|An up close and personal interview with U.S. Army Veteran and Togetherweserved.com Member:|
MAJ Dale E. Wilson U.S. Army (Ret) (1969-1991)
WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO JOIN THE MILITARY?
I had been watching the Vietnam War on television for as long as I could remember. All through high school I remember seeing some young men going off to college and others to war. I did not feel I could protest against a war or be able to convincingly respond to protesters if I didn't understand what it was all about. So I decided to enlist in the Army infantry, volunteer for airborne training and request I be sent to Vietnam.
My family has a long history of serving our country. My dad's maternal grandfather, Edward Dibble, was in Company G, 75th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment, during the Civil War, and his grandfather, Isaiah Benjamin Dibble of Duchess County, New York, was in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. My dad served in the Army in WWII as did his two older brothers. It was while he was in the Army that he met my mom while he was stationed at Ft. Warren, outside of Laramie, Wyoming. My mom had a brother in the Marines who was captured on Wake Island a couple of weeks after Pearl Harbor and spent the entire war as a POW. She also had a brother-in-law who saw action with the Marines in WWII, Korea and Vietnam. He was a gunnery sergeant at Camp Pendleton, California at the same time I was getting ready to join the Army.
My brother, who's eight years older, joined the Naval Reserve his senior year in high school and went on active duty for two years after graduating in 1960. A photographer's mate, he spent the entire time aboard the carrier USS Lexington (CVA-16), including Pacific and Mediterranean cruises, as well as participating in the Cuban Missile Blockade.
Finally, my older sister's husband was a staff sergeant in the Air Force Reserve. He told me it wasn't much different from civilian life, which was one of the reasons he liked it and why it went to the bottom of my list.
When I walked into the Reno, Nevada recruiting office and told the sergeant there what my plan was, he said: "Hold your water, stud! Let's send you over to Oakland for testing and see exactly what training you're eligible for." So, off to Oakland I went.
Upon my return, the recruiter told me that with a GT score of 132 I could have any school I wanted. I explained that I still wanted to enlist as an airborne-infantry, Vietnam volunteer. He shook his head and said, "No, no, no--what do you like to do?" I said I'd been editor of my school newspaper and literary annual and that I'd spent the summer between my sophomore and junior years working as a reporter for the Reno Evening Gazette.
"Well, there you go, I can get you in as a journalist!" he exclaimed. No dice. I still wanted to be an infantryman. "Okay," he responded. "Have it your way. They taught me in recruiting school that if a guy throws you the ball, you better be out there in left field to catch it. So don't you ever go and tell anybody I forced you to do it!"
There was, however, one catch: I had five months to go before I got the braces off my teeth and the Army wouldn't accept me until I was wearing retainers. What a letdown! It seems that they only do orthodontic work on troops who suffer wounds or injuries that require it. I thus had to wait until December before I was allowed to enlist.
WHAT WAS YOUR SERVICE CAREER PATH?
After going through basic training and infantry AIT, I attended the Visual Tracker course at Ft. Gordon, Georgia. From there I went to Vietnam as an infantryman. I was an E-2 when I left the States, and came home wearing buck sergeant stripes. I reenlisted for six years in order to go to the Defense Information School (DINFOS) for training as a print journalist. I remained a journalist for the remainder of my enlistment, except for a nine-month stint as a team leader in D Troop, 2-1 Cav's Aerorifle Platoon.
Ironically, my volunteering to go to D Troop to get out of the 2d Armored Division's Public Information Office helped me get promoted to staff sergeant faster than if I'd remained a journalist. It also got me sent to Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. Although I was sent over as an infantryman, I contacted the public information officer, let him know I was DINFOS trained, and he was able to get me assigned to his staff.
Following my Hawaii tour, I was teaching at DINFOS when I discovered that they'd lowered the requirement for Officer Candidate School (OCS) from a four-year college degree to just two years of college. I had managed to accumulate 69 semester hours through College Level Examination Program (CLEP) tests, credit for my service schooling, credit by examination, and attending night-school courses. I also got picked up for early promotion to sergeant first class before applying for OCS.
