreign Wars, Knights of Columbus, and the American Legion. He also does “whatever they tell me to do” to support the popular St. Boniface Catholic Church Thanksgiving Day fundraiser where meals are prepared and sold. “I’m on dressing this year,” he said with a grin.
He’s no stranger to assisting with food preparation. His wife owns and manages Jo’s Classic Catering. Meis is Jodine’s wing man — packing, moving, carrying, washing pots and pans, whatever needs doing.
When trying to catch the right photo to accompany this article, Meis said with a snicker, “I can’t smile. It cracks my face.” He also was quick to pull his shirt over a bump around the collar.
During a recent accident, the four-wheeler he was operating caught the edge of a deep hole pitching him in and bruising him up pretty good, including a broken collar bone. He said with heartfelt gratitude, “Just like in Vietnam, my guardian angel was holding on to that four-wheeler” so it didn’t crash down on top of him.
When you see Meis in uniform this week, which he described as his gauge to keep his well-kept physique, thank him both for his service and for his dedication to keeping Elgin a mighty fine place to live. Thank you, Marv!