I'm a lucky vet. My time in the military was an important part of my life that gave me many things. I got an appreciation for the tradition of service in this country, for our decent citizen soldiers, and for the professionals who are the backbone of our military. My time in the Army helped make me the person I am today, and for that I am grateful.
This page is devoted to those who were not so lucky, and who have borne the burden of battle for us all. Their sacrifice is often horrific enough from battle and training incidents. What is so infuriating to me and many others is that their sacrifice CONTINUES after they return home, as they are victims of an often-neglectful after care system, where the bureaucratic tendency to minimize cost and avoid work betrays the best impulses of a generally generous American people, people many of whom (still) trust government to do the right thing on their behalf.
Many government employees do the right thing, every day, but many do not, and we need to hold them accountable, as their conscience does not seem to suffice, sadly. Add to that syndrome the commonplace story of insurance companies and lenders taking advantage, and the deadbeat employers who fail to honor their requirement to take back employees whose Reserve or National Guard commitments took them away from the workplace, and you have a lot of reasons to report grievances. It's not a new story, regrettably, but it's one that is being told, on many places in the Internet.
To all vets, and all active duty:
Thank you for your service, for your sacrifice. May it never be in vain.
Happy Veteran's Day to two fellow vets
My Dad (and Mom - she's a vet too---of the Depression, the War and the sadness of the past century)
Eddie G. and my sister, his wife of many years.
Both these men (and I) have been blessed with strong, kind wives, who have enriched their lives.
"What do we mean by patriotism in the context of our times? I venture to suggest that what we mean is a sense of national responsibility ... a patriotism which is not short, frenzied outbursts of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime."
Adlai Stevenson, Speech, August 27, 1952, to American Legion Convention
My tour of duty was in Germany, during the so-called 'Cold War', given that monicker due to lack of direct (albeit plenty of proxy) combat between the U.S. and Soviet Union, and their allied military alliances, NATO and the Warsaw Pact. I served from March 1975 through Oct 1979 in the Regular Army in a couple of units, finally ending up in a multi-national headquarters. I spent a good portion of my tour in the Frankfurt area.
I would have rotated back to the 'Land of the Round Doorknobs' in October 79, but chose to get a European separation, and worked in the Frankfurt CPO on Hansa Allee near the Abrams Building. I lived in a number of apartments, and came to know the city of Frankfurt very well, considering it my second home at the time. I stayed there until March 1982, when I and my household goods took a plane and a ship (guess which went with what) back to Phoenix, where I had enlisted. I therefore experienced the military and civilian counterparts of DOD service. Since I lived mostly 'on the economy' (outside the barracks) whether I got a housing allowance or not, I was also immersed at least part of most every day in the host culture; I was somewhat fluent in German, thanks to an interest in languages, and courses in High School and College. The way I used to put it: "I'd get off of work, and I was in Europe" --- good duty for a history major.
When I enlisted, I had not signed up for Infantry, not that I didn't respect that crucial role, but rather that I wanted to be a linguist, namely to learn Russian and eavesdrop on their communications. I would have been sent to Monterey to the DLI (Defense Language Institute), but I did not get my security clearance due to some college-age indiscretions; (think 'inhale', for those who remember a recent President). Oh well. They assigned me to Infantry, which finally translated to 'Fort Polk', Louisiana. I remember the drill sergeants laughing when they found out where I and others in my situation were going. Fortunately, AIT was in December, so it was pleasant most of the time. Saw a couple of armadillos, got to yell 'Take that hill', called in mortar fire (pretend), learned some useful skills and perspectives, yadda yadda. The culmination of the training was a two-day bivouac where we actually got to use our 'tent-halves' to build a small tent we shared with a partner; this excursion from the barracks had a day-long 'final exam' of sorts, where we marched to various stations which offered multiple tests of our skills, such as gas mask, first aid, fire and maneuver, orienteering, and ended with a 26 mile overnight march with equipment back to base. (We had been trucked out to the site). It was raining, guys were exhausted, some dropped out, were crying --- all in all a challenging physical experience. I got through it, though, and that experience, along with others during my military service, gave me such a level of confidence in my resilience and stamina, that the benefits have rippled through the rest of my life. I believe that the mental dimension to performance and success is the crucial dimension, at least the most controllable variable, and that mindset first became apparent to me in the Army.