I graduated from OCS and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Armor Branch on Feb. 22, 1979. At my commissioning ceremony, the first sergeant sought me out and handed me a copy of a promotion order showing me as being promoted to sergeant first class (E-7) with a date of rank of Feb. 28 and an effective date of March 1. Sadly, I had been discharged the day before as a staff sergeant (E-6). "Top" Ellis grinned and said, "You won't get to wear the stripes, but I figured you'd like some copies of these orders." He was right.
My career continued somewhat atypically because of my background as an enlisted journalist. After completing the Armor Officer Basic Course, I became an armored cavalry platoon leader in D Troop, 10th Cav, 194th Armored Bde. at Ft. Knox, Kentucky. After 14 months in that job I was slated to become the troop executive officer upon in late 1980. Instead, my troop commander called me at home at 11 p.m. the Sunday we returned and told me I was to start signing my platoon over to my platoon sergeant first thing in the morning and report to the Ft. Knox Public Affairs Office as soon as the inventory was complete.
I soon learned why the sudden change in my career path: the public affairs officer, Lt. Col. Billy J. Cone, had been my boss in Hawaii with the 25th Infantry Division when he was a major and I was a staff sergeant. He was losing his command information officer, a captain who was leaving the Army, and saw my name on a list of officers at Ft. Knox who had been awarded the public affairs MOS as their alternate specialty. Although that normally happened later in an officer's career at the eight year mark, I was flagged early because of me enlisted background in the field. It put me off the branch-qualification track, however.
I had been in the job less than 10 months when I got a call from Armor Branch telling me I needed to get back with tanks ASAP if I was going to get branch qualified. "Great!" I told my assignment officer. "Send me to Germany, I've never been there."
"No can do," he replied. "You wouldn't get to the advanced course until your 17th year of service. No, you need to go to Korea and get a job as an XO or BMO (battalion motor officer)." He said he'd get me a slot in the next Junior Officer Maintenance Course and I'd go over as soon as I graduated and took a couple of weeks leave.
It was sound advice, albeit not the best move from a marital standpoint for a guy with five kids, because it was an unaccompanied 12-month tour.
Fast forward: I report to the 2d Battalion, 72d Armor ("2d Tank") in the 2d Infantry Division at Camp Casey, outside of Dongducheon north of Seoul, and immediately feel double-crossed because they planned on making me the battalion adjutant--the officer responsible for all the administrative work and personnel management. When I called my assignment officer he told me it was a great job: primary staff in a tank battalion filling a captain's slot! I'd have plenty of time to get greasy later.
From Korea I went to the Armor Officer Advanced Course at Ft. Knox, where I made captain. I also learned that after graduation I was going to go to Ft. Polk, Louisiana. I immediately flipped out. My assignment officer had promised me a West Coast assignment for taking the unaccompanied tour. I reminded him of that and told him he'd better fix it or I would remind his boss about the promise he'd made me. He told me to settle down and he'd fix it. Two days later I got orders posting me to the 4th Infantry Division at Ft. Carson, Colorado. Not only did it make me feel better, it ultimately proved to be the best assignment of my career. I got to serve as the S3 Air and Headquarters and Headquarters Company commander in the 2d Battalion, 34th Armor. My only regret was that two bouts with blood clots in my right leg forced them to curtail my second command because I could no longer go to the field on training exercises. I wound up spending the remainder of my three-year tour at Carson as the Command Information Officer and editor of "The Mountaineer."
Normally, when a captain in the combat arms has successfully commanded a unit he is considered branch qualified and will spend the rest of his time at that rank on what is known as a "nominative assignment." It gets that name because an officer is nominated for his next job. The choices include recruiting duty, ROTC instructor; observer-controller at one of the national training centers at Ft. Irwin, California or Ft. Polk, Louisiana , a National Guard or Army Reserve adviser or teaching at a service academy. If I selected the latter two, I would be going to graduate school fully funded to get an MA degree. At prodding of my brigade commander, Col. John Landry, to apply for a teaching job at the U.S. Military Academy. I was accepted by the History Department to teach military history, a subject in which I was already well read.
