Musings of a Tanker-Joining Up

Joined the army to get money for college. Wanted to join tanks because my great Uncle10479534_10206333941729168_1298285649498770301_n Matt Mattes died in Holland as a tank crewman. It was taboo. I was also looking to drink, see the world. I always knew I would serve, as almost every generation of my family has served our country as far back as the Civil War.

My great Uncle died in the fields of France. My great great-great-grandfather lost a leg in the Civil War as a Union Soldier. My daughter’s great-great-grandfather served in the horse cavalry in the early 1900s. I still have his saddle. I thought I would join the Navy, as had my Grandfather, a purple heart recipient Navy Corpsman at Guadalcanal.

My father served about Navy destroyers in Vietnam. He bombed the shores and supply lines. His destroyer was directly behind the Maddox and Turner Joy when they were hit with North Vietnamese gun fire. He saw the damage. It happened.

My uncle followed up by flying as a navigator on the EA-6B Prowler on the U.S.Kitty Hawk and America in the 70s. The Mattes and Osborne name have been well represented in the military. I almost forgot my three uncles on mom’s side. My Uncle Don Hegewald served in bomb disposal in Korea. My Uncle Don and Gerald, my mom’s older brothers, both served along the border in Korea, as the Cold War began to freeze. Continue reading

BRUNNER’S BOYS

In early 1982 B Troop 1st Squadron 11th Armored Cavalry was a rough and tumble outfit.

In 1982, men from B Troop 1st Squadron 11th Armored Cavalry were among those that held the line against Soviet aggression.

In 1982, men from B Troop 1st Squadron 11th Armored Cavalry were among those that held the line against Soviet aggression.

Like every other combat arms unit in the Army we were convinced that we were the best. While we were technically and tactically proficient, we lacked Army discipline. We did have a somewhat Wild West, hands on brand of discipline, in that it wasn’t unheard of for an NCO to knock some sense into an unruly private behind the tank line in the motor pool.

Of course, the barracks could be a zoo on the weekends. Paydays, about a third of the troops would be in the clubs downtown trying to meet girls or in the brothels doing the same. Most of the rest of the guys would have made substantial investments in cases of beer or bottles of liquor and be sitting barracks rooms playing poker, tonk, or spades. There was the occasional fight.   These were usually over and forgotten in a matter of minutes. As long as the fight didn’t turn into a riot or the music get too loud no one bothered us. By Sunday afternoon we would begin putting the barracks back together for Monday morning inspection. Continue reading

Reflections of a Cold War Warrior – Christmas

322466_world-of-tanks_wot_tanki_rozhdestvo_1920x1200_(www.GdeFon.ru)Author: Steve Traywick

It’s Christmas time again.  It’s the time of year where we Americans lose our minds and gochristmas_presents into a commercial feeding frenzy.  We do this every year and by the time Christmas evening rolls around and the toys are put away and all the wrapping paper and empty boxes are ready to hauled out and the dinner table is cleared, we swear that THIS IS THE LAST YEAR WE’RE GOING TO DO THIS!  Next year we’ll do it all over again.

In a few weeks the economic gurus will crunch numbers and announce if this holiday season was a good one or a bad one based on the amount of money each household in the country spends.  As a country we’ll feel good or bad about ourselves based on the amount of money ‘Charitable’ organizations say they took in this year.  Walmart, Target, Christmas-Dinner-dpMacy’s et alii  will let their stock holders know if they can expect a healthy pay out on their stocks.  If not, these corporations will look at America with a jaundiced eye and announce “Shame on you! You should have spent more!”

The rest of the world will go about their business. Babies will be born.  Elderly people will pass away.  People will continue to kill each other for whatever political or religious reason they kill each other during the rest of the year. Doctors and nurses will be on duty.  Ambulance crews, firemen and policemenMilitary+Homecoming+12.20.3 will be on duty.