I enjoyed infantry training, and thought briefly of Airborne, but at my age of 26, thought better of it. We were given our assignment, to our first active duty unit. Many of us were surprised to learn that most of us had been assigned to the same unit, but it was not so-and-so Armored Division, so-and-so Infantry, so-and-so Artillery, but rather a small 'intake' unit, whose administrative purpose was to collect newbies and parcel them out locally to whatever unit in USAREUR, pronounced "Yoos-a-yurr", needed a particular skill, (MOS). We were not immediately assigned to a unit; this is standard behavior.
I came into Europe via a short stop in Iceland, to the 'repo depot' in Frankfurt on Gutleutstrasse, near the train station, and its temptations on K-Strasse, the redlight district. While we were hanging in the barracks, a request went out to us newbies about volunteering for company clerk school. I figured, why not. I passed the training, part of which was typing. I had actually taken typing in High School, trying to meet girls; well, THAT part didn't pay off, but who'da thunk that down the road that skill might get me out of infantry? I mean, I enjoyed the AIT, but if I had my druthers, I'd rather be elsewhere than a unit out in the boonies, so the MOS of 11B stayed for a while, but I got assigned to my first job as a Company Clerk.
First assignment was with the 32nd Signal Battalion, the Voice of V Corps (and that's pronounced "VEE CORE", my son/daughter/whatever). This unit was based in a small barracks (we used the German word 'Kaserne'), in the nearby town of Hoechst, which had a huge industrial plant, outside of Frankfurt. We used to go for morning jogs through the nearby streets, and at dusk, the flag would come down to the sounds of the National Anthem. Due to the disgrace of their recent history, the Germans used to NEVER sing their national anthem, 'Deutschland Ueber Alles', so our overt patriotism was rather unusual. The barracks and other buildings were arranged essentially into a 'quad', with a central square, with the motor pool outside that quad. There were a couple of hundred troops there, male and female; the sexes were segregated into separate barracks. It was on the quad that we would have morning formation and do our PT.
Shortly before I arrived at the 32nd, some lieutenant had been put in a foot locker and thrown down a flight of stairs, or out a window; don't recall. He survived, at least. Racial tension was prevalent, as it was the 1970's not long after riots in major cities and National Guard troops patrolling the streets; it was the waning days of our Vietnam involvement, and the morale of the draftee-based Army in some units was very poor; the term 'fragging' was added to our language, sadly. Leadership could only do so much to address the many endemic problems. To those living today who hold our troops in such esteem, it is hard to imagine the difference between the two eras, but the difference is real.
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Vietnam was linked indirectly to Germany (although Germany was BY NO MEANS equal to the experience on the other side of the world). Both were seen as a part of a worldwide containment policy, formulated by George Kennan and promulgated by George Marshall (of the Marshall Plan), luminaries at the State Department during the onset of what came to be called the Cold War. The book 'Present at the Creation', by Dean Acheson tells it well, as our National Security State came into being, and the US rose to eventual unparalleled military power.
Earlier antagonism against the Soviet Union (we didn't even recognize them diplomatically until 1933) was submerged in a larger fight against Hitler during World War II. (The USSR cleverly jumped into the war on Japan only in the last few days, so they could grab some islands). After VE Day, the erstwhile World War II allies split, and Communist parties in Europe started to gain traction in that shattered continent. There was true concern in the early going that all of Europe could tip toward the Communist camp, at least on the part of some of the decision makers in Washington. This is why the occupation of Germany turned into a NATO-based partnership with Germany (the Western part) against an aggressive and territorially successful adversary with a view of the state and society that was anathema to most people. It was common for the older Germans to sometimes call us the 'Besatzungstruppe' (occupation troops) as a joking reminder about this change of the late 40's.
Part of the containment of the USSR was deterrence - affecting the opponent's decision-making by providing evidence of readiness, through good logistics and training exercises. As far as the European command, the biggest of these was the annual ReForGer, or 'Return of Forces to Germany' exercise, where stateside units were flown to Germany to take part in the war games. In an actual war, strategy and positioning could only do so much; over the long haul, logistics are always crucial, so we had to prove our determination and ability to move troops from Stateside to Europe. Pre-positioned weapons and shipped weapons were both deployed. Here we were, with these Abrams Tanks trundling across farms and meadows, through towns, sometimes clipping the corners of buildings in the narrow streets of villages; for this a G5/S5 Maneuver Damage unit reimbursed the aggrieved townsfolk, part of the Status of Forces agreement (SOFA), I suppose.
