Thursday, October 7, 2010

Last Vietnam-Era Draftee Retires From the Army

From and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

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Army Bids Goodbye to Last Draftee

September 30, 2010
Atlanta Journal-Constitution

He was a kid who didn't want to be a Soldier. There was a war in Vietnam and a peace movement in America.

But then he got the government's letter and soon found himself on a cold December morning in 1970 in front of a post office in Sumter, S.C., listening to a Soldier read names until he heard his: "Clyde Green!" With that, the 20-year-old kid climbed on the bus headed to a U.S. Army base.

"I didn't want to join the Army," Green said last week. "The Army came and got me."

When he retired as a chief warrant officer in a ceremony this morning at Fort McPherson, Ga. --- after 39 years, 9 months and 15 days of continuous active duty --- he became, by the best accounting, the last U.S. Army draftee who fought in Vietnam.

"It's hard for us to speak in absolutes," said Richard Stewart, chief historian for the U.S. Army Center of Military History. "We're not good at keeping records like that. As soon as we say he's the last, another four will pop up. But he's certainly one of the last."

Finding a purpose

It is hard to imagine now the days when soldiering wasn't always by choice, when supporting the troops could involve a great deal more than car decals and applauding troops in uniform in airports. Often, it meant you might be one of them. It also meant you might go to war and it meant you might not come back.

Green, 60, is perhaps the last human link to those days.

The Army ended the draft in 1973 and at least one other draftee is still on active duty. But he was drafted later than Green and didn't serve in Vietnam. Green couldn't imagine serving in Vietnam either. At the time, his brother Willie was already in the Army, serving in the Signal Corps and stationed at Fort Gordon in Augusta. But Green wanted no part of this man's Army.

"When I got that letter, I thought my whole world was ending," he said.

The bus ride, induction and boot camp in Fort Knox, Ky., in January confirmed there was, indeed, a new world order and Green was at the bottom of it --- freezing his fanny.

"It was cold and really tough at first," he said. "But then I kind of got where I enjoyed it, once I figured out who was in charge."

The discipline of military life he had feared became a comfort.

"I liked the order," he said. And his uncertainty about what to study in college was suddenly a riddle solved: "I really liked the idea of military intelligence."

For the next four decades the kid who grew up on a farm in South Carolina, whose dreams had once stretched no farther than Orangeburg and South Carolina State University, traveled the world and lived a Soldier's life. Over time, the reluctant draftee became the career Soldier.

Attitudes change

He rose from enlisted man to chief warrant officer in military intelligence and served extended tours in Italy and South Korea. He visited 41 countries and posted in places --- the Middle East, Asia and East Africa --- he barely knew of, along with two stretches in the place he can least forget: Vietnam.

Green served his first stint there from June 1971 to May 1972 as an "intelligence Soldier," deciphering information gathered in the field. He examined captured equipment to determine, for instance, how many rounds an enemy anti-aircraft gun could fire. He interrogated captured enemy Soldiers in a war that a growing number of Americans opposed back home.

That experience, as a Soldier serving his country without any choice and risking his life, without much appreciation, still stings.

"At the time, we weren't really loved by the American people," Green said. "I never personally experienced it, but there was hostility. It was a different time. People weren't as supportive of the military."

It would be 23 years before Green returned to Vietnam. By then he had fought in his second war, the Persian Gulf in 1990. And he found America a different place for a returning Soldier, even an old draftee, by then a bit grizzled, who had served in Vietnam.

"If you were in uniform in public, people would come up and start talking to you," he said, "and tell you what a good job you're doing."

His second trip to Vietnam came with the Vietnam Joint Task Force-Full Accounting (MIA/POW), to seek any prisoners of war still in captivity and determine what happened to more than 1,700 Americans still missing in action in Southeast Asia. From 1995 to 2001, he and his team searched, scoured for remains and interviewed scores of witnesses.

They found no POWs but determined the fate of three MIAs, one of them an Army captain who served in Green's unit when he was in Vietnam the first time. They didn't find Capt. Frederick Krupa's remains, but they determined he was killed.

"He was shot in a helicopter and fell out during an extraction, so we were able to list him as KIA [killed in action]," Green said.

'Served ... with distinction'

At today's ceremony, Lt. Gen. Richard P. Zahner will praise the man believed to be the Army's longest serving draftee as a Soldier who "has served his country with distinction and has touched the lives of countless men and women in uniform," and who has contributed immeasurably to the Army's Military Intelligence in his 30 years as a warrant officer.

Green's family from all over the country will be there: his sons Brian, 29, and Stephen, 27, and wife of 34 years, Veria. He'll live at Fort McPherson for two more months --- "I have to pay rent now" --- in what, fittingly, is the oldest house on base, built in 1887.