Around the world, too, young Americans will be on ships, air bases, and Army posts.  Someone will be manning the phones at CQ desks, battalion, brigade and division headquarters. GI’s posted close enough to home will get passes to make the drive home.  All that can will have put in for leave and already left to go to the place that means the most to them: HOME.

As has been the case since the end of World War II, some won’t make it home because they’re stationed a continent away.  Those that can’t get the leave time or can’t afford the plane ticket home for whatever reason’ or decide it’s not worth the aggravation will be around post. These days, a lot won’t make it because they’re hunkered down in a bunker somewhere out on the edge of nowhere wondering whether not home for christmassomeone will decide to drop a mortar round or rocket their way. Or maybe fire a few rounds in their direction just for fun. Or maybe get a few hundred of their closest friends together to see if they can overrun a post or firebase. For a lot of our kids Christmas dinner will be whatever MRE they can get.

I was fortunate that I never had to spend Christmas worrying about getting shot at.  My first Christmas dinner in the Army was in the chow hall in Fulda.  It was no big deal.  It was dinner.  I hadn’t arrived in-country in time to sign up to spend Christmas with a German family.  I did hear stories from the guys that did sign up and got to go with the German families that were kind enough to welcome foreign strangers into their homes for the holidays.  For the most part, the American kids loved the experience.  The barracks, while they may be home, are really no place to spend Christmas.  It’s too easy to start feeling sorry for yourself. Continue reading

Reflections of a Cold Warrior – The Men

Author: Steve Traywick

“Some had families waiting. For others, their only family would be the men they bled beside. There were no bands, no flags, no Honor Guards to welcome them home. They went to war because their country ordered them to. But in the end, they fought not for their country or their flag, they fought for each other.” Joseph Galloway, Narrator: We Were Soldiers

It’s Thanksgiving again and, as always, my thoughts return to a different time and a different

Author Steve Traywick

Author Steve Traywick

kind of family.  In Reflections of a Cold War Warrior – Being There, I mentioned my first Thanksgiving in Germany but now I think it’s time to introduce you to the men. Grab a cup of coffee or a beer and come on into the kitchen; I have a tale to tell.  I want you to meet my other family.  We fought with and for each other.

If I didn’t mention it at the beginning of this blog, I AM NOT A WRITER!  I’m not sure I can write a word portrait of someone but I’m going to try.  History is made up of what real people have done. The guys I served with were just that: real people. They were sons, brothers, husbands, fathers and friends. Several of them made a huge impact on my life.  I remember most of them with the fondest warmth.  There were some assholes of course. You can’t get a large crowd of people together without having at least one, but I’ll get to them much later on.

A lot of us were just kids although we thought we were grown.  A lot of us were in the Army in the first place because of the economy during the early 1980s.  We simply couldn’t find jobs.   I couldn’t find a job, but since I was (and still am) a history nut I thought armor would be the way to go.  I certainly didn’t want to find myself in the woods humping a ruck sack.

I didn’t intend to editorialize, but I still lose patience with people who remember Jimmy Carter as a great statesman. He may have been, but he was a disaster as a president.  I think the country is better off with him in retirement than sitting in the Oval Office.  I remember high unemployment, sharply rising gas prices, interest rates in the twenty percent, the Ayatollah Khomeini taking power in Iran with Carter’s blessing, the Iran Hostage situation, and a lot more.  The high unemployment rate is what put a lot of us in uniform.

A lot of guys went in to take advantage of the GI bill, but not me.  They had just changed it when I went in and it pretty much didn’t amount to anything. A lot of them stayed in and made the Army a career.  I believe to this day that the classes of 1979 and 1980 formed the backbone of the Army that went into Kuwait in 1991 and kicked some and took some.  We became Uncle Ronnie’s Army.