The Cold War had moments of heightened tension, such as during the Berlin Airlift crisis, and the crisis of confidence in East Germany which caused thousands to flee Westward, and forced the East Germans to build a wall to prevent people from going to West Berlin, causing the Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR) to bleed to death. West Berlin was an island of capitalism in the midst of a Communist 'paradise'. If one could get there, one had arrived in West Germany, or the Bundesrepublik Deutschland (BRD).
As a good troop, I got to go from my unit (32nd Signal Battalion at the time) on a Berlin 'Orientation Tour', a freebie multi-day excursion that started in the Frankfurt train station. According to the restrictions imposed by the DDR, we could not travel through their country during the day, so we traveled during the night. We were given a bus tour of West and East Berlin; when we crossed the border into the East, they came on and checked everyone's face against their photo ID. We were told that any discrepancy between that ID and your current haircut/facial hair/scar status (tattoos were not prevalent in those days) would result in your being detained and causing a hassle. Their point was that someone you met in East Berlin might swap with you for the return trip, and take that photo ID. When we came back, they did the same thing, as well as scanning the underside and top of the bus for 'fellow travelers'. (By the way, I don't recall what exactly the displaced soldier would do, since he or she would be left behind; don't know if they brought it up in the orientation lecture).
We had a couple of hours to wander around in East Berlin. I have photos of some of us mugging near some monument that had East German soldiers, and walking aimlessly through a vast store (high ceilings too) in a vain attempt to find something, ANYthing of value or of interest, for a souvenir. I bought a can opener that was made of steel, and weighed satisfactorily in my hand, and some other minor item. I mean, really, there was nothing other than household necessities in that store. It was this consumer poverty, in the sheer face of the obvious West German prosperity and acclaimed 'Economic Miracle', that helped to bring down that reviled, life-taking Berlin Wall in 1989. The Checkpoint Charlie museum covers this history so well. For example, guards in the watch towers always had families that they would leave behind if they themselves ever dared dream of escaping, and they were always stationed in those towers with a stranger. Some parts of the Wall were topped off with a log shaped piece that would roll when you tried to get a grip on it to pull yourself over (if you were lucky enough to get that far in the first place, given the presence in some sectors of mines, dogs, and machine guns.) We even heard that the East Germans had briefly required the services of their Olympic pole vault team to 'product test' the proposed height of sections of the Wall, as the Germans had proven quite ingenious in their escape methods, covered in the Checkpoint Charlie museum.
The proximity of hundreds of thousands of opposing troops within a couple of hours drive of one another, the essentially indefensible US garrison in Berlin (serving a 'broken pane' type mission, as in Korea), the massive armed presence of some of the Soviet weapons, helicopters especially, the limited size of the physical space, the presence within theatre of nuclear weapons, the political tension within NATO, the diplomatic tension between blocs---all made the situation grim. And yet, and yet, nothing happened on that front, to the relief of all.
Rather than leading to a 'Hot War', the Cold War ended. The insufficiencies of the Socialist system caused that looming giant threat to just fade away over the course of a couple of momentous years. The combination of internal contradictions surfaced by Gorbachev's Glasnost (read Lenin's Tomb for explanation of how that opened up society), the lack of opportunity, the cronyism, and sinfully massive environmental degradation dealt a fatal blow to the Soviet Union and its client states, and millions in Captive Nations of the Baltics and Eastern Europe were able to pursue lives of more possibility again. Even then, there was suffering, as the poor Babuschkas who had suffered so much already were in many cases thrown on the streets, to beg and peddle for their existence. As always, the little people pay the price for wrenching change.
The end of the Cold War was for me one of the most inspiring episodes in history, as I actually witnessed the tension that the Cold War inspired close up, then saw with wonder how the Domino Theory actually worked in our favor. One regret about that part of world history: I never got over there in the late 80's and early 90's, but have been back since a couple of times. (If you are a fan of the era of the end of the Cold War, may I suggest with enthusiasm and deep affection the German comedy 'Goodbye Lenin'.) While couched in the history of that momentous time in world history, it is just as importantly, the story of how a son loved his mother. I therefore end this history with a reference to the enduring qualities of human life, parental and filial love, that help us keep a balance between war and peace, and I hope will always win in the end.