Vietnam - Starlight scope.
The Starlight scope, as used in Vietnam, gave troops some limited ability to see at night. Not perfect by any means, but sometimes better than nothing.

A Hidden Treasure

By Dana Miller

Everyone loves hidden treasures. Sometimes we find them in small, out-of-the-way places, and other times they are hiding in plain sight. A hidden treasure gives us the opportunity to go on a journey, both geographical and spiritual, to find something that will enrich us. It may take us somewhere that honors our past, bring us together with other seekers, or even change who we are.

For those who served in Vietnam, there is such a place. It’s nothing fancy, but it has been created with passion and love by two brothers who made it home from the war and don’t want the war or the sacrifices made in the name of freedom to be lost.

Charlie Hettling, Dana Miller, and Royal Hettling at the museum.
Charlie Hettling, Dana Miller, and Royal Hettling at the museum.

Charlie Hettling served as a transportation and equipment mechanic with the 2/5 Marines in Chu Lai and An Hoa in 1966. He came back to the United States in 1967, and eventually returned to his hometown – Minneota, Minnesota – where he still lives.

Charlie’s younger brother, Royal Hettling, left for Lackland Air Force Base in Texas for patrol-dog training, then proceeded to Vietnam, where he served in the 483rd Security Police K-9 unit in Cam Ranh Bay in 1970-71. After the war, he returned to his hometown, married, had a son, and continues to live there.

Some of the display cases in the museum.
Some of the display cases in the museum.

The brothers decided to open the Vietnam Memorial and History Center in 2011, and since then, they have displayed hand-carved stone memorials honoring local and well-known war heroes. Charlie has made more than twenty-five trips back to Vietnam, and has collected hundreds of artifacts that once belonged to Viet Cong and NVA soldiers. Royal, on the other hand, looks for pieces that were used by American military forces, such as the field radio and Starlight scope he just acquired.

Royal is also working on the creation of a war dog memorial that will be housed in the Center.

This place, on Main Street in a small town in Southwest Minnesota, is a treasure. There are few (if any) places like it in the United States. It is furnished completely out-of-pocket by the Hettling brothers. Although donations are accepted, the organization is not supported financially by any other military or civilian groups. The Hettlings are more than happy to talk about their experiences in-country. And they don’t whitewash their words.

Hand-carved and colored stone plaque image of Hugh Thompson, who landed his helicopter in My Lai to help stop the killing.
Hand-carved and colored stone plaque image of Hugh Thompson, who landed his helicopter in My Lai to help stop the killing.

The Vietnam Memorial and History Center is on Highway 68, in Southwest Minnesota, just 12 miles west of Marshall. Across the street from the Center is Veteran’s Park, another place to experience while you are in town.

The Hettlings don’t make any promises about what your experience at their Center will be like. It is set up in a building that is close to one-hundred years old, and you probably should call before you come, unless there is a local celebration going on, because the lights aren’t always on, and there isn’t always someone there.

But it promises to be interesting, and it comes with the prospect of having your past honored, your community of friends increased, and maybe it will even change your life in some small way.

Vietnam Memorial and History Center
112 East 1st Street, Minneota, Minnesota 56264
To arrange a visit call (after 7 p.m.):
Charlie Hettling: 507.872.6574
Royal Hettling 507.872.6326

Support small memorials and museums

If you like the idea of small memorials and museums, the kind that don’t get money from taxpayers, and that are started and operated by people who really care, the Vietnam Memorial and History Center in Minneota, Minnesota is worthy of your help. You can find out more about it on their web site at and on their GoFundMe page at, where you can make a financial contribution.

You can also send a tax-deductible donation to:
Vietnam Memorial and History Center, c/o Royal Hettling
311 North Grant Street, Minneota, Minnesota 56264


blurbJuliaMelvinDana Miller is a writer and marketing consultant currently working with the Vietnam Memorial and History Center in Southwestern Minnesota. She also was the managing editor for “Ten: Five Five,” a book about Royal Hettling’s experiences as a dog handler in Cam Ranh Bay, South Vietnam, available on Amazon.