14 June 2012

Guest-Blogger: 'I Have No War Stories'

Former Eastern Iowa newspaper reporter Dale Kueter is the author of books on Vietnam and personal-history writing. His latest work, "The Smell of the Soil: Writing Your Stories," was reviewed on the Red Bull Rising blog earlier this week.

With each chapter, Kueter tells family stories, while prompting readers to remember and record their own. In the following guest-blog, he has graciously allowed Red Bull Rising to reprint portions of his chapter on military service. In it, he demonstrates how a few short, straight-forward lines might be both treasured by and useful to future generations.

Kueter is a veteran of the Iowa Army National Guard, and served in the 185th Field Artillery Battalion, a unit historically affiliated with the 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division.

"The Smell of the Soil" is available as a paperback and in Amazon Kindle format.


Chapter 76: I Have No War Stories
(Write about your military service.)

By Dale Kueter

To be honest, I needed the money. Moreover, I had the time. So in 1959 I joined the Iowa Army National Guard. The Korean War was over and President Eisenhower was in his last year of office without any major conflicts on the horizon. Although Ike was concerned about Vietnam and the prospects that if it fell to Communism, all of Southeast Asia would follow. It was known as the domino theory.

I didn’t know the domino theory any better than I knew the theory of relativity. I was a greenhorn reporter for The Clinton (Iowa) Herald earning $75 a week and doing what my degree from the University of Iowa School of Journalism said I ought to be doing. The boss didn’t oppose it, so I joined the Guard.

It entailed a six-year military obligation: six months of active duty and the rest inactive. There would be weekly training (every Tuesday night for several hours) and two weeks during the summer. Clinton had two units of Army artillery, and I landed in “A” Battery. Able to type, I finagled my way to eventually be company clerk.

During basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., I met my lifelong friend, Dick Mailloux, of Fowler, Ind. He was such a good friend that he agreed to a blind date proposition and we could use his car in the process. My motivation was seeing my future wife, Helen, who at that time was enrolled in psychiatric care training at Aurora, Ill. Helen’s role in this weekend drama was to find a blind date for Dick. Jean O’Connor of Kankakee, Ill., was willing. They ended up being married before we were.

I was released from the Army Guard unscathed in early 1965, just as the U.S. became more involved in Vietnam. Dick was called into active duty at one point and served a year before being placed back on reserves. My scare came during the Cuban missile crisis. Early one Saturday morning in October 1962 there was a blaring sound outside our apartment, a man pronouncing something over a loudspeaker.

Helen and I impulsively came to the conclusion we were at war and that I would be on my way to active duty somewhere. We had gone to bed with the Cuba showdown with the Soviet Union on our minds. The loudspeaker blare turned out to be nothing more than a political candidate driving his car through our neighborhood extolling reasons we should vote for him. He must not have had a campaign manager.

My father didn’t serve in the armed forces, and while I never talked to him about it I presumed he escaped World War II because he was married and had a family. And he was 27 in 1941. I found out later he probably wasn’t drafted because he was a farmer. His older brother, Leo and younger brother Harold both served in the military.

Leo, who was married in 1931, was age 30 in 1941. In April 1944, even though he and his wife had six children, Leo was drafted by the Army. Uncle Leo wanted no part of the infantry, so he enlisted in the Navy. (Yes, the Navy had a draft, too.) He served until November 1945. Harold, who turned 15 in 1941, served in the Army after the war.

In 1944, exemptions to military service were given to farmers and those who worked in factories, two areas needed to serve the war effort. Uncle Leo was a bulldozer driver in road construction. Family members said he was told to get a factory job and avoid the draft, but Leo said he didn’t like working inside. Off he went aboard the USS Black Hawk in the north Pacific.

My Uncle Bill Yeager, my mother’s brother, was drafted by the Army in February 1941, before Pearl Harbor. He took basic training at Fort Lewis, Wash., and by October 1942 found himself in North Africa. In July 1943 he was fighting in Sicily and by the end of September was part of the Italian invasion. He ended up in a hospital in Italy in December 1943, reasons unknown.

After he returned home, I remember Uncle Bill sitting under a shade tree at my grandparents’ home in north Bellevue, talking about the war. He was reluctant to say much, but we boy cousins pestered the hell out of him and it seems he showed us a side of his abdomen where a piece of shrapnel had struck him.

That may have been in April 1944 because he returned to the states on April 18th that year. He went back to a hospital in Martinsburg, W.V., and was discharged at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., in October of that year.

Bill (Wilford) Ryan, my uncle through marriage to my mother’s youngest sister, Joyce, was drafted by the Marine Corps in February of 1952. He took basic training at Camp Pendleton, CA, and was in Korea by the following October. In the ensuing year, Bill was involved in terrible fighting that caused permanent scars. He received the Purple Heart for wounds received before leaving Korea in late 1953.

He was home for Christmas in 1953, and discharged the following February. In later years, while I was a student at the University of Iowa and then after taking a job in Cedar Rapids in the mid 1960s, I visited Bill as he underwent care at Veterans Hospital in Iowa City. I’m not sure he knew who I was.

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