Veterans Day Spawns Memories

Veterans Day, Nov. 11, is upon us again this Sunday. I’m a Vietnam War Era veteran. Funny thing is, I don’t think about it too much. Maybe because I was never in combat. I was spared that ordeal, thank God. Those that have fought for us do deserve all we can give them. In fact, I think if a person has fought in battle as part of the military for the rest of us, we should probably give them a free-ride for the rest of their natural lives. Absolutely.

I don’t think of it much also because I enlisted in the Army at a time when I was at a low point in my life. The country also was at a low point and so was the Army. President Nixon had just abolished the draft and was trying to get out of Vietnam. In fact, he had publicly announced that American boys were soon coming home.

It was the end of 1972. And the war was going to rage for another three years before we finally left with those haunting images of helicopters being tossed over the side of ships that were loaded down with fleeing people.

I was stationed in Germany as a Vulcan gunner in a little town called Wackernheim. It was a combat-ready battalion of the 8th infantry Division of the Army. We were trained to operate a Vulcan anti-aircraft weapon that fired 20 mm rounds, generally 6,000 rounds per minute.

We were housed in a large dormitory inside McCully Barracks. The dormitory must have slept 30 guys. It was at a time in the Army when racial tensions were at a combustible level. White and black, in general, did not mix. Ironically, because of my dad’s celebrity and my nappy hair I was accepted by everybody pretty much. I’ve always been lucky that way.

As an example, I was in a line-platoon ready to deploy if needed. The living conditions were deplorable. The Barracks a mess and the racial tension was off the charts. I was sleeping in a bottom bunk surrounded by 30 other angry-bored soldiers who were not very-well trained. I had a small refrigerator that I had wrapped a chain around with a large metal lock to prevent people from stealing my tiny morsels of food, which they did anyway. It was awful.

I got into some trouble that saw me in the captain’s office for disciplinary action.

Suddenly, I found myself transferred out of the McCully Barracks, and the dormitory, into a two-bedroom apartment with a view of the commons in Bad Kreuznack, Germany, attached to headquarters of the 8th Infantry Division. I was sent to a training facility where I was steeped in military law and viola, came out an Army-trained paralegal and reassigned to the Judge Advocate Generals office of the 8th Infantry Division. I was an investigator/bailiff/case researcher and whatever else my attorney needed.

My attorney was Captain David Madsen. He was probably the nicest man I ever knew. A Mormon and an athlete, he was a great boss. I wish I could say I was a great employee. Not so. When I got honorably discharged in 1975, he placed a letter of commendation in my file. He was a great man and I owe him a great debt of thanks. I was in from 1973 to 1975.

So, Sunday is Veterans Day and I believe it behooves all of us to give our collective thanks to those who have served and to those that are about to serve.

And maybe the biggest thanks we can give our veterans of yesterday, today and tomorrow is to make sure we never put anybody in harm’s way unless we absolutely have no other choice. No other choice. Talk soon.