December 09, 2023

COLUMN: Veterans Day and Thanksgiving Day

Here we are midway between two revered American holidays. Veteran’s Day is just past and Thanksgiving Day is rapidly closing in on us. I have a personal connection to both events.

Veterans Day brings back many memories, some fondly and others not so much.

During January 1963, my life plan was interrupted by a notice from my draft board to appear for a physical examination the next month. My wife and I had been married for a year and a half, I was a part-time student at the University of Iowa, and the assistant-manager at a local supermarket in Iowa City. I talked with the officials at the draft board and it seemed inevitable that I was going to be drafted into the U.S. Army within 30 days.

After a long discussion and much prayer, my wife and I decided to look at enlistment options. We chose to have me enlist for a three-year period with assignment to the Army Security Agency (as a commitment from the Army). In early January 1963 I stood up and took an oath, giving the Army full rights to control my destiny for the next three years.

There were six of us enlistees on the bus headed to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, the next day. Because I had completed a year of Air Force Officer Training Corps at the University of Iowa to satisfy my physical training requirement, I was given custody of the enlistment papers for this small group.

The Army Security Agency (the ASA) is a small branch of the Army with the mission of providing communications security and listening to other nations. Because of this unique mission, the men entering the ASA had to qualify for a security clearance and most of them had to receive specialized training after the completion of Basic Training at Fort Leonard Wood. The ASA maintains a small office located there to complete the paperwork to initiate both the security clearances and the assignment to specialized courses following Basic Training.

While I was being screened for this, I was pulled aside by the First Sergeant for a special interview. The small detachment there was in need of a replacement for a team member who was at the end of his assignment. After a short time, I was asked if I was interested in joining them after my basic training was complete. One of the conditions was that I was required to live off post with my wife. You can imagine my joy when I accepted this appointment. I spent my entire enlistment at that small office in Fort Leonard Wood and attained the rank of Staff Sergeant prior to the end of my term.

You may remember the turmoil on college and university campuses during this period. When I entered the Army in 1963 the University of Iowa campus was calm. I attended mostly business courses and many students wore a suit, or at least a sport coat, to class. The professors wore similar attire.

I returned to Iowa in 1966, after serving in the Army, to find a totally different atmosphere on campus. The students wore “hippy” clothing, bell bottom trousers, etc. The professors were hard to tell from the students, except they were older. There were frequent sit-ins and other types of student unrest, including anger and disrespect toward veterans. The entire feeling of the campus was different from that of three years prior. That’s all I have to say about that.

I have a very small connection to Thanksgiving Day. Some of my ancestors were passengers on the Mayflower when it completed the journey to Massachusetts in 1620. One of them, William Bradford, later Governor Bradford, was among the Pilgrims who suffered and survived those first two years in Plymouth Colony. They were among the group who celebrated that first Thanksgiving Day. They were giving thanks to a bountiful God, who had guided and protected them during this perilous time. They had left England to find freedom of religion. They found it in the new world.

Unfortunately, some of my ancestors, Thomas Putnam and Ann Putnam, were involved in the mingling of the two kingdoms, the kingdom of the world and the kingdom of God. This co-mingling led them to assume almost unlimited power. They mis-used this power to persecute the “so-called” witches, many of whom were sentenced to death. This culminated in the “Salem Witch Trials.” Several books have been written chronicling this era, including a great one by Bill O’Reilly – “Killing the Witches,” and the play, “The Crucible” by Arthur Miller (also made into a movie).

Mike Lang, Chairman, Union County Republican Central Committee