After that, he has a farm in North Carolina where he might settle, unless Veria wins that argument and they move to Arizona.

"I hope I can talk her into it," he said.

And if he doesn't, it won't be the first time Clyde Green's plans for the rest of his life changed.

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To think that this guy was drafted two years AFTER I enlisted in the Army. The big difference is his commitment to continued service, unlike me who had three breaks in service.

Congratulations to my fellow Vietnam vet for a long career of service.

Charles M. Grist

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Army Staff Sergeant Awarded Posthumous Medal of Honor

SSG Robert Miller Awarded Medal of Honor
From the Orlando Sentinel:

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Fallen hero receives Medal of Honor

By Mark K. Matthews, Orlando Sentinel Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Calling his sacrifice the "true meaning of heroism," President Barack Obama on Wednesday presented the Medal of Honor to the Oviedo family of Army Staff Sgt. Robert J. Miller, who died in January 2008 protecting a patrol of American and Afghan soldiers.

"It has been said that courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point," said Obama, addressing a solemn crowd in the East Room of the White House. "For Rob Miller, the testing point came nearly three years ago, deep in a snowy Afghan valley. The courage he displayed that day reflects every virtue that defined his life."

On hand to accept the military's highest award for valor were his parents, Phil and Maureen Miller, who stood stoically as the decoration was presented and their son's heroism was recounted. Afterward, they stepped outside to read a brief statement on a chilly Washington afternoon.

"We want everyone to know he loved what he was doing. He was good at what he was doing. And he believed he was working for a good cause," Maureen Miller said.

Added her husband: "As a child, Rob was full of energy and constantly on the go, and he enjoyed learning new things. He showed all of us what America's youth is capable of doing when given the opportunity."

Their son is buried in Central Florida; his family moved to Oviedo soon after Robert Miller graduated from high school in Illinois, where he grew up.

Miller, who died at 24 on his second tour in Afghanistan, is only the third service member from that conflict to receive the Medal of Honor. The Green Beret earned the distinction when his team of eight U.S. Special Forces and about 15 Afghan troops, with Miller on point, was caught in a ferocious ambush by insurgents in northwest Afghanistan.

His side outnumbered by 6-to-1 or more, Miller held his ground against a barrage of automatic fire -- calling out positions and helping his fellow soldiers find cover. Then, making himself a target to more than 100 enemies, Miller charged the insurgents in a rush that ultimately cost the life.

"Rob made a decision. He called for his team to fall back. And then he did something extraordinary. Rob moved in the other direction -- toward the enemy, drawing their guns away from his team and bringing the fire of all those insurgents down upon himself," Obama said.

The military credits Miller with killing at least 10 insurgents and wounding dozens more, as well as saving his team. His brothers-in-arms were on hand at the White House ceremony and stood silently and unsmiling when Obama recognized their efforts and fallen comrade.

"One of his teammates surely spoke for all of them when he said of Rob, 'I would not be alive today if not for his ultimate sacrifice,'" said Obama, who then addressed his parents.

"Today and in the years to come, may you find some comfort in knowing that Rob gave his life doing what he loved -- protecting his friends and defending his country."

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Our condolences to his family, friends, and fellow warriors. America is blessed to have such sons....

Charles M. Grist

Breaking Bread with Heroes: The 2010 Military Writers Society of America Awards Banquet

Me with author and Iwo Jima veteran Tom McGraham (right)
During the recent annual convention of the of Military Writers Society of America, I was very grateful for the opportunity to spend some time with a few of America's most prolific military writers, many of whom are veterans of our nation's wars.

Attending the banquet was certainly rewarding just because my book, My Last War, received the first place gold medal in the "memoir" category. Meeting such an extraordinary group of authors and American warriors was the icing on the cake.

The picture above shows me with Tom McGraham, Marine veteran of Iwo Jima, who received his own award for his non-fiction book, The Road to Iwo Jima, an emotional journey through one of the deadliest battles ever fought by the Marines.

Seated at our table was another extraordinary man and fellow award winner, Navy Chaplain Father Ron Moses Camarda, a veteran of the 2004 battles in Fallujah. Father Camarda has immortalized his tour in his book, Tear in the Desert, which tells the stories of the soldiers and Marines with whom he shared the strength and power of God.

Everyone who attended this event was a veteran, family member of a veteran, or a proud supporter of America's veterans. The three-day convention in Pittsburgh was a walk through history that was expertly executed by the officers and staff of the Military Writers Society of America.  You can check out their website here.

Charles M. Grist