Tester on the passing of a Montana Vietnam vet: “It’s about a generation that served”

Sen. Jon Tester this week paid tribute to a Montana veteran who served in the Vietnam war, saying the story of Chief Warrant Officer 2nd Class William Ebeltoft reflected “a generation of men and women who served” in the conflict.

Tester read from the veteran’s obituary on the floor of the Senate on Thursday.

“Bill was always a proud man, remembering himself as he was in 1969, not as he became,” Tester read. “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.”

Ebeltoft earned numerous medals for his service in Vietnam. But like many Vietnam veterans who returned home from service, he struggled to adjust to civilian life.

Tester said he suffered from both mental and physical ailments that followed him throughout his life. In 1994, Ebeltoft became a resident of the Montana Veterans’ Home in Columbia Falls, where he resided or 26 years.

Ebeltoft passed away earlier this month at the age of 73.

“Bill’s losses were greater than most of us could endure,” Tester said. “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.”

According to the family obituary, Ebeltoft lived three lives best described as before, during and after the conflict. He was said to be a hansom man, a champion trap shooter with a quick wit, and he was fond of children.

But during Vietnam, he lived with the horrors of war, including helicopter rescues of wounded and deceased troops. He logged thousands of helicopter flight hours, including many runs as a gun ship. He struggled to adjust to life after the war.

“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,” the family wrote in his obituary. “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.”

Tester, the Ranking member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, described Ebeltoft as a Montana hero.

“It’s incredibly powerful,” Tester said of the obituary. “Because, quite frankly, it’s about one man, but it’s actually about a generation of men and women who served in Vietnam.”