Tuesday, July 4, 2017


Having joined the National Guard in 1979, I had the rare privilege of serving with a handful of veterans from WW2 and Korea. Most of them were nearing retirement age, sixty is the cutoff for service in the Army in most cases. My first supervisor was one of those, he asked for and received a waiver to get past age sixty so he could retire.
Orv joined the military, a naive young farm kid from Minnesota and became an Army Signal Corps  specialist. He landed a dream assignment, Hawaii. No cold winters, no snow, just sand surf and sun. What could be better?
Well, the timing wasn't so good, The Japanese decided to bomb Pearl Harbor before Orv got  chance to see the sites of Honolulu. It was off to war for Orv and his friends, From Guadalcanal to the Philippines, and on and on it went. By the time Orv mustered out after VJ-Day, he was all too happy to return to the farm and Minnesota winters.
Well, life on the farm aint all laid back, Orv married, and began a family. Looking back, he realized that life in the military wasn't all that bad, he'd made rank, and a sergeant's pay was better than he was making with corn and cows plus the military had benefits for family such as free medical and housing.
So Odv reenlisted again drawing a choice assignment, Ft Ord California. Arriving in Frisco, he called to his new unit to inquire as to where he should meet the duty driver. Don't bother they said, just head for the docks, we are off to Korea.
Sad Sack and the Sarg had it better. By the time the cease fire was reached, Orv was kicking himself, "what was I thinking?" Back to the farm he went.
It wasn't too long though and Orv again remembered the better parts of his time in and the comradery of the service. This time though, he opted for the National Guard, serve closer to home, and work toward that retirement.
Orv had an MOS the military deemed critical though, and when things picked up among the Vietnam Advisory group, The Army looked at personnel available who were proficient with Morse Code, and dang if his name wasn't near the top of the pile. Orv got a jingle, and being he was a member of the Guard, he couldn't turn down their offer. It was off to another fun filled sun filled dream spot for Orv.
Orv did his time as requested, He wasn't in the jungle with the grunts, but his mission was just as important. Once again, Orv said enough is enough and got out.
Calendars are important in our lives, Orv looked at his a lot. He'd already put in a lot of time, and the chance to get his twenty and retire beckoned. Orv again headed to the Armory, and signed on the line. This time though, he was committed, he needed only six to retire, problem was, he was 55.
The Army is stupid, and they are dumb, but they aint as stupid, nor as dumb as we like to credit them with being, they took Orv back, they knew they might need him again. They were right.
Not long after I joined, a bunch of crazy jihadists took over our embassy in Tehran. We had weak kneed President, one almost as bad as the SCoaMF we just got rid of.
I remember coming in for drill one weekend to find the commo cage locked up. This was highly unusual, Orv was always there early, usually the first guy in the door. Well, I headed to the orderly room to find out what was going on, I was wet behind the ears and had no clue what to do.
"Hey Top, where's Orv?" (I used SSG and his last name)
Well that 1SG was out of his chair in a flash, "It is none of your business where Orv is, you only need worry about Private Jeremy." Hey, all he needed to say was Orv is gone for the weekend, He'll be back next month.
Six days later Operation Eagle Claw failed. No, Orv wasn't along on the mission, He was called up to provide back up communication in case the Iranians or Russians tried to jam our signals.
A few months later, Orv retired. He'd completed his twenty. He had not however completed his service to the United States Military. Retirees are subject to recall if and when the need arises. Orv's specialty, operating Morse key was a critical skill, but not one the military utilized much except when the fit hit the Shan. During the years after, it hit often. From Grenada to Panama Special Operations actions necessitated that men with Orv's skill set be on hand to receive and decipher the signals then pass that information on to higher.
Not long after enduring Freedom kicked off, I was back home and decided to pay Orv a visit. His wife answered the door, No, he wasn't home, wouldn't be for some time. He was at Ft McCoy Wisconsin relaying signals between our soldiers on the ground serving with the Northern alliance  and the air support they needed to win.
He told me later that when he reported, the commanded took one look at him and told him to just report in civies, the MP's would never buy seeing a frail old man in ACU's. It was eight hours on the radio, then slack time. Most of the guys who were called put in extra hours, not much of interest for an 80+ year old man to do at night in Wisconsin.
Orv wasn't the only WW2 vet I had the privilege of serving with. That Guard unit had several including both Platoon Sergeants. We were a Company minus, split between two towns. We had one infantry platoon and the weapons platoon, our Company part had the other two platoons of grunts.
Men like Orv were the caliber of people that stepped up eighty years ago. Sure, a lot of our men in uniform were drafted, 2/3 in fact of the men who served in WW2 were conscripts.
Contrary to the fiction of historical revisionists, Vietnam was not the same. Only 1/3 or them were draftees, and only a small number of the combat troops were drafted. It was all about attitude, and a guy who doesn't want to be there is gonna get other people, and possibly himself killed.
That guard unit was in fact, chuck full of prior service veterans. People think of the guard as weekend warriors, the kind of goofs portrayed in Rambo. When we went to summer camp in Colorado, we stacked more experience on the line than our regular army host unit.
Today, when you are watching the parades and fireworks shows, take a moment to think about all the people who have served this nation. Men like Orv who answered the call, reluctantly, but they answered, not like Worthless Willie who ran to Canada, or John Forgery did you know he was in Vietnam, Kerry who hurt himself and still got a purple heart for it. Think about them, and if you see one, say thanks.


Gregory said...

Wow. I didn't know the military called back retirees. I hope they paid Orv well.

JeremyR said...

Full pay plus a promotion the last time. Retiree's get a lot of benefits that the fellow who gives twenty to the UAW will never get. They come with a price, They can be called back at any time.
Most people who put in 20+ are not hesitant to go back. After 9-11-01 we had people who were in their 70's serving as instructors for some special skills. running Morse code is not a common task today, but was critical in Afghanistan. The men were dropped in remote regions, minimal supply and challenging communication. The old guys who knew battle could skip through the trash and find the meat. Their contributions shaved several minutes off the time needed to get air power on target, minutes mean lives. Those men were worth their weight in gold.
Also consider that some of the equipment the folks there had was obsolete, they needed people from over the hill. Think Clint Eastwood in Space Cowboys.