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Mon, Dec. 09

Jackson: Outstanding work on Veterans Day section

That special section that the Courier published on November 11 in which veterans responded to an invitation that the paper had extended for them to describe their military experience was, in a word, outstanding. I failed to submit an accounting of my own Army service back in the 1950s, but instead participated in a similar exercise in which the editor of the Prescott Noon Lions Club’s monthly newsletter issued the same invitation, the completion of which has just been accomplished. Included are informative listings 60 vets — more than half of the club’s membership.

My two-year hitch as a G.I. began in 1955 when I was inducted immediately following my college graduation, and as it was between wars (post-Korea and pre-Vietnam) I never shot at an enemy nor was shot AT by one, which was a plus. Anyway, my marksmanship was lousy, as evidenced by my firing an M-1 rifle during basic training at Fort Ord in California. My ineptitude at the shooting range was confirmed by “Maggie’s drawers” occasionally being waved by a fellow soldier in the sheltered bunker, indicating that I not only hadn’t hit near the bull’s-eye but instead had missed the entire target! Now, the only shot that I ever took at a living creature occurred when I was a kid of 10 or so years, and it was with a weapon of minimal destruction — a Red Ryder BB gun. I took aim at a sparrow on a high line — probably 40 or so yards away, pulled the trigger and, unfortunately, winged the poor critter, which fell to the ground. The only alternative at that point was to shoot another BB into its brain at close range to get it out of its misery, after which I ran home, crying.

When the time came for the first assignments coming out of boot camp, they were predominantly to South Korea as a force to keep the North Koreans at bay. In my case, though, and possibly with an eye toward my recent “graduation” from the camp’s clerk-typist school, I received a plush assignment to 5th Army headquarters in Chicago — a stone’s throw from Lake Michigan — for a job preparing reenlistment orders. (I can visualize one assignment wonk back at Fort Ord saying to another: “Hey, this recruit can’t shoot straight, but at least he can TYPE!”) Anyway, my landing in that toddlin’ town marked the first of three duty stations that represented more of an extended paid vacation than anything else.

After a few months in Chicago, I mentioned to my warrant officer boss that I would really and truly LOVE to be transferred to Germany, and he obliged by telling me that he had a warrant officer friend at Fort Carson outside of Colorado Springs whose 8th Infantry Division was soon relocating to Germany and he told me he thought he could pull off my transfer there, which he indeed did, and after a few months at Carson nirvana was realized when I arrived at division headquarters in Goppingen, a delightful town in a picturesque area of southern Germany, in September, 1956.

Incidentally, the warrant officer who headed our hq office there in Goppingen, CWO Emerick, was a kind, considerate man who was a joy to work for. But there was one incident I recall in which he rightfully reacted to a prank by one of our fellow soldier workers who happened to be off on the day in question. The office in which we worked, you see, was a semi-basement room that had windows at approximate eye level and was the site of the mayhem brought about when the soldier in question — nicknamed “Mr. Beetler” by a fellow worker — proceeded to plant a Baby Giant firecracker beside one of the windows and lit it. The resultant blast prompted thoughts related to the possible first salvo in World War III and — when Mr. Emerick learned who was at fault he provided Mr. Beetler with the ultimatum that if there should ever be a recurrence of such a stunt that “there’ll be a place for you in the 41st Tank Battalion.” From then on, Mr. Beetler was a perfect angel.

On an unrelated subject, I received an email from a Prescott friend, Joe Diekemper, on last month’s Veterans Day in which he wrote that “I would like to take this opportunity to wish all of my former shipmates a pleasant and memorable Veterans Day that our country is celebrating today. My family has served in the military since the Civil War (North), the First and Second World Wars, and peacetime since then. My son, Joseph, is a Navy SEAL Commander who recently has resumed his Reserve Weekend Warrior duties in Stuttgart with NATO Special Forces. Regards, Joe D.”

Joe, incidentally, was a Pan American World Airways pilot based in Berlin during the Cold War. And he and I are both long-time Prescott residents who graduated from Lubbock High School back in 1951. Small world, eh?

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