If you can’t tell, I’m stalling about writing the word portraits of the guys I knew. Through the magic of Facebook, I’ve been able to get in touch with many of them.  Some of them have changed and some of them are much the same way we were when we were younger. We’ve certainly all aged.   So, if any of them happen to read this, I hope they’ll understand.  Continue reading

Tour of Duty (1955-1958) – Part II

 

This is the second in John T. Malch’s series. The first of the series, Tour of Duty (1955-1958), is a fun read of the series of adventures at Camp Irwin, his first duty assignment. In 1955, the world scene was deceptively quiet. American’s who, by nature, like to get a job done and go home were settling in to the post-war life as they wanted to live it. It was a short decade after WWII’s hostilities cooled. Unfortunately, the Cold War (1947-1991) was a lot hotter than most U.S. citizens realized. This is what greeted John Malch as he took his new station in Germany. There are two additional Videos you may enjoy (just click on the links): 1) ‘2-week’ field-tours in the Saarland and March 1957 and September 1957, Our bivouac area was located north of Neunkirchen and west of Bexbach [see map in second photo], and 2) 3-day R & R in Southern Bavaria; Visiting in May 1957 Garmisch-Partenkirchen touring Oberammergau, Neushwanstein Castle and Linderhof Palace

Author: John T. Malch

US Army MP Badge

US Army MP Badge

Part II: Stateside

Prologue:  An old army barrack rumor:  When recruits were given a battery of tests in ’zero-week’, one included a test that asked for your personal preferences: i.e., do you like the forest, woods, lakes and streams, et cetera, (it was asked several times in different ways)

The rumor was that this is how the army selected your first duty assignment. I don’t remember my answers, but they must have been synonymous with sand, blazing sun, cactus, sidewinders, scorpions and Kangaroo rats.  My first duty post was Camp Irwin, where all those things and critters existed.

Camp Irwin:  What a disappointment!

1949 Chevrolet Styleline-Deluxen

1949 Chevrolet Styleline-Deluxen

I just purchased a used 1949 Chevrolet Styleline-Deluxe and thought I had it made with my own wheels and just eighteen more months left in the Army.  This was August 1956.  I was stationed at Camp Irwin, California; an army post locate in the middle of the Mojave desert and south of Death Valley.

With my own car, it gave me advantages when off-duty to travel to Las Vegas, Los Angeles and if I became adventurous, a trip to Tijuana.  Yeah, this wild-west army camp wasn’t so bad.  It had a nice pool, a gym, a theater which showed first-run movies, an enlisted men’s beer hall and a Special Services Club, featuring cute ‘Donut Dollies, and quite few other places to spend off-duty time while not becoming too bored with the wide emptiness of the Mojave Desert.  I was happy and very content with my MP duties and so many off-duty places to visit and enjoy.   What I had going for me was about to change, dramatically, when the army had different plans for my next eighteen months in my ‘Tour of Duty.’  But wait, there’s more!

Tour of Duty (1955-1958)

In 1955, the world scene was deceptively quiet. American’s who, by nature, like to get a job

John Malch Camp Irwin 1955

John Malch
Camp Irwin 1955

done and go home were settling in to the post-war life as they wanted to live it. It was a short decade after WWII’s hostilities cooled. Unfortunately, the Cold War (1947-1991) was a lot hotter than most U.S. citizens realized. This is what greeted John Malch, a nineteen year old, bright, fresh-faced Army recruit in training to become a MP. Over the next three years, John captured a photographic record of his experiences as he lived and learned about the world around him. He’s captured those three years in Tour of Duty, an insightful twenty-eight minute video, Photo essay of a Soldiers’ ‘Tour of Duty’  (1955 – 1958)

A MP assignment was a perfect fit for young John Malch’s inquiring mind, need for order and drive for an underlying truth.  His photography reflects the soul of both the U.S. and Europe’s recovery from a devastating war. An interesting and surprising maturity is reflected in his photographic record. John may have left the Army in 1955 but he did not leave the military arena; he went on to serve in Vietnam. The qualities that drove the photographic excellence between 1955 and 1958 stayed with him. His drive for the truth did too. Continue reading

Reflections of a Cold War Warrior

Author: Steve Traywick

In 1979 at the Reception Center at Fort Knox, Kentucky, we were put in the care of a grizzled old Sergeant First Class.  We were brand, spanking new.  We hadn’t had our hair cut yet or drawn uniforms.

