In 1954 my dad enlisted in the Marine Corps. He received escort back to Minneapolis after two months because they found out he was 16. On the way, they stopped in Kansas City, MS. There the bartender saw three enlisted soldiers and sold them enough beer to keep them drunk on the trip back to Minneapolis. He saw their uniforms and had enough respect for what they were willing to do for the country. When he finally got home, he walked in the back door of his mothers house. Her only words to him after being gone for 2 months and wearing a military uniform were, “Take out the garbage.”
Later on, he joined up with the Air Force as a mechanic. Once there he joined up with the other soldiers in the boxing ring. Broke his nose 3 times all in all. He also saw a few things that blew his mind. On the airfield they kept 55gallon drums of fuel and it just so happened that one was kept open. He watched one airman finish his cigarette and flick it near the drum and this airman was nearly beaten before an officer stepped in. The officer, who also had a cigarette, told them to settle down and with one quick motion put his cigarette out in the fuel. Dad is the one who taught me that even if it is burning, it does not mean that its ignition temperature is low enough to be affected by certain things. Not to mention O2 mixtures and parts per million. Oddly enough, on that same tarmac, someone accidentally dropped a drum of fuel and it it washed down the drainage system underneath. Just so happens that such a wide spread volume was perfect for ignition when a nearby pilot started his engine… and panic ensued.
From the Air Force he was enlisted by some suited men to help Uncle Sam for an ABC company. His youthful excitement was his downfall and he joined. From there he trained in the Amazon with a group of men to go from north to south with limited supplies and no communication with the outside. Areas were hostile and they were told to avoid any and all population at all costs. At one point they were on a bluff around their small fire, drinking coffee and shooting the shit. One of the men went to relieve himself and came running back in a panic. He said a hostile guerrilla force was making way in a hurry to their camp. My dad, in all his glory, stood up and ran to the edge of the bluff and with a flying leap, sailed off. He said it was lucky for him that the trees were so tall and old, because he hit a branch that had to be 4ft in diameter with his belly, his arms and legs shot straight out as he slid off the branch… falling the 30ft down to the forest floor. Breath knocked out of him and heart like a jackhammer, the only thing he could hear for the next few minutes was the distinctive sound of laughter some feet above him. They had never seen anyone try so unsuccessfully to fly, or survive such a fall. After making it closer to the rendezvous point, only a few days out, they marched through the thicket hungry and thirsty. The thunder crashed above them as the storm raged. They marched single file as what they thought was a tree branch fall on top of their company. As it turns out, it was an anaconda… they ate “chicken” afterwards.
Somewhere near Bikini Atoll there is… or was… an island of nearly sheer cliffs, vegetation, and goats. It was up to my dad and his partner to row from a ship to this island with a rifle to kill the goats because of some sensitive experiments with the local plant life. So they rowed to the lowest of 8 steps to begin their operation. My dad climbed, like a goat himself, to the top and set his sights while his partner tied off. Dad sighted in a goat, checked the wind, and took a deep breath as he began to squeeze the trigger. Half way in to the trigger squeeze, everything went white and there was a roaring noise filling his ears. He leaped from step to step back to the rowboat and rowed for all he was worth as his partner just made it up the second step with what I am sure was a puzzled expression. My dad stood on the boat 50ft from the ship shouting obscenities that even those sailors had never heard. As it turns out, the Army had decided to drop a phosphorus bomb on the island for target practice.
To Vietnam. I do not know much, but I will piece together what I have been told. Some GI’s had crossed the border to Cambodia and robbed temples of their artifacts. It was my dads job to return them. He was assigned two VC guides and a map. The guides always chuckled and looked over their shoulders at him as they talked quite loudly, knowing he did not speak a word of the language. After a day, he was convinced that he did not have any chance after those two were done with him. He went to sleep in a tree one night, certain he would not awake… but he did. As it turns out, once they were out a certain distance, the guides decided that since they had been paid up front, would take every last scrap of gear and spirit away in to the night… but leaving the holy relics. He made it to a town on the map and was greeted with smiles and mistrust. He did his best to explain the situation and his destination. He was led to his destination which took a few days where he met a man who could speak fragmented English. He thanked my father and made mention of everyone calling him the “White Ghost.”
On making his way back to Vietnam, I believe this is when he was captured by the VC Red Army. This is where I only learned pieces from my mom since dad was tight lipped about it, and understandably. He spent some time in a tiger cage, tortured and starved with a hand full of other men. He managed to escape and save the other soldiers. That is sadly all that I know… but he spoke of a man who remembered him on a visit to the VA in the 70’s.The anger and fear that filled his eyes every time he mentioned anything about Vietnam spoke more volumes that any words could do justice.
After that he was assigned to Ramey Air Force Base in Puerto Rico.