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Cannon: Soldier stories I almost forgot to ask about

Published May 26, 2012 1:01 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

I remember the time I was at an event with my family when the emcee asked all audience members who'd served in the armed forces to stand up. My dad took to his feet, and I had one of those moments when I went, "Oh yeah, that's right. He was in the Army."

My dad is many things to me: a parent, a gardener, a reader of thrillers, a music lover, an avid golfer, an expert in the fine art of dealing cards, an agreeable conversationalist over an order of chips and salsa, a surprising friend to poodles. But I never think of him as a soldier, which he was. And so this year for Memorial Day, I decided to ask him a few questions about his experiences, lest I forget. Again.

Me • You signed up for ROTC when you were a student at Utah State. Why?

Dad • It was compulsory at USU, which was a land-grant college. Every male student had to take two years of ROTC. Meanwhile, the Korean War broke out, so I signed up for two more years — Advanced ROTC — partly because they paid you. Twenty-five dollars was a lot of money to me back then. When you graduated you owed the government two years of service.

Me • What rank were you when you graduated and entered the service?

Dad • The day I graduated from college I had my commission — I was a second lieutenant in the United States Army with orders to report to Fort Lee, Va. A friend I'd played football with in college, Jimmy Garrett [who later became a scout for the Dallas Cowboys], got me on the team as soon as I arrived. A lot of bases had football teams at that time because so many soldiers had been playing college ball when the conflict broke out. While I was at Fort Lee, I had to take a six-week course where we went bivouacking in the woods. They were trying to turn guys like me into actual officers. I also took a course in food services.

Me • Seriously? Food services? The only thing I ever remember you making at home when we were growing up was oatmeal.

Dad • I know, right? And then I was sent to Fort Mead where it was my job to arrange courses in food services to the enlisted men who all knew at least 100 times more than I did.

Me • I really, really cannot picture any of this.

Dad • I was the head football coach of the Fort Mead team. We won our first three games but lost our fourth. The next thing I knew I had my overseas orders. I lost one game, and I was out of there. Talk about a tough alumni.

Me • You went to Japan, right?

Dad • Yeah. I was surprised by the orders, because by then actual hostilities had ceased. But there were still troops there. It was a rough boat ride to Japan. It took 16 days, and I was sick for 14 of them. When I got there, I worked at the R and R center.

Me • Oh. That's where Hawkeye and Trapper John went on their vacations, right?

Dad • [ignoring me] We'd feed the men on leave a big steak dinner as soon as they got there, even if it was at midnight. We'd feed them all week. And then when they left after seven days, we'd feed them another steak dinner.

Me • What was it like to be in Japan with your bride back home, working in a bank?

Dad • My time abroad was uneventful. But being away was hard. There you are — off in a whole new country and culture by yourself. You're lonely. I just have so much respect for all these young men and women today who ship out for places like Afghanistan. Think of your boys, Ann, facing the dangers those kids face every day.

I do think of it — especially on Memorial Day, which was created to remember those who have served in any and all capacities. Thank you.

And if the opportunity presents itself this weekend to ask your own soldiers to share their memories, do it.

Ann Cannon is at acannon@sltrib.com






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