We had time between the hurry up and wait and Old Sarge held an informal BS/question and answer session.  He let us ask whatever questions came to our minds such as what to expect, what to do or not to do, etc. Somehow the question of race came up.

Old Sarge told us “Look to your left.  Now, look to your right.  See the guy sitting next to you?  He is NOT a nigger, honkey, spic, mick, kike, or chink!  Pretty soon, no matter what your skin color, you

"... Will you really care what the skin color is of the guy who comes crawling out under fire to save your ass?  I don't think you will.  If you don't learn anything else today, you better learn this.”

“… Will you really care what the skin color is of the guy who comes crawling out under fire to save your ass? I don’t think you will. If you don’t learn anything else today, you better learn this.”

will all be GREEN! Someday, you may be laying on the ground in some shitty part of the world bleeding out.  Will you really care what the skin color is of the guy who comes crawling out under fire to save your ass?  I don’t think you will.  If you don’t learn anything else today, you better learn this.”

I’ve never forgotten that lesson.  I think a lot of the guys who served when I did learned the same lesson one way or the other.  We learned to live together; work together and play together.  We learned the Old Soldier’s lesson that we weren’t in it for Old Glory, the folks back home, or Mom’s apple pie.  We learned to trust and depend on each other regardless of where we were from or what we looked like.  Our crew, squad, platoon, company/troop were family, period.  Everyone else was strangers.

We were the Military that Uncle Ronnie built.  We did our part to topple the Soviet empire.  We went into Desert Storm and kicked ass and took names.  We brought most of our brothers and sisters home.

We also watched the Army we had grown to love bleed out in operation Iraqi Freedom.  We agonized over every flag draped coffin that came home.  We wanted to salute and thank every veteran, regardless of color, for their service.

And now, here we are. Somehow we’ve been transported back in time to the days of the Civil Rights movement.  Then the lines between right and wrong were very clear cut.  Now, not so much.

Now, we’re so afraid of each other that one group of people think they have to go out in public armed.  They insist that it’s their constitutional right.  The other group is so busy slaughtering their own young people that they don’t pay attention to the other group until they collide. And when that collision comes, one side or the other are automatically labeled as racist.

It doesn’t matter that what happened in Sanford, Florida was a case of two idiots colliding on a rainy night.  It doesn’t matter that the one carrying the firearm was a moron who had no business going anywhere with a weapon; or the other was a border line thug who wasn’t about to back down from anyone; they did collide and one ended up dead.

It never should have happened, but it DID happen.  And it happened on a slow news day.  Suddenly, it was all about race.  We immediately divided ourselves into different camps based on race.  It’s started a fire that the media on the left and the media on the right are more than happy to stoke because it jacks up their ratings and brings in money.  Race baiters are happy to help stoke the fire because, yes, it keeps their face on television and brings in money.

Somehow, my country has unlearned the lessons that we worked so hard for so long to learn.  We are so polarized that the least little thing will still divide us.  No, Treyvon Martin’s death isn’t a little

Ft. Hood, Texas. Still keeping America free.

Ft. Hood, Texas. Still keeping America free.

thing, but it should have been handled in the courts and not in the editorials, and it should not have divided us so easily.

I think…I hope and pray that those of us of all races that sweated and bled together in service to our country still remember the lessons we learned.  We may be all that ultimately holds the country together.

 

Editor’s Note: Steve Traywick was born in Union City, Tennessee on April 11, 1958 but grew up in Houston, Texas.  Steve went into the Army in June 1979 as a 19E10 (M60A3) Tank Crewman.  He arrived in Fulda FRG, Germany in November 1979.  Strategically important during the Cold War because it was an area where tanks could invade, The Fulda Gap is situated between what used to be the East German border and Frankfurt.  Steve was assigned to B Trp 1/11 ACR and served there until January 1984 when he was transferred to A Co 2/8 Cav, 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood.  Steve continued his service with the 1st Cavalry Division until he left the service in 1989.

