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Reflections On a Korean and Vietnam War Veteran

This Memorial Day I sat down to talk with a friend of my mother's, Larry Mack. Larry's dad, whom everybody lovingly called ‘Sarge,’ was a veteran of both the Korean and Vietnam Wars. I didn’t really get the chance to know Sarge when he was alive. Sarge unfortunately passed away in the early 2010s when I was still in elementary school and before I was really interested in history.

I wanted to learn about Sarge this Memorial Day because there are increasingly less veterans from the Silent Generation and even less from the Greatest Generation left to talk about their experiences and the sacrifices they made for this country. Sarge was a larger than life figure when he was alive and a fixture during the annual festivities that Larry would set up at his house for friends and family. This is usually where I got to see Sarge.

I have heard stories and seen the maps, trinkets, and pictures depicting how my great grandfather served in the Army Corps of Engineers during the Second World War, building many of the bridges going into and within Germany. However, I never really could get the full picture. He had passed away when I was about two years old, and exact details could only be gleaned from certain family members.

Some effects from my Great Grandfather from the Army Corps of Engineers in WWII.

Sarge, on the other hand, was somebody that I got to meet personally and see the effects from his time in combat, including his standard issued M1 Garand from Korea. I even got to briefly hear some of his war stories from family members. For this Memorial Day, I wanted to finally take time to get the full story and am fortunate enough to do so through his son Larry. Here is a summation of Sarge’s time serving in the Marines in Korea and Vietnam as told by his son:

‘Sarge was born in 1929 in Brooklyn, enlisted in the military in 45’, 46’. His father told him at one point that he isn’t going to pass in school so he needs to get out of the house. Sarge went into the Marine Corps. They wouldn't let the black marines on base at Camp Lejeune until Truman signed the bill integrating the military. Instead, they had to go to Montford Point- that was the base for the black Marines. Montford Point was his first trip down south. At Montford Point, now called Camp Johnson, there is a memorial to the black Marines that served in World War II.

Out of boot camp, Sarge was a fireman on base. One day, somebody came up to him and asked him if he could help some of the others on the base learn to read and write. Sarge made his way to Gunnery Sergeant, and that was why we called him ‘Sarge,’ I know there are some people who would have a problem with that as he was just a Gunnery Sergeant.

At some point his unit spent some time in Arizona during nuclear testing in the 50s, but he was the only one of his unit that didn’t go. They sent him somewhere else. Most of those in his unit that were there later developed some form of cancer, so perhaps it was a blessing.

Sarge also loved tanks. When he was stationed in Georgia, he would sometimes drive tanks.

They were stationed at a supply duty station 10 miles from Turner Air Force Base in Georgia during the Cuban Missile Crisis. At one point, we went to see Sarge off at Turner Air Force Base as he was to be deployed in the conflict…I remember those bombers taking off one right after the other because that is where the B-52s were stationed out of. I remember Marines and transports. Nothing happened… they didn’t go. They went somewhere but it wasn’t Cuba, it had to have been Florida or somewhere like that.

After that Sarge landed on a plane in Okinawa. They started calling out names, you go here, you there. They told him he was assigned to handle some race riots going on in the Philippines. After that, he went to Vietnam. This must have been about 68’ because he talked about the Tet Offensive. Sarge by this point was a Supply Sergeant and was tasked with escorting some of the fallen soldiers out of Vietnam.

Sarge served 27 years in the Corps and when he got out, he went on to be a teacher. He loved language and loved teaching others about language. He got a Congressional Unit Citation at some point from Clinton. It was a huge metal. It came on a sash.’

Sarge with his Congressional Unit Citation Medal, his M1 Garand, and ceremonial saber.

This is most of what Larry had to say about Sarge. He had said that he was not able to go into exact details since he was just a kid living on base and didn’t get to see all the stuff Sarge did. He said Sarge would talk a little bit about his time in the Marines, but never Korea. He was quiet about a lot of it, but talked about it a little bit more as he got older.

Sarge was a very special person to everybody that knew him, and I am glad I was able to talk a little bit about him. Thank you Larry, and of course thank you Sarge. I also want to extend my thanks to all of the veterans who have served this great country, past and present. As well as those who have given everything in the defense of this country.

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