Brothers and Vietnam vets

Dan Sterner, left, and his older brother, Steve, stand outside Steve Sterner's Arbutus home on May 22. Both men are Vietnam veterans, as was their older brother, Donald, who died last year. (Photo by Noah Scialom / May 21, 2013)

For the Sterner family, Memorial Day is about more than having a day off from work or hosting a family cookout.

Dan Sterner and Steve Sterner each served a tour in Vietnam during the Vietnam War. A third brother, Donald, who died of asbestos poisoning last year, also served in Vietnam during the war.

Dan, the youngest, was stationed in the Mekong River area of southern Vietnam as a convoy runner from late 1969 to late 1970.

Steve was stationed further north in Vietnam with the Marine Corps from May 1969 to June 1970.

Donald, the oldest of the three, had finished his tour in 1968 before his brothers arrived. He served as a medic before being wounded and sent home.

The two surviving brothers planned to spend Memorial Day apart, each reflecting on their service, and that of others, in their own way.

Steve usually begins his Memorial Day at the annual flagpole ceremony in downtown Arbutus, then spends the rest of the day with his family. He rarely discusses his time in Vietnam.

"I just like to remember all the guys that didn't make it back, stuff like that," said the 62-year-old. "I kind of keep it to myself.

"Then it's back to reality," the Arbutus resident said. "We have a little cookout. It's just a holiday.

"It was a strange time," he said.

His brother usually makes a trip to Washington, D.C., to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.

"I think I'm more into the service thing than they are," said the Elkridge resident, comparing his feelings to those of his brother and father.

"I go to Washington every Memorial Day," the 61-year-old said. "I'm the only one probably who can handle it."

He is, Steve said.

"I went to the Vietnam Memorial once," he said. "That's the most depressing place in the world, I think.

"When I went down there the first time, they had to carry me out. I was bawling," he said. "It's too depressing for me, I try not to think about it a whole lot."

Service a family tradition

Both brothers said they volunteered after their older brother was drafted.

Steve said it was something he felt he had to do.

"I guess it goes back to everyone in the family has served," he said on the feeling in their household growing up in Oella.