However the assignment was contingent on me getting accepted by one of several universities whose programs they approved: Ohio State, Rice, Wisconsin, Michigan, Duke, the University of North Carolina, UCLA, or Temple. Each of those schools had scholars who ranked among the best in the field. I chose Temple because of the late Prof. Russell F. Weigley, considered by many to be the "dean of American military historians." I was accepted at Temple, spending the first three months of the 24 months allotted to me at the Combined Arms Services and Staff School or "CAS-Cubed." There was no getting around it, as it had been made a requirement for all captains to attend and successfully complete the course to qualify for promotion to major.
While I was at Temple, I felt antsy being away from the Army for so long, so I volunteered to help out the school's ROTC cadre with PT test administration, rappelling training, doing AR 15-6 investigations on students being eliminated from the program, and teaching military history classes to cadets from time to time. None of this detracted from my studies. I was able to complete all of the course work required not only for the MA, but also the Ph.D. In addition to writing an MA thesis, I was able to complete the first draft of my dissertation. When my fellow doctoral candidates asked me how I did it, I told them I just did what I did in the Army: work half a day--6 a.m. to 6 p.m.--seven days a week.
My major field was rather broadly defined in an age of pinpoint specialization: "Modern Western Military History (1350 to the Present)." I also had three minor fields: American Diplomatic History, U.S. Political History from Reconstruction, and American Social-Cultural History (1880-1940). I was able to take two one-year leaves of absence while I taught at West Point. During the first I prepped for my Spanish language exam and I used the second to prep for my comprehensive written and oral exams. After completing the comps and orals, I went back to Philly the following week to defend my dissertation: "Treat 'Em Rough!: The U.S. Army Tank Corps in World War I." With Professor Weigley's permission, I had shopped my manuscript and found a publisher: Presidio Press of Novato, California. It came out a few months before my defense as "Treat 'Em Rough!: The Birth of American Armor, 1917-20," so I was able to present the members of my committee with signed copies!
The three years I spent at West Point were among the most personally rewarding of my life. However, despite making early promotion to major and being selected for the resident Command & General Staff College course at Ft. Leavenworth, KS, I was 40 years old, had been in service since I was 18, and with the projected draw-down coming in the 1990s, I realized I would no longer be competitive for battalion command--especially given the fact that the threat of more blood clots and worsening arthritis might curtail my service medically. With those thoughts in mind, I submitted my request for voluntary retirement effective Sept. 30, 1991.
DID YOU PARTICIPATE IN COMBAT OPERATIONS? IF SO, COULD YOU DESCRIBE THOSE WHICH WERE SIGNIFICANT TO YOU?
I served in Vietnam from July 1970 to July 1971. I saw combat as a grenadier in C Co, 3d Battalion, 1st Infantry in the 11th Light Infantry Brigade (LIB) of the Americal Division, then as a combat photographer/correspondent in the 11th LIB's 31st Public Information Detachment.
FROM YOUR ENTIRE SERVICE CAREER WHAT PARTICULAR MEMORY STANDS OUT?
Having the privilege of commanding some of the best tankers in the Army: the officers, noncoms and men of Company D, 2d Battalion, 34th Armor. The "Deathdealers" won the FY1985 Draper Armor Leadership Award at Ft. Carson, CO.
WERE ANY OF THE MEDALS OR AWARDS YOU RECEIVED FOR VALOR? IF YES, COULD YOU DESCRIBE HOW THIS WAS EARNED?
I was lightly wounded when a rocket-propelled grenade exploded near me on Sept. 3, 1970. When I think of how lucky I was to escape with only minor injuries, I consider every day I've lived since then to be a gift from God.
OF THE MEDALS, AWARDS AND QUALIFICATION BADGES OR DEVICES YOU RECEIVED, WHAT IS THE MOST MEANINGFUL TO YOU AND WHY?
It is without a doubt the Combat Infantryman's Badge. It is the only award the Army gives that identifies the wearer as someone who has suffered through the miserable, soul-wrenching conditions, often under fire, endured by the front-line "grunt."
