We called them "lifers," and
many of us set them apart. They were the ones who had chosen
to make the military their career: the hollow-eyed sergeant,
the grey-bearded cook, the corps of senior NCOs and officers
who cut their combat teeth on the beaches of Normandy, or
along a string of islands in the South Pacific, or at Chosin,
Inchon, or Pusan.
They were of a different
generation. They were not children who came of age in the
turbulent 1960s. Many had grown up in poverty during the
Depression and fought the good fight in the Second World War. Others too
young for that war went off to the frigid stalemate in Korea. They were old enough to be our
fathers. Some, in fact, were.
Many chose to remain in
uniform. According to the U. S. Census, of the eight million Vietnam-era veterans alive in
2000, more than 160,000 also had been in the armed forces in
World War II and in Korea.
With the nation about to
dedicate a national World War II Memorial, it seemed
appropriate to seek out VVA members whose time in service
spanned three decades and three wars.
Charles Welby Green was drafted
when he turned 18. It was 1944. The same week Green received
his draft notice, he recalled, "My folks got a telegram from
the War Department that my older brother, Marion, was missing
in action. He'd been on a bombing mission over Hungary. A
month later, they were notified that he was a prisoner of
The uncertain status of one son
and the conscription of another was a "double shock to my
parents,'' Charlie Green said. Years later, just before she
died, his mother got another shock when she learned that
Charlie had been badly wounded in Vietnam.
Charlie Green was in basic
training when American casualties from the Battle of the Bulge
led the Army to curtail training and ship raw recruits to twin
fronts on two oceans. While in a repo depot in France, "fifty
of us were pulled out and sent to a field artillery
battalion,'' he said. "We became cannoneers. When our forces
bottled up the Germans in a pocket between the Rhine and the
Ruhr, we were firing 200-pound high-explosive shells into
surrounding cities until they surrendered." It was the last
gasp of Hitler's Germany.
With the fighting ended and
victory secured, Charlie Green and his mates were sent to
Cologne. Their assignment: round up displaced persons. His
battery had responsibility for 5,000 Russians who had been in
German slave-labor camps. "Most of them did not want to go
back to Mother Russia,'' Green said.
Charlie Green, like most
troops, wanted more than anything to go back home. A year
later, he was demobilized and returned to Indianapolis, where
his family had moved from Webster County in western Kentucky
when he was 15. His war was over. The rest of his military
career had yet to begin.
In 1949, he re-upped. He saw
extensive action in Korea with the 27th Infantry Regiment.
From the Pusan Perimeter, he recounted, the Wolfhounds pushed
to a few miles from the Yalu River before the Chinese "came
out and chased us down.''
After spending several years as
an agent for the Criminal Investigation Division, Charlie
Green was sent to Vietnam in October 1966. Linking up with his
old Wolfhound outfit, he was acting first sergeant and then
field first sergeant. He saw his share of combat.
"I made the mistake of coming
back at the end of 1967,'' Green said. "This time, it damn
near killed me.'' A day after his 43rd birthday, working a
security detail with a company of ARVNs in a village west of
Cu Chi, "Sergeant Rock,'' as Green was nicknamed, was sprayed
by shrapnel from an old Chicom hand grenade during a night
encounter with the VC.
"That grenade came within
inches of my left foot,'' he said. "It only got me in the
leg, the buttock, and the elbow, though.'' He nearly bled to
death waiting for a dustoff.
It was only later that he
learned a medic named John Taggart, a conscientious objector
whose religious beliefs prohibited him from bearing arms, had
saved lives--with a rifle. "The VC reconned, then hit my
command post. Seven of the eight of us who crowded into that
CP were wounded within minutes,'' Green said.
"As Doc Taggart was working on
one of our wounded, two VC came around the side of the bunker.
Doc saw them. He picked up a weapon and blasted away at both
of them. I can only imagine how traumatic an experience that
was for him, killing another human being. But he knew he had
to do what he did. He's partly the reason I'm still here
After he recuperated, Charlie
Green talked himself into a desk job. He was assigned, he
said, "to a spook outfit that monitored antiwar activity.''