Freedom’s Soul: The Greatest Legacy

Cold War Warriors are the keepers of the flame of liberty. They picked up the smoldering lantern within which the flame is carried from their WWII brothers and sisters and, today, continue to spread its light. It is a bold statement to be sure but true none the less.

A warrior is, according to the dictionary, “one who is engaged in or experienced in battle.”[1] The

This house was right on the 38th parallel in Korea and was separated by a wall. Guess which side is in North Korea. (Courtesy of Steve Traywick)

This house was right on the 38th parallel in Korea and was separated by a wall. Guess which side is in North Korea. (Courtesy of Steve Traywick)

definition is woefully inadequate. In this instance the dictionary is blatantly misleading. Not every individual who fights or prepares to fight a war is a warrior. The Naval Academy’s Prof. Shannon E. French points out that laying a claim to the title ‘warrior’ is reserved to those who meet measures other than simply fighting. He says, “Before we call any collection of belligerents a culture of warriors, we should first ask why they fight, how they fight, what brings them honor, and what brings them shame. The answers to these questions will reveal whether or not they have a true warrior’s code.”[2]

A recent Mark Dice video[3] illustrates the point. Dice is asking people to sign a ‘petition’ to get rid of the Bill of Rights in The Constitution. Every person he approaches signs the ‘petition’, no questions asked. About three minutes into the video, Dice has filled a page with signatures and is waiting for one more. A man on a bicycle rides up and the approach is made. Dice makes his spiel. The guy on the bike looks flabbergasted and says, “No, you’re crazy, it’s part of The Constitution” and threatens to rip the ‘petition’ up. The man on the bike explains that he took an oath to defend and uphold The Constitution.  He was in the military and he is the warrior I am talking about.

Pursuing my interest in the lives and times of today’s Cold War (1947-1991) veterans, I petitioned and was accepted as a member of the American Cold War Veterans[4] ‘facebook’ page as well as

Berlin Airlift. C-46s on Ramp 1024

Berlin Airlift. C-46s on Ramp 1024

several other Cold War groups like Vet Connect[5]. What were others thinking and saying about the Cold War era, I wondered. It quickly became clear that I fell into a bunch of Americans that are exceptional. Norman Podhoretz, in the Imprimis article, Is America Exceptional?[6] defines the whats and whys of American exceptionalism.

“First of all, unlike all other nations past or present, this one accepted as a self-evident truth that all men are created equal. What this meant was that its Founders aimed to create a society in which, for the first time in the history of the world, the individual’s fate would be determined not by who his father was, but by his own freely chosen pursuit of his own ambitions. In other words, America was to be something new under the sun: a society in which hereditary status and class distinctions would be erased, leaving individuals free to act and to be judged on their merits alone. There remained, of course, the two atavistic contradictions of slavery and the position of women; but so intolerable did these contradictions ultimately prove that they had to be resolved—even if, as in the case of the former, it took the bloodiest war the nation has ever fought.”

The Cold War engaged citizens by the tens of millions. Scientists, engineers, technicians, administrators, constructors and paint scrapers, military and civilian were used in every nook and cranny of the twisted landscape in that war. The military personnel sacrificed with little notice unless the ‘Cold War train jumped the track’. The military’s men and women manned icebreakers, drove

Bosnia

Bosnia

tanks, stood post in Berlin, walked the line in Korea, serviced and flew helicopters in Vietnam, handled medical emergencies in hostile situations where they could have been killed by friendly fire, served on aircraft carriers and submarines, and, generally ‘took care of business’. The human beings, our fellow citizens, who served in the military were, most generally, young men and women who had just graduated from high school. Some landed fun, cushy jobs. Most did not.

