Published Tuesday, April 24, 2012
I served my military obligation back during the Korean War Era but I never was assigned to a combat area and even though I was a member of the US Army’s 101st Airborne Infantry Division, I never jumped from an airplane.
The 101st Airborne is the famed unit whose storied members were the first in battle on D-Day during WWII and served gallantly thereafter in bringing Hitler to his knees. The unit is featured in the acclaimed television series “Band of Brothers” and known as the “Screaming Eagles.” But more about that in a moment.
I was in my college senior year at Wake Forest, in love and I knew I would be drafted at the end of the semester. My future wife and I wanted to get married but not until I had met my military obligation and was settled somewhere in this world. So, I quit school and volunteered for the draft. It would be years before I went back and finished my education.
Volunteering proved to be not so simple. A classmate of mine from high school obtained a deferment from the draft by going through some high-ranking official in Washington, or, that was the accusation at least. In protest, the entire draft board in our city resigned about the time I had volunteered. It would be months before anyone from our community would be inducted into service but finally a new group was in place and the draft lines formed again.
Finally, our day came and my schoolmate and I were among the first to be hauled off to Fort Jackson outside Columbia. The television station was on hand to see us off because of the controversy that had prevented any inductions for months. I felt like I was in one of those newsreels during WWII when the screen depicted our American warriors going off to war. I was a bit embarrassed – especially when my schoolmate hammed it up for the cameras by practicing his golf swing for the video audience.
During the Korean War, the 101st had been activated as a training division and was headquartered at Fort Jackson, so, I became a member of this proud band of brothers. I was delighted to have been assigned to a post only four hours away from my bride-to-be, whom I married about a year and one-half later.
After basic training, I was assigned to go the Basic Army Administration Course at Ft. Jackson after which I could be assigned to anywhere in the world but probably Korea. In the meantime, an Army buddy told me that if I volunteered for Jump School, I would be sent to Ft. Bragg in North Carolina which was less than an hour away from my beloved future wife, who was in her senior year at Wake Forest. I leaped at the chance and was scheduled to go to ‘jump school” and taught how to fling myself out of a perfectly good aircraft. But, alas, it was not to be.
I did very well in the Army Administration School and the commandant wanted me to stay at Ft. Jackson and teach. I was torn but actually I really had no choice. I belonged to Uncle Sam and would go where I was told to go. However, the Airborne folks and my commandant got into a tug of war over where that was to be.
The commandant won out and I spent the rest of my military career teaching recruits at Ft. Jackson. It turned out to be a wonderful experience and my fiancé and I were able to get married and live in Columbia where she worked with an agency for handicapped kids.
I completed my two years of active duty and six years of reserve and have always been pleased that I had served my country even if it was in a classroom. It was this teaching experience that probably led me back to academia years later as a college professor and university administrator following a career in journalism and other endeavors.
Last November when I read in this paper that there was to be a Veteran’s Day parade in downtown Georgetown, I thought about taking part. One day going up Highway 17, I noticed an Army/Navy store and decided on the spur of the moment to drop in. I have never owned anything military since my discharge but have seen many veterans wearing T-Shirts or caps designating their branch of service.
I enquired regarding something for the 101st Airborne veteran. They had a couple of T-shirts that were much too small for my extended girth. Instead, I decided on a cap. The nice lady gave me a discount she said because she saluted my service in the Airborne. I was embarrassed because although I had spent most of my tour of duty as a member of this storied outfit, I had never jumped out of any airplanes.
I bought the cap anyway but have been uncomfortable wearing it. I skipped the Veteran’s parade because I didn’t want to take any credit for having been a ground-borne member of such a proud military outfit.
Maybe my wife will bury me with my Airborne cap on. The angels won’t care because, at last, I’ll be truly airborne!
John Brock is a retired newspaper editor/publisher and college professor. He can be reached by mail at this newspaper or by Email at: firstname.lastname@example.org