He retired from the Army in 1972 and went to work as a field
deputy for the Marion County coroner in Indianapolis.
Charlie Green is 77. "I feel
lucky to still be around,'' he said: "I've lived through the
most fantastic era in the history of the world.''
For too many years, Green said,
he had put his experiences in Vietnam "in the closet and left
them there. It's only in the last few years that I finally got
around to joining.'' He has been a member of the Sammy Davis VVA Chapter 295 at Fort Harrison, Indiana, for five years.
Charlie Green first visited
The Wall in 1999. He had avoided making the journey
because he didn't know how he'd be affected. It was, he said,
This Memorial Day, when he
journeys again to Washington to be at The Wall, Charlie
will also visit a belated memorial to his earlier war.
Despite the anticipated pomp
and ceremony, he is sobered by the "superficial post-9/11
patriotism" of too many Americans. "You can't expect people
to understand what they haven't experienced,'' Green said.
"But you would hope they can appreciate what somebody else
does for them.''
Illinois-born and Missouri-bred
David Jordan entered the service when World War II was well
under way, joining the Navy in 1943. "I just had it in my
head to follow my brother, who had enlisted in 1940,'' he
said. Jordan spent 25 months aboard the destroyer USS
Stephen Potter (BD538). "We saw a lot," he said in an
understatement. When all the bloodletting ended, the crew of
the Stephen Potter received 12 battle stars for their
Plying the waters of the
Pacific, encountering and engaging a determined enemy, "there
was no such thing as easy,'' Jordan said. What was his hardest
day? "Hell, there were so many of them,'' he said. "When the
aircraft carrier USS Franklin was hit, we had to get
people out of the water who were dead, who were mutilated.
That was the worst of it."
David Jordan was on the gun
crew. One time they shot down a Japanese Kamikaze. They were
elated. "Only our commanding officer got the Silver Star,''
he said, "but everybody shared equal in the danger.''
After the war, he mustered out.
Jordan's life as a civilian, though, was short-lived. He went
to school and bummed around before reenlisting in 1949,
switching from the Navy to the Army. As a sergeant E-6, spent
most of his tour in Vietnam with an artillery battery
operating near Cu Chi. Comparing this tour with his time in
the Navy, he said, "the food was a little betternot good,
just betterand the mail came a little quicker. But this
time, we didn't win anything."
When he left the Army, Jordan
found that there was little demand for an ex-military man. He
worked ten years on a riverboat, plying the Mississippi. He
put three children through college. He is a charter member of
VVA Chapter 859 in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, not far from his
home in Doniphan.
David Jordan won't be
journeying to Washington this month. He may follow the
ceremonies, he said, but he will be participating in his own
waywith barbeque and a beer or two.
Carmelo LaSpada, a son of
Newark, New Jersey, enlisted in the Marine Corps on the first
day of July 1942. He spent the next 30 years and nine months
After boot camp, LaSpada was
sent to the Marine base at Cherry Point. Although he was
supposed to go to Florida for advanced training with an
aviation unit, his superiors found out that he had been a
baker in civilian life and asked if he would help set up a
bakery on the base. They promised he would be sent for
aviation training later on. That "later on'' turned out to be
never. Because "the needs of the Corps come first,'' LaSpada
said he was told, his training was cancelled and he "got
stuck'' in Cherry Point through 1943. Eventually, though, he
received orders to deploy overseas. He fought at Bougainville.
He saw a lot of death. "We tossed the bodies of dead Japanese
into trenches we had dug, sprinkled them with lime, and
covered them with dirt.'' Sometimes, though, the bodies would
be burned in a pyre.
"Once you get past the shock
of seeing your first dead enemy, it doesn't bother you'' any
more, he said.
Carmelo LaSpada learned to take one day at a
time, because, he said, "every day was just a matter of
survival.'' A lesson that he learned, one that he would preach
to his men a quarter of a century later during two tours in
Vietnam, was that "you can't worry about your girlfriend or
what she's doing back in the States. Worry about what you're
doing. And worry about your buddies.''
