William "Bud" Stutheit never planned on being nominated as one of Linn County's Distinguished Veterans for 2017. Originally, he didn't want to be a veteran at all.
The Albany man, now 85, wasn't crazy about the idea of being drafted for the Korean War and tried to join the National Guard instead. A failed physical put him right back in draft territory, however, and he served two years in the Army, 1953-1955.
The experience led him to a lifetime of veteran service, however, from more than 60 years of membership in the American Legion to a decade's worth of driving veterans to the VA Hospital in Portland.
"I just like this bunch of people," he said with a smile. "They're still a great bunch of people."
Stutheit got half his wish: He didn't have to serve in Korea. Instead, the Army trained him as a mechanic, to work on the so-called "deuce and a half" trucks, the type with an automatic transmission.
Then he was sent to serve in France — where the vehicle transmissions were manual. So they made him a diesel mechanic. "On-the-job training," he said wryly.
The overseas experience was an eye-opener for a boy born in a sod house in Leoti, Kansas, during the Dust Bowl days and who moved to Homedale, Idaho, at the age of 6.
"From a farmboy to halfway around the world … I don't know, it was something to get used to," he said.
After his discharge, Stutheit went back to Idaho for a year and then, following a sister, moved to Albany. That was another shocker.
"I'll never forget when I came to this part of the country. It rained for 30 days straight," he said. "I thought, how in the hell can anybody stand that rain?"
Then, he said, he returned to Idaho for a summer. It was 105 degrees.
"I figured real quick how you could learn to like that rain," he said.
In Albany, Stutheit worked first for Wah Chang and then as a stock retrofitter for Stone Forest for 34 years.
He quickly became a strong supporter of American Legion Post 10. He served seven years on the House Committee and spent 10 years handling the 50-50 raffle at the Willamette Racetrack to raise money for the Legion. He has spent the last three years as the Post 10 service officer.
Stutheit also has served as District 3 Sergeant-at-Arms, assisted Past Commander Jim Willis and is a member of the 40 & 8, the honorary society of the Legion. And he still sets up bingo at Post 10 every Sunday.
Other community service duties also filled his time, such as volunteering at Santiam rest stops for more than 20 years.
His wife, Flora, died in 1989. He has a son, Fred; three grandchildren and a great-granddaughter.
Stutheit was nominated by American Legion Post 10 Commander Steve Adams to be among this year's Distinguished Veterans.
It isn't the first time Stutheit has been so honored — he thinks he may have been Veteran of the Year perhaps three times now — but he always finds it a surprise.
"They ought to give it to someone more deserving than me," he said.
Stutheit was honored Friday night at the Veteran of the Year Banquet, held at the Linn County Fair & Expo Center.