Where Was I During the War?
Funny, you should ask that!

The Vietnam War (1963-1975)

If you look at the dates, you can figure out that the official period of the Vietnam War ended the year before I joined the Army. However, during the early years of my military experience, I lived with several Vietnam veterans, as most infantry soldiers at the time were vets.

My favorite vet story is about SGT Jake Nunn. (Jake, if you ever read this, please e-mail me.) Anyway, Jake had been a machine-gunner in the 47th Infantry "Wolfhounds" of the 25th Infantry Division. When Jake was drinking, he was dangerous to himself and others; he was not one to provoke. Jake was a nice guy; however, alcohol was his downfall.

Jake and I were stationed together in Baumholder, FRG and lived in an NCO room in the barracks with four other guys. One night after drinking heavily--this was our usual practice--Jake woke up from a nightmare, pulled a bayonet from under his bunk, and attacked Cpl. "Deadboy" Sullivan screaming, "Die, V.C." Oops! The next morning, I got to talk to the First Sergeant about the incident. The result was that Jake and I got to move out of the room, but the First Sergeant made me responsible for Jake's actions. Jake never asked why I was always tagging along when he went out to blow off steam. Well, that's why.

Even though I wasn't old enough for the draft lottery or old enough to volunteer for service during the war, I inadvertently sneaked in under the wire to qualify for the Vietnam Era GI Bill. What this means is that I get paid to go to college (off and on) until 2006. Isn't it great!

The History Guy: The Vietnam War

Invasion of Grenada (1983)

One morning I awoke to a news broadcast that detailed the U.S. Army's invasion of Grenada in concert with several Caribbean nations. Because I was on recruiting duty in Delaware, I was doing my "wartime" mission. Later when I was assigned to the 10th Mountain Division, one of my friends who had been on the second lift into Grenada related this story:

SSG John Cordero-Torres, a Puerto Rican from Beauford SC, had been assigned to the 327th Glider Infantry of the 82nd Airborne Division. When he hit the ground in Grenada, the first thing that he saw upon link-up with his unit was dead and wounded Cubans. Just prior, his Company Commander had been ambushed and dragged off. A search party discovered that the Captain had been assassinated by Cuban soldiers. Soldiers take the death of their comrades fairly hard; however, John's response was to provide medical assistance to the Cuban wounded. This is the professional Army ethic in action.

The History Guy: The Invasion of Grenada

Invasion of Panama (1989-1990)

One morning, my phone rang rather early; my First Sergeant wanted to know if I could come in with a roadguard vest and flashlight to man a roadblock. Sure, anything to get out of P.T. That morning the 75th Ranger Regiment and the 3rd Ranger Battalion of Ft. Benning GA deployed to Panama.

Most of the Senior Test personnel at the Infantry Board knew that something was up, as one of the Equipment Test Division's tests had been placed on priority status a few months prior. The equipment being tested had been earmarked for jungle use, and Panama seemed to be the likely location. Again, because I was doing my wartime mission at the Infantry Board, the closest I got to deployment was watching the planes depart from the Army airfield.

My favorite Panama story has nothing to do with armed conflict but with the vagaries of military assignments. One day I was waiting in line at the mess hall behind my Brigade Sergeant Major. As we approached the headcount, the Sergeant Major noticed that the PFC at the desk was wearing a CIB. He asked what the young soldier had done to earn this auspicious combat award. The soldier remarked, "Mopped floors, Sergeant Major." Evidently, the young man had deployed after the initial assault, and the closest he got to the fighting was to pull C.Q. at an Army installation while awaiting his unit to redeploy back to Ft. Bragg. Well, our hero received a Combat Infantryman's Badge for mopping the floor. The reason that I think this was funny was the Sergeant Major's expression: pure disgust. You see, he didn't have a CIB; and he never would. And, neither did any other NCO in the chow line.

The Invasion of Panama

The Gulf War (1990-1991)

After PCS(ing) from Ft. Benning, GA to Alaska, I found myself right back at Ft. Benning for Infantry ANCOC. Our class consisted of soldiers from military commands around the world. Most of us understood that tensions in the Mid East were high and that there was a possibility of a military response to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. Well, it didn't take long for that possibility to become a reality. Every morning, the cadre would call out the names of soldiers who were being recalled by their units for deployment; but I wasn't one of them. Upon graduation, I returned to my unit in Alaska.

Because Alaska is exactly 12 hours behind Kuwait, when U.S. Armed Forces initiated armed conflict, I was at home eating lunch and watching CNN. I remember that everyone rushed back to work to speculate on the possibility of deployment. The closest that I got to deployment was planning to defend the Alaska Pipeline against terrorists. Oil never stopped flowing down the pipeline, and I never deployed.

I have many stories from the Gulf War, as most of the soldiers from my last assignment (1/7 Cav) deployed from, fought the war, and returned to Ft. Hood. My fellow soldiers rarely failed to remind me that they were veterans and I was not. Anyway, my First Sergeant, Bob Lewis, used to refer to the Gulf War as a live-fire ARTEP. He told the story of returning through forward lines from the Log Pack with the hot meal of the day. A nervous soldier noticed that 1SG Lewis was headed out toward the enemy and asked him where he was going. 1SG Lewis' response was, "Out there to feed my troops." The soldier replied that there was no one beyond him and that he was the front line. 1SG Lewis responded, "Son, I have an entire armored cavalry troop out there in front of you; you don't have anything to worry about. And whatever you do, don't shoot me in the back!"

The History Guy: The Persian Gulf War


The closest that I ever got to an armed conflict was watching it on CNN just like most Americans. You might ask, "Was I prepared to go to war?" Well, yes I was; but I thank God that I never had to go. In the end, I am just like a lot of other Cold War soldiers--well trained, well motivated, but "all dressed up with nowhere to go!"

And that's the honest truth.

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