- Associated Press - Monday, January 5, 2015

BROOKINGS, S.D. (AP) - Brookings area residents interested in getting a look at some items of military history don’t have far to go. They can head downtown and check out Bargains on Main. It’s listed twice in the Yellow Pages: once under “Pawnbrokers” and again under “Secondhand Stores.”

Bargains is owned and operated by Corey Haug, who purchased it from his father, Robert Haug. It’s been in business about 6 1/2 years.

Robert, 61 and a native of Brandt, has lived in Brookings for about the past five years. But he’s been in Brookings since about 1989. He started, owned and operated Dakota Tools & Pawn.

And while he’s retired and drawing a pension from a 100 percent service-connected disability due to Agent Orange exposure, he spends a lot of time in his son’s shop, the Brookings Register reported. Robert said, “My wife and I hang out in here all the time. It’s something to do. We help him out and stuff.”

The father and son began steadily collecting military memorabilia about four years ago. And it’s a well-known World War II weapon that is likely to especially catch the eye of an off-the-street visitor or browser: a water-cooled 50 caliber machine-gun. Robert bought it about 20 years ago for $600 from a surplus company when he was at a convention-trade show in Las Vegas.

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Add to the show-piece machine gun, a varied collection of smaller items that includes helmets, uniform items, pistols, rifles, flags, photos, magazines and newspapers.

Noting how the collection has steadily grown over the past four years, Robert explained that visitors to the shop took an interest in the military artifacts, and some brought in objects to be displayed on the walls. There was a lot of interest by people who came in to do business or just look around.

Then the Haugs had the opportunity to procure some World War II memorabilia from the Brookings American Legion post, because there was no room to display it there. They made an offer that was near unanimously accepted.

Robert said, “What better place than a pawn shop and second-hand store to put something like that on display, because the traffic in here is a lot.”

Most of the collection is of World War II vintage, Robert explained. “That was the war when they brought home a lot of souvenirs.” He added that they would like to add more American military memorabilia to their display; but those items have proven more difficult to get than German and Japanese equipment and uniform items.

Robert said he does some trading of memorabilia; but he doesn’t sell items unless he has duplicates of them.

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Robert hasn’t always been an enthusiastic collector of military memorabilia. That he hadn’t been has ties to his own military service. He’s a Vietnam Era veteran who was only in-country Vietnam for a few days.

“I was at the tail end of the draft. My number came up low so I went and volunteered for the draft in 1972. I was 18.

“I volunteered for two years (of active duty); that way I got it out of the way early.” He completed his military obligation by serving four more years in the National Guard and Army Reserve. His military specialty was stenography. Following basic training he was sent to “clerk’s school. I could type over 100 words a minute.”

He noted that his tour of active duty involved “very little time in Vietnam. They sent me to Korea, and I worked in the demilitarized zone. I was in the DMZ, where I was assigned to a ROK (Republic of Korea) Army intelligence unit.”

He called his time there “pretty interesting duty, because I was just basically a token American. A lot of the smaller ROK units would have an American with them.” It was his 14 months of service in Korea that brought about his 100 percent disability rating by the Veterans Administration.

“I got that Agent Orange chemical poisoning.” It’s affected his nerves and the cartilage in his joints. He added, “There’s a lot of pain associated with it.

“I didn’t know what was going on. My hands went numb, my feet went numb, I had burning all over, I got neuropathy. I was really getting crippled. I ended up going on Social Security, because I couldn’t work anymore.”

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It was physicians in Flandreau who diagnosed him as having been exposed to Agent Orange and helped him make his case to the VA. The herbicide was used by American forces on a regular basis to defoliate jungle areas in Vietnam. A lot of American military personnel were exposed to it and later brought claims against the United States government. It took longer for military personnel who served in Korea in the late 1960s and early 1970s to make a similar case.

While Haug couldn’t recall any instances in Korea where he might have been exposed to Agent Orange, he recalled coming back from being in the field with the ROK Army and an American sergeant major noting that he smelled of diesel oil.

He told Haug to “shower and change your clothes.” He warned Haug to “stay away from that stuff; it’ll kill you.”

Haug said, “I didn’t know what he was talking about. Didn’t pay much attention to it.” He would learn that the diesel was mixed with Agent Orange before it was sprayed. But Agent Orange wasn’t on his mind when his end of term of service (ETS) came somewhere on the West Coast. (He can’t recall where.) He remembers his ETS coming with a negative experience.

He said, “I was walking along the fence inside the compound. There was picketers outside. And some hippy lady, who looked like she was strung out on dope, came up and spit on me and called me a ‘baby killer.’”

Laughing, Haug added, “I thought, ‘What?’ You know? And then I did feel the cold shoulder at home, even here. I went to SDSU after I got out in 1974.”

But he didn’t put that negative experience behind him. He recounts that “it was a bad experience coming home.” He does note that “it wasn’t bad here in South Dakota.”

He said, “For many, many years I didn’t even care to say that I’d been in the military.” And military memorabilia? “I used to when I had the pawn shop originally; I would buy it and sell it. Military stuff didn’t mean squat to me.”

However, in recent years he noticed people started saying, “Thank you for your service. Initially it started with honoring veterans from Iraq.” And he started seeing sincerity in that.

He added, “One thing led to another.” He started seeing the memorabilia he’d collected as “kind of cool stuff.”

And today at Bargains on Main? Haug said, “I enjoy being in here and listening to the respect that people have now for what we’ve all done for the country.”

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Information from: Brookings Register, https://www.brookingsregister.com/

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