LaSpada was well past his 40th
birthday when he first was sent to Southeast Asia; he was
almost 50 the second time around. What disturbed him about
this new war was the stark realization that he never knew who
was a friendly and who was an enemy.
"We had this 12-year-old who
did some cleaning up for us,'' he said from his room at the
Durham, North Carolina, VAMC extended care facility. "One
night we came under attack. The next morning, we found him,
all tangled in the concertina, with a dozen hand grenades on
LaSpada was also struck by the
fact that in this war, although there was a rear, there were
no front lines. "We fought over that bloomin' Khe Sanh five
times, and then we abandoned it,'' he said. "But me being a
professional Marine, it was not for me to question.''
In his 1968-69 tour, LaSpada's
unit built a big orphanage in Quang Tri City. His daughter,
Linda Routten, said that he "always talked to us about birds
and monkeys and the children, all the displaced children.''
Her father also talked about all the body bags.
After he left the Corps,
Carmelo LaSpada went to college, earned an associate degree in
business administration, and worked as an instructor in
Carteret County Community College. He retired at 65. Almost a
quarter of a century later, despite the infirmities of age, he
maintains his Marine trim. "I can still wear the uniform I
retired in,'' he said. Now 83, he is a member of VVA Chapter
749 in Morehead City, North Carolina.
Of the new memorial he said:
"It's about time. But to try to memorialize something that
happened 60 years ago'' is not very timely.
P. Evangeline Jamison
Worry and care have always been
part of P. Evangeline Jamison's job. Jamie, as she prefers to
be called, trained as a nurse. Knowing that her newly acquired
skills would be put to good use, Jamison, who lived in
Seymour, Iowa, enlisted in the Army after the attack on Pearl
In January 1943, she shipped
out. Her eventual duty station was "a very primitive hospital
built by Army engineers in New Guinea. They had left it only
half-done,'' she said. "We all had to hammer in nails to get
The hospital, designated the
13th General, was hard duty. Although surrounded by the
Japanese, "they didn't ever attack,'' Jamison said. The death
of a chief nurse, who had wandered off into the jungle and
committed suicide, spooked everyone. Jamison's hardest time,
though, was monitoring newly released prisoners of war. "They
were so starved, we had to watch that they didn't overeat,''
she said. "But it was hard to deny them food.''
After the war, Jamie Jamison
left the service, only to return following a short stint
nursing at the VA hospital in Topeka, Kansas. Fast-forward to
Vietnam. By then a lieutenant colonel, Jamison was assigned to
the 93rd Evacuation Hospital in Long Binh as chief nurse. "I
was in the jungle in World War II and I was in the jungle
again in Vietnam,'' she said. Before she went overseas,
"people said to me when I got my orders, 'You're not going to
accept them, are you?' '' she said.
"I told them, ' Of course I am.
I'm an officer.' ''
Jamison experienced the near
round-the-clock blood and gore that was the lot of many nurses
in Vietnam. "It was so hard to see young people shot in so
many places,'' she said. "One young boy was shot in the face,
and I remember thinking, 'Oh my God, how is he going to look?'
Perhaps Jamie's most difficult
day was when she had to tell one of her nurses that her
boyfriend, a medevac pilot, had been shot down. "She wanted
to go with him to Japan, but I had to tell her no. I didn't
think he was going to make it.''
In 1968, shortly after her tour
of duty ended, Jamison left the service. She embarked on a
second career, inspecting nursing homes and hospitals for the
state of California to check if they were in compliance with
state and federal laws and regulations.
Jamison, who lives in Walnut
Creek, California, joined VVA Chapter 400 in Oakland "just as
soon as I heard it was being organized.'' She is "just so
proud,'' she said, of a former Senator Bob Dole, who was
severely wounded in World War II and whose name and political
clout were instrumental in transforming the idea for the World
War II memorial into reality.