WHICH INDIVIDUAL PERSON FROM YOUR SERVICE STANDS OUT AS THE ONE WHO HAD THE BIGGEST IMPACT ON YOU AND WHY?
Command Sgt. Maj. Robert A. Murphy, U.S. Army (Ret.). He was my first sergeant when I commanded D Company, 2-34th Armor. In addition to being one of the Army's best first sergeants, "Top" Murphy and his wife, Karen, stood by me during one of the most trying times of my life: the breakup of my first marriage. He kept me focused on my job and made it easier for me to not just survive company command, but to excel at it.
CAN YOU RECOUNT A PARTICULAR INCIDENT FROM YOUR SERVICE THAT WAS FUNNY AT THE TIME AND STILL MAKES YOU LAUGH?
"Top" Murphy and I drag racing from in front of our battalion area to down near the vehicle wash racks. Murph and I both drove hot-rod Camaros. His was a '69 and I had a '67 with a serial number indicating it was one of the first 100,000 produced. We were neck-and-neck approaching 80 mph in a 35-mile zone when we came to our senses in front of the MP barracks and slowed down before we got pulled over. The next morning we went into Lt. Col. Rock's office at 0730 and told him he'd better check the MP blotter report before the brigade commander did. When he asked why, we told him we'd been nailed for reckless driving by the MPs. He went ballistic and we let him rant for a few seconds before we told him we were only joking. We agreed after that to never again depart the company at the same time so as to avoid the temptation to drag race in our Camaros.
WHAT PROFESSION DID YOU FOLLOW AFTER THE SERVICE AND WHAT ARE YOU DOING NOW? IF CURRENTLY SERVING, WHAT IS YOUR CURRENT JOB?
I had hoped to get a tenure-track teaching position at a college or university. That did not work out, but I was lucky to land a job as the head editor for the company that published my dissertation. I later left them and, after a few years as a tactical officer at Valley Forge Military Academy and College, used the contacts I'd made in the publishing industry to become a freelance copy editor for various commercial and scholarly presses. Today, I am a 100-percent disabled veteran, no longer able to work because of several service-connected disabilities.
WHAT MILITARY ASSOCIATIONS ARE YOU A MEMBER OF, IF ANY? WHAT SPECIFIC BENEFITS DO YOU DERIVE FROM YOUR MEMBERSHIPS?
Not long after I retired, I became aware that we veterans must band together and be vocal if we are going to receive the benefits we need--and deserve--because of the sacrifices we made for America. As a result, I became a life member of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, Combat Infantrymen's Association, Military Officers' of America Association, Vietnam Veterans of America, Disabled American Veterans, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and two unit organizations: the Americal Division Veterans' Association and the FSB Hill 4-11 Association. In addition to lobbying on behalf of all veterans, these organizations help foster the camaraderie we shared while in uniform.
HOW HAS MILITARY SERVICE INFLUENCED THE WAY YOU HAVE APPROACHED YOUR LIFE AND CAREER?
I learned how to work under the most miserable and stressful conditions one can ever hope to encounter in life--and not just to function, but to excel. I was given responsibility and authority at a young age that I could not have hoped to achieve in civilian life.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU HAVE FOR THOSE THAT ARE STILL SERVING?
Listen to your leaders, obey all orders to the best of your ability, and always give 100 percent effort. If you'll do that, you will surely excel and be well rewarded for your efforts.
Where else can you start out as an 18-year-old high-school graduate and retire at age 40 with a BA, MA and Ph.D.--without having spent a nickel out of pocket for your education--and receive 55 percent of your base salary for the rest of your life?
You'll be hard-pressed to find a more rewarding line of work!
IN WHAT WAYS HAS TOGETHERWESERVED.COM HELPED YOU MAINTAIN A BOND WITH YOUR SERVICE AND THOSE YOU SERVED WITH?
In the short time I've been a member of TWS, I've already reconnected with comrades I hadn't heard from in years. It has also caused me to reflect at great length on my military service and begin preserving those memories for my children and grandchildren.
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