The youngsters frequently lived in tough situations. Their mommies were not there to help them through but the Master Sergeant, or equivalent, and their buddies were. Some times were hard like

Cold War Berlin Wall. East Germany Peter Fleicher shot while trying to defect. He was left lying there as a lesson. (1962)

Cold War Berlin Wall. East Germany Peter Fleicher shot while trying to defect. He was left lying there as a lesson. (1962)

watching the Soviets kill people trying to defect or seeing a buddy die. Many times were stressful whether they were coping with boredom, challenge or horror. Many of the Cold War veterans didn’t make the cut or learn the lessons the Cold War offered. They were not meant to be warriors and fell by the wayside.

Many more veterans, however, did make it through the Cold War’s trial by fire. These are the warriors that keep the flame of freedom alive and well. It is possible to read the lessons they learned in their stories, in the poking they do at each other’s units, in their humor, in their gentle reminders to each other about not revealing classified information, and in some instances in the astounding pictures they took. For most, it seems the realization of the value of their time served dawned with the advent of the wisdom born of years of living. They live their various post-Cold War lives’ ups and downs asking for nothing while supporting their fellow servicemen, whether they made the warrior cut or not. The humor I read in their stories is so very American. Whether they mooned a Soviet ship, were pitched overboard to tend an injured sailor, or traded for East German helmets they were and are exceptional and, to a person, deny or decry any accolade.

It is not good or healthy to idealize an organization, even the military. While we should always be respectful and grateful for each soldiers’ sacrifice and service, soldiers are people; old/young,

Cuban Missile Crisis. Running giant extension cordsto power up the Minuteman Missiles in Montana(Photographer Unknown)

Cuban Missile Crisis. Running giant extension cordsto power up the Minuteman Missiles in Montana(Photographer Unknown)

good/bad, well/sick, wealthy/poor. The Cold War soldiers who evolved into warriors would, however, make the fifty six signers of the Declaration of Independence proud. Like the fifty six who signed the Declaration of Independence, the Cold War Warriors had everything to lose and little to gain from their time in military service and yet they went. Like the fifty six signers, many Cold War Warriors lost their lives, their health, their fortunes and their families to the Cold War. The fifty six who signed the Declaration of Independence in which they “…mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”[7] The signers kept their pledge. Cold War Warriors took an oath to uphold all that the fifty six signers fought, died and sacrificed for to bequeath to our nation and they honor that oath today, irrespective of their walks in life.

Today, as I write this post, the flame in the Lantern of Freedom is being passed to those who served, fought and still serve and fight in the Mid-East and around the globe so that we may continue OUR way of life. Freedom is the greatest legacy.

Author’s Note: The Cold War took a toll on all Americans. Civilians carried water alongside their military counterparts for even less recognition. It was a ‘secret’ war and many died, just simply disappeared or had ‘training accidents’. Many more were left behind, labeled as deserters or Missing In Action. POWs were abandoned to the Gulag or Soviet ‘hospitals’. There are legacies of valor and of governments behaving badly. These are the subjects of other posts.

Recently, however, a Globemaster emerged from the ice of an Alaskan glacier and fifty two more soldiers and their families can rest once more. “Relics from an Air Force cargo plane that slammed into a mountain in November 1952, killing all 52 servicemen on board, first emerged last summer on Colony Glacier, about 50 miles east of Anchorage.”[8]

 


[2] The Warrior’s Code; Prof. Shannon E. French, Ph.D.; http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/jscope/french.htm

[3] Mark Dice; Obama Supporters Sign Petition to Repeal the BILL OF RIGHTS; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k0he0cqHH20

[6] Imprimis; Norman Podhoretz; October 2012; Is America Exceptional? http://www.hillsdale.edu/news/imprimis/archive/issue.asp?year=2012&month=10

[7] The Declaration of Independence; http://www.constitution.org/us_doi.pdf

[8] Reuters; Yereth Rosen; As glacier melts, secrets of lost military plane revealed; http://news.yahoo.com/glacier-melts-secrets-lost-military-plane-revealed-120221443.html