Although her golden years
"aren't so golden; sometimes they're kind of achy,'' Jamison
is buoyed by her memories. "I never saw a puppy or a baby or
a soldier I didn't love,'' she said.
Maynard Campbell, the son of a
traveling evangelist from Richmond, Texas, was already an old
salt when the Second World War began. He had enlisted in the
69th Coastal Artillery, based in Galveston, in February 1937,
right after he turned 18. Two years later, he transferred to
the Army Air Corps.
He soldiered through the
invasions of North Africa, Sicily, and Italy. He was wounded
one night when his unit came under attack and he ran into
barbed wire in the pitch blackness.
Discharged in 1945 in Denver,
his last duty station, Campbell spent eight years working as a
carpenter. He then joined the Colorado Air National Guard,
making rank over the next 18 years. He was a senior master sergeant
when his unit, the 525th Fighter-Bomber Squadron, was
activated during the Berlin Crisis. The 525th was one of the
few National Guard units deployed to Vietnam.
maintenance squadron was assigned to Phan Rang Air Base. He
quickly became its leader after the chief master sergeant
shipped home. The base was rocketed nearly every night. His
scariest encounter, though, took place one night when he "met
up with a big ol' black panther. He ran one way,'' Campbell
said, "and I ran the other.''
It wasn't Vietnam that Maynard
Campbell celebrated his 50th birthday. He and Clarinda, his
wife of 63 years, make their home now in Lufkin, Texas.
Jack Potter was already in the
Army when Pearl Harbor was attacked. Drafted in March 1941, he
was in Colorado on a three-day pass when "everyone was called
back'' because the nation was now at war. Opting to become an
officer, Jack had OCS at Fort Benning. As a newly minted
second lieutenant, he was sent to Hawaii, where he joined the
198th Regimental Combat Team as a platoon leader.
Jack Potter would soon see
places he'd never even heard of before: New Hebrides,
Guadalcanal, Bougainville. He came down with malaria twice.
"That wasn't fun,'' he said. One day, on one island, out of
water, obsessed by thirst, he drank from a puddle where wild
pigs had lolled. He ingested all sorts of bugs along with the
Although "the lot of the
grunt'' had such difficulties, he said, the life of an officer
in the Army had its rewards. While not inclined to a military
life, Potter nevertheless decided to make the Army his career.
He was a full colonel in 1966
when he was "kidnapped by the exchange service'' and sent to
Vietnamanother place he had never heard of beforefirst to
investigate and then to take command of the troubled Vietnam
Regional Exchange. Theft was rife in the PX system, feeding a
voracious black market. Potter managed to cut losses by 50
percent and increase sales to $400 million a year. His was not
a cushy job, however. "We had 220 different locations where
we had people,'' he said. "I was in lots of places I
shouldn't have been.''
Jack Potter still harbors
resentment toward many senior officers who chose to stay in
the relatively safe haven of the rear, living well rather than
being with the troops out in the boonies.
In 1974, after 33 years of
service, he retired from the Army. After working as an
administrator for the San Francisco Unified School District,
he joined the Executive Service Corps. A self-described
joiner, he is a member of VVA Chapter 547. He also serves on
the Marin County United Veterans Council and the Military
Retirees Benefits Foundation.
Jack Potter, who has donated to
the World War II Memorial fund, expects to travel to
Washington to attend its unveiling.
Arthur Sebesta, who grew up on
a farm north of Wilson, Kansas, graduated from the United
States Military Academy at West Point. His war began in 1943.
A specialist in communications, he was assigned to a signal
information and monitoring company. "We had platoons that
went out with corps and divisions and sent back information''
to Army commanders, he said.
The military, Sebesta always
figured, would be his career. It was. He served in a variety
of communications and counterintelligence assignments before
retiring in 1964 "because they would not send me to
Vietnam.'' A member of VVA Chapter 802, he lives with his
wife, Mary, in Haworth, New Jersey.
Sebesta doesn't expect to visit
the World War II memorial for its dedication. He points out
that veterans of his generation are dying at a rate of more
than a thousand every day. How many will be able to view the
memorial, he wonders.