Monday, March 09, 2009


(This l-o-n-g entry is a result of a conversation I had while visiting my parents a couple of weeks ago at the nursing home. We talked about family members who had served in World War I and II, Vietnam, Iraq . . . and they began by telling about my mother’s Uncle Oscar . . .)

My mother’s Uncle Oscar was the youngest of the ten children in her father’s family. He was born in 1895, and World War I was fought from 1914 to 1918, just about the time my great uncle Oscar was the right age for military service. He joined the Merchant Marine, whose role was to transport supplies across the Atlantic for American Expeditionary Forces. He was the first family member that my parents remembered as having a military background. They recalled seeing a picture of him in uniform, but I could only find a “civilian” picture of Uncle Oscar.

During World War II, my uncle Clifford (born in 1915) was assigned to a MASH (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) unit, the 142nd General Hospital. He was stationed in the Fiji Islands and also served in India. My mother said about her brother's service, “When Clifford got home, he said the worst part of the war for him had been riding home on the ship with the men who had lost their minds from the war.” My mother believed that the hospital in India had a neuropsychiatric ward where some of the soldiers were treated for what was called “shell shock” in WWII. Besides his experiences with the wounded soldiers, Uncle Clifford had been especially troubled by the desperate conditions of the native people he saw in Fiji and India where he was stationed.

Although my uncle Clifford was able to share some of his experiences in WWII with his family when he came home, my mother’s brother Fred (born in 1908) “had a different nature” and did not want to talk about his experiences. From letters and bits of information, my mother said that Fred’s job in the Army had been to build bridges. At first he had been asked to go to Norway to work with the Underground Resistance because he spoke Norwegian fluently. The Nazis invaded Norway and occupied it for five years until WWII ended. However, unexpectedly, Fred was told he wouldn’t be going to Norway and instead was sent to the front. Fred was in the famous “Battle of the Bulge” that helped to end WWII.

My father recalled that his older cousin Lorance had just started his medical practice in Montana when he was asked to serve as an Army medical doctor in World War II. He was assigned to the Advance Military Hospital as a surgeon with the 69th Infantry of the 1st Army. His unit went through Belgium and central Germany. He received commendations for the Battle of Rhineland, the Battle of Central Germany, and the Battle of the Bulge. He told a nephew that a civilian doctor could practice medicine for thirty years and never see what he had seen. (I was unable to find a picture of Lorance in the family photos.)

My father’s younger brother, Al, joined the Army in the early 1950s, thankfully too late to see action in World War II. In my own generation, the Vietnam War was the conflict that my peers were being drafted to fight. I had brothers-in-law in the Marines and Navy, a brother and brother-in-law in the National Guard, and cousins who were also drafted into the military.

My husband Tom was in ROTC at NDSU, so in 1966, when he graduated, he was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army. Within a year, he was sent to Lai Khe, Vietnam, as an ordnance officer in the “Big Red One,” 1st Infantry Division, 701st Maintenance Battalion, Company C. Although he was not involved in direct fighting, his base was under persistent rocket fire, earning it the nickname, “Rocket City."

Tom had 19 young men under his command in his platoon, ages 18 to 24. Early one morning, while his men were still asleep in their “hooch” (barracks), a rocket hit directly in the middle of the building. Six of his men were killed instantly and another half dozen were wounded. Only 7 of the 19 young men in Tom’s platoon made it unhurt through that rocket attack. He keeps the names of the soldiers who were killed in a small notebook. When we visited the Vietnam Wall replica, he brought his notebook along and found their names engraved in the wall.

Finally, my son and his wife are both Air Force pilots. In 2001, they were deployed to Prince Sultan Air Base, Saudi Arabia, under “Operation Southern Watch" with the 523rd Fighter Squadron. Following Operation Desert Storm when Iraq invaded Kuwait, the allies imposed northern and southern no-fly zones over Iraq. The U.S. and British air forces patrolled the air over these no-fly zones, primarily to protect coalition aircraft from Iraqi MiGs. During their deployment, they each flew approximately 20 combat missions.

In 2006, they deployed to Korea, where my son was stationed at Kunsan Air Force Base on the China Sea (8th Fighter Wing) and his wife was stationed at Osan Air Force Base near Seoul (51st Fighter Wing). They are now at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona.

Although I am proud of members of my family who served in the military, I sincerely hope that my granddaughter’s generation will never have a war to fight.

1 comment:

bd said...

Thanks for the pictures and story. You are right- Fred didn't say much...we heard alot about the poor children in India (like when we wanted something